Question to the Department for Education:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps will be taken to ensure that the right of secondary school pupils to opt in to sex education three terms before they turn 16 will be independently exercised in circumstances where their parents had previously withdrawn them from sex education lessons.
We want to support all young people to be happy, healthy and safe. We also want to equip them for adult life and to make a positive contribution to society. That is why we are making Relationships Education compulsory for primary school-age pupils, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) compulsory for secondary school-age pupils and Health Education compulsory for pupils in all state-funded schools, from September 2020.
The statutory guidance sets out that parents will continue to have a right to request to withdraw their child from sex education delivered as part of RSE in secondary schools which, unless there are exceptional circumstances, should be granted up to three terms before their child turns 16. At this point, if the child themselves wishes to receive sex education rather than be withdrawn, the school should make arrangements for this to happen in one of the three terms before the child turns 16, the legal age of sexual consent. The statutory guidance can be accessed via the following link: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/805781/Relationships_Education__Relationships_and_Sex_Education__RSE__and_Health_Education.pdf.
Parents will not be able to request to withdraw their child from sex education delivered as part of the science curriculum. There is also no right to withdraw from Relationships Education at primary or secondary as we believe the content of these subjects is essential in supporting pupils’ wellbeing and attainment, and helping young people to become successful and happy adults who make a meaningful contribution to society.
Before granting any such request from parents, it would be good practice for the headteacher to discuss the request with parents and, as appropriate, with the child to ensure that their wishes are understood and to clarify the nature and purpose of the curriculum. Good practice is also likely to include the headteacher discussing with parents the benefits of receiving this important education and any detrimental effects that withdrawal might have on the child.
Parents should also be given every opportunity to understand the purpose and content of Relationships Education and RSE. Good communication and opportunities for parents to understand and ask questions about the school’s approach help increase confidence in the curriculum. This can be an important opportunity to talk about how these subjects contribute to wider support in terms of pupil wellbeing and keeping children safe.