Sex and Relationships Education (SRE)
Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) is a compulsory part of the curriculum, however schools do have a say in the specifics of what they teach and how they teach it.
There are certain topics that must be covered, like puberty and safe sex, but each school will develop its own policy on approaching these lessons. SRE should span subjects like science, religious education and citizenship, but will also be addressed in PSHE.
Parents should be informed about their school's SRE policy and be given opportunity to feedback on its contents.
So, what can you expect your child to be learning about at school?
SRE should cover sex, sexuality and sexual health. It's not just about the physical side of things, but also feelings, relationships and values. At the moment SRE is only compulsory in secondary schools, however many primary schools introduce the topics to younger children in some way. Discussion should always be tailored to the age and the physical and emotional maturity of the children concerned.
The Department for Education's Guidance on SRE explains that parents remain "key" in teaching their children about sex, relationships and growing up; however schools also play a part in helping children to develop confidence talking, listening and thinking about these issues.
At the moment, all schools must, by law, provide a "broad and balanced curriculum" that "prepares young people for the opportunities and responsibilities of adult life", but how they do this is up to individual schools. In maintained schools, parts of sex education (anatomical and reproductive facts) are statutory parts of the national science curriculum. Maintained secondary schools are also required to address HIV and AIDS, and sexually transmitted infections. (Source: PSHE Association.)
The programme should find the relevant time to address:
- STIs and safer sex
PSHE should also address attitudes and values; personal and social skills; knowledge and understanding of key topics around sex and relationships.
Schools can apply their own particular ethos to the teaching of these issues. A clear approach should be set out in the school's SRE policy to ensure discussion is respectful of a variety of cultures and faiths.
Parents should be involved in developing their school's SRE policy, so that the programme complements their own teaching and discussions at home. However, they are also entitled to withdraw their children from any sex and relationships education beyond the statutory parts of the curriculum if they so choose, and the government has said it has no plans to change this.
• 98% were happy for their children to attend SRE lessons
• 92% think SRE should be a compulsory subject in secondary schools
• 69% think SRE should be a compulsory subject in primary schools
• 90% think there should be a statutory duty on all schools, including faith schools and academies, to deliver comprehensive SRE
SRE in primary school should focus on friendships, bullying and building self-esteem. Children should be confident talking about feelings and relationships.
They should also learn about how their body works, in particular ensuring they have an understanding of puberty before they experience the onset of physical changes.
Integrating SRE into the curriculum at this stage should allow children to discuss and think about these topics, so they feel comfortable having open conversations and asking questions both at school and at home.
By secondary school, pupils should already have a basic understanding of the biological side of things, especially what to expect during puberty. At the appropriate age they should discuss topics like pregnancy and STIs in further detail.
Lessons will begin to look at more complex issues and how they relate to them personally. SRE should discuss different types of relationships and teach young people about the responsibilities and consequences involved.
Other topics to be covered include:
- Contraception and the importance of safe sex
- Consent, in relation to various relationships
- Understanding the laws that apply to sexual relationships
- Ways and reasons for resisting pressure
- How to avoid being exploited or exploiting others
- How to get relevant help, advice and support
- Understanding sexuality, and having respect for yourself and others
Recently, Supplementary Advice was launched in relation to the government's SRE Guidance, the documentation currently used by schools, which was published in 2000. The more up-to-date Advice aims to support teachers in SRE and make lessons more relevant to young people today.
This new guide, created by the PSHE Association, Sex Education Forum, and Brook, and supported by the Department for Education, acknowledges that culture is changing, in particular with regards to technology, and that there are new issues, and new pressures on young people, which need to be addressed in SRE.
When Mumsnet members were asked their thoughts on sex education, 80% thought it should explore issues to do with sex and the media, 'sexting', and pornography. 90% of those surveyed thought it should address matters around sexual orientation (the mean age at which survey respondents think this should be addressed is 10.5) and 82% thought it should address sexual violence and sexual bullying (mean age 12.3).
The Supplementary Advice published covers issues like pornography, the safe use of technology, sexual consent, prejudices and bullying, sexual violence and exploitation. It also aims to guide teachers in their approach to SRE, in particular as part of PSHE, to help them address complex topics and answer any questions students may raise regarding these topics.
You can read the Supplementary Advice here.
- More about Mumsnet's sex education survey
- Talking to your child about sexuality
- Child sexual abuse: mitigating the risks
- Education homepage
Last updated: over 3 years ago