Relationships & Sex Education: Women's groups welcome progress

Government has listened and school guidance will clearly include the law on sexual consent, FGM, forced marriage and domestic violence

Responding to the publication yesterday (25 February) of the Government’s new compulsory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) guidance for all schools (1), Sarah Green of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said:

“We are very pleased to see that the Government has listened to women’s groups’ concerns about their initial proposals, and has made significant changes to the statutory guidance on Relationships and Sex Education, including significantly better guidance on FGM, forced marriage, domestic violence and sexual violence.

“There are now more references to the different forms of violence against women and girls. There is clear information for schools on recognising that sexual violence and harassment happen to girls very disproportionately, and encouragement to take positive action to address these. There is welcome new advice on sexism, misogyny and homophobia. And, the guidance makes clear that children need to learn the vocabulary for talking about abuse, and to be taught about abuse in a way which ensures they do not come to feel they are to blame. The language is notably better on sexual consent and boundaries.

“There was a lot of ambiguity in the Government’s earlier RSE, but the guidance now clearly requires schools to ensure they make the law the primary basis of their teaching. Children and young people will learn about the law on sexual consent, domestic violence including coercive control, forced marriage, FGM and sexual exploitation, and equality more broadly, no matter the ethos of the school they are in.

“We are also pleased that the new guidance includes information for schools on the likelihood of disclosures of abuse arising from the new teaching, and how schools should be prepared to respond to this.

“The new document could go further in ensuring all primary school children are taught about FGM, forced marriage and LGBT equality. And overall, we remain concerned at the way the guidance allows considerable “flexibility” and local decision-making for individual schools and their leaders on when and how they will cover critical issues relating to sex, sexuality and equality.

“We are also disappointed that the law will continue to enshrine parents’ ‘right’ to remove their children from Sex Education lessons. Children have a right to this information, and we know that teaching about sex and relationships plays a vital role in promoting safe, healthy and respectful relationships.

“Reports of sexual violence in schools are increasing (2), and children have unprecedented access to sexual content online through their phones and devices. This is the time to be bold, to ensure children are learning vital lessons on sex and relationships, and that all schools are meeting their obligations. We need a commitment from Ofsted that they will clearly include monitoring of the teaching of RSE in their inspections, and ensure schools have safeguarding plans in place to respond effectively to sexual violence when it happens (3). Schools should also be resourced to make contact with local women’s groups which can help them support pupils who experience abuse in school, in the community or at home.”

Background Notes:

  1. In 2017 a cross-party group of MPs successfully amended the law to finally make Relationships and Sex Education compulsory in all schools in England. The Department for Education has consulted on the new Statutory Guidance on delivering the subject – which is actually Relationships Education in primary schools and Relationships and Sex Education in secondary schools and related settings – and all Headteachers, school governing bodies and RSE leads will have to have regard to this guidance when developing policy and lesson planning for their schools.
  2. BBC FOI research has revealed high levels of rape in schools, and some schools have faced litigation by parents for their failure to protect girls who have been assaulted.
  3. The Head of Ofsted was recently unable to answer questions from MPs on how schools should respond to sexual assaults.

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