FAQs on Statutory SRE 2017

FAQs on the Government announcement of statutory RSE and RE in all schools

What difference does the General Election make?

  • The legislation has now gone through both houses of Parliament and should receive Royal Assent in the last week of April or first week of May. There is no reason that the General Election should affect this process.

  • The process of consulting with stakeholders and experts on the draft guidance and regulations will be suspended until after the General Election. Depending how quickly the process of public consultation is initiated following the election we hope that this will not delay the overall timetable for implementing the legislation in September 2019.

What does the new legislation say?

  • You can read what the legislation says here (NC15 and NC16)

  • Amendment NC15 introduces statutory ‘relationships and sex education’ across all secondary schools, including academies and independent schools; and statutory ‘relationships education’ across all primary schools.

  • Amendment NC16 gives the government the right to introduce statutory PSHE at a later date without passing new legislation.

  • This Department for Education Policy Statement sets out in a little more detail the purpose of the legislation and process for implementing it

What does the new subject of ‘relationships education’ mean for primary schools?

  • There is no detail about topics in the primary legislation, but the DfE Policy Statement broadly references healthy relationships.

  • Schools will be mandated to address some topics (relationships) but may cover other topics in accordance with the needs of the school community. In the event that primary schools 'choose to teach sex education in an age-appropriate way, as they can now, they will be able to do so, but the right to withdraw from that will still apply, as it does in secondary schools'*.

  • The consultation on the regulations and guidance will present an opportunity to influence the content of the topic in line with best practice

Will parents retain the right to withdraw their child?

  • Parents will not be able to withdraw their child from Relationships Education in primary school.

  • Parents will only be able to withdraw their child from primary school classes which address sex education - i.e. those that do not sit within the Relationships Education curriculum.

  • Parents will be able to withdraw their child from sex education within RSE (other than the sex education which sits in the National Curriculum as part of science)  

  • Schools will continue to be required to publish policies on these subjects for parents, and statutory guidance will continue to set out that schools should consult parents on those policies to ensure they are feeding in their views*. 

  • The Secretary of State intends to consult further in order to ‘clarify the age at which a young person may have the right to make their own decisions. The outcome will be set out in the regulations and guidance’

What are the implications for faith schools?

  • The legislation will retain the right of faith schools to teach ‘according to the tenets of their faith’ whilst still being consistent with requirements of the Equality Act. The scope and limitation of this right will be clarified in the regulations and guidance

  • During the debate in Parliament the Minister, Edward Timpson MP, clarified that schools will be able to exercise flexibility over how to teach a topic, not whether to teach it

  • The Church of England and Catholic Education Service have expressed support for the introduction of statutory RSE in advance of the debate in Parliament 

What is going to happen next?

  • The Department for Education will consult widely with the education and young people’s sectors in order to determine the content of the regulations and statutory guidance; and on whether to introduce PSHE as the framework within which SRE is delivered

  • The Secretary of State will bring the regulations and guidance back to the House of Commons for its approval

What is the timeframe for these changes?

  1.  The Department for Education will draft regulations and guidance in Spring 2017 and put them out for consultation in Autumn 2017

  2.  Regulations and final draft guidance will be presented in Parliament, and final statutory guidance will be published early in 2018

  3.  Schools will be expected to deliver ‘RSE’ in secondary schools and ‘RE’ in Primary schools, in the academic year 2019/2020

 What is Sex Education Forum’s role in this process?

  • SEF will work with our members and wider stakeholders to support the consultation process and to inform the work of the Department for Education as it develops the new regulations and guidance and considers the role of PSHE

  • SEF will continue to ensure that members are updated on all policy developments and receive up to date information on resources, information and CPD opportunities to support the delivery of high quality SRE

  • SEF will continue to provide training opportunities to teaching and non-teaching professionals which is evidence-based and reflects the expressed needs of children and young people

What are the implications for SRE in schools in the meantime?

  • Until the legislation is passed and regulations and guidance are finalised, schools’ current legal obligations remain in place (see FAQs on current statutory requirements below)

  • Schools do not need to wait for the publication of the regulations and statutory guidance in order to make changes that will increase the quality of SRE provision. A range of resources can support this process including: SRE key values and principles; supplementary advice for schools ‘SRE for the 21st Century’; and SEF’s curriculum design tool

  • Many schools and teachers are already delivering great SRE which is much more comprehensive than the minimal legal requirements. Please keep up the good work!

How will Relationships and Sex Education be inspected?

  • Relationships and sex education falls within the scope of school inspection. Inspections will check to see that a school is providing the full statutory curriculum, and these issues can also be considered within the context of assessing the school’s leadership, the quality of teaching, pupil safety and pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Key elements are already covered in Ofsted’s school inspection handbook, and Her Majesty’s chief inspector will take full account of the new requirements in determining future school inspection arrangements'*

  • Ofsted is already seeking to appoint an HMI lead for citizenship and PSHE, whose role will be to keep abreast of developments in this area and oversee the training of inspectors in light of the new expectations on schools*.

  • Independent schools will be held to account through inspectors reporting against the independent school standards*.

How will the Government ensure that the statutory guidance remains up to date?

  • The Government will commit to reviewing the statutory guidance on RSE within three years of its publication, and to a regular timetable after that, that will balance continuity for schools with ensuring content is up to date.*

*Edward Timpson MP, Hansard, March 7th 2017


If you have new information to update these FAQs or have further questions please email us 

 Additional resources and responses to Government announcement:

Schools and parents working together on SRE resources from Sex Education Forum

Faith and values in SRE resources from around the country

Statement of support for SRE from The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, the Church of England’s Lead Bishop on Education

Statement of support for SRE from The Catholic Education Service


FAQs on current statutory requirements - which will be superceded by the new 2017 legislation with implementation beginning in September 2019


Isn’t SRE/RSE compulsory already?

No. The current legislation is confusing, but it allows primary schools and academies to choose not to teach a programme of sex and relationship education (SRE).

There is some basic sex education such as puberty and reproduction in primary science and the menstrual cycle and reproductive system in secondary science. This is part of the National Curriculum and academies and free schools don’t have to follow it.

State secondary schools (other than academies and free schools) have to provide sex education but the only topic they must cover is HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

The Sex Education Forum believes that SRE is every child’s right – a view that is backed by the UNCRC and UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women* and put forward by the Education Select Committee in their recent report ‘Life Lessons’, which recommended that SRE be made statutory in all state-funded primary and secondary schools. The independent reports into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester, Birmingham and Rotherham recommended that all schools provide SRE by trained educators.


What is the most recent SRE guidance schools should follow?

Legally, all state funded schools must pay due to regard to the Secretary of State’s SRE guidance. The latest guidance was issued in 2000.

Responding to calls for updated guidance the Sex Education Forum, Brook and the PSHE Association worked in partnership to produce supplementary advice: SRE for the 21st Century. This was neither initiated nor funded by government but Ministers have encouraged schools to use it. 


What is taught to five year olds?

SRE begins with teaching children about appropriate behaviour, safety and basic understanding of their bodies and how families care for them. Five year olds are not taught about how people have sex.

In a poll of 1000 parents of school-aged children, 78% said they wanted primary schools to teach children about the difference between safe and unwanted touch and how to speak up if someone treats them inappropriately, whilst 72% of parents felt that primary schools should educate children on what to do if they find online pictures showing private body parts or are asked to send them.


How often should SRE be taught?

There needs to be an element of SRE included in the PSHE programme for every academic year in primary and secondary school.

We recommend that PSHE has a regular place in the timetable and should not be taught purely through special ‘drop-down’ / off-timetable days. Schools have been warned against the solely ‘drop-down day’ approach by Ofsted. This approach still leaves flexibility for schools in designing their curriculum.


What sort of training is needed? Should this be initial teacher training?

All teachers need basic training in SRE and PSHE as part of initial teacher training. There should also be the option to train as a SRE/PSHE specialist teacher.

In primary and special schools all teachers need to be able to teach SRE and PSHE. In secondary school SRE needs to be taught by a subject specialist – as other subjects are – and so there needs to be an option to train as a SRE / PSHE specialist teacher. If SRE and PSHE are treated the same as other subjects the need for properly trained educators would be recognised too.


Shouldn’t it be left to parents to educate their children about sex and relationships?

Children say they want their parents to be their primary educators about sex but in reality many parents fail to play this part.

A national survey (Natsal-3) showed that fathers are the main source of information about sex for only 3% of boys. Many parents want to take more of a role in educating their children but say they need support to do so. When schools are providing good quality SRE they involve parents and this helps parents understand how they can play a part at home too.


What does the evidence say?

National and international research shows that good quality SRE has a protective function as young people who have had good SRE are more likely to choose to have sex for the first time later and are more likely to use condoms and contraception when they first have sex. In a large US study, young people who had received comprehensive SRE were less likely to describe first sex as unwanted. See ‘SRE – the evidence’ for a summary of the research evidence.