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Parliament passes compulsory RSE in English schools

The UK Parliament has passed regulations introducing compulsory relationships and sex education (RSE) in English schools from September 2020. The regulations were passed by the House of Lords yesterday, having previously passed through the House of Commons last month. Humanists UK, which has long campaigned for such a change, has welcomed the move as progress, but not going far enough in ensuring all schools teach comprehensive, accurate, and age-appropriate RSE.

The new regulations mandate that from 2020, all English secondaries teach RSE, all English primaries teach relationships education, and all English schools teach health education. They also mean that if young people aged over 15 are opted out of RSE by their parents, they should be able to override that and opt themselves back in. However, they do not mandate that any particular curriculum content is taught.

Since the changes were first proposed, large protests have broken out in Birmingham and elsewhere against the teaching of LGBT-inclusive RSE, with mainly Muslim parents withdrawing their children from schools in opposition to such teaching, and schools suspending lessons as a result. The UK Government has said that it is for schools, not parents, to decide what is and isn’t taught, but also said that it considers it acceptable for primary schools to not teach LGBT education – leaving the schools that have been the victims of protests feeling unsupported.

A number of members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group spoke out in the debate in favour of comprehensive RSE, including Secretary Baroness Massey of Darwen and Lord Cashman. Humanists UK provides the secretariat to the Group.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘It’s great news that RSE will become compulsory in English schools from September 2020. We have long been a leading voice in the campaign for such a move so are delighted to see it happen.

‘However, these changes must only be the start. Schools are still free to decide the content of their curriculum and we worry that many will fail to provide the comprehensive and age-appropriate RSE that young people need – either because of external pressure from parents, or because they are faith schools whose own ideologies trump what is in the best interests of children.

‘Such education is vital in ensuring that young people know that there is nothing wrong with being LGBT, thereby preventing LGBT young people from being bullied by their peers and protecting their mental health. Such bullying is widespread and it is only by teaching all young people that it is wrong that we can hope to prevent it.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or phone 07815 589636.

Read the new regulations: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2019/9780111181997

Read yesterday’s debate: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2019-04-24/debates/8F9DC3B0-CD59-4FB5-9F00-1554B50ADEDC/RelationshipsEducationRelationshipsAndSexEducationAndHealthEducation(England)Regulations2019

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on RSE: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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