Relationships education guidance

Guiding principles

Our guiding principles have been that all of the compulsory subject content must be age appropriate and developmentally appropriate. It must be taught sensitively and inclusively, with respect to the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils and parents while always with the aim of providing pupils with the knowledge they need of the law.

We are clear that parents and carers are the prime educators for children … [s]chools complement and reinforce this role. … We are determined to give schools flexibility to shape their curriculum according to the needs of their pupils and communities.

Secretary of State Foreword p.4

In primary schools, we want the subjects to put in place the key building blocks of healthy, respectful relationships, focusing on family and friendships, in all contexts, including online … [alongside] how to be healthy.

At secondary, teaching will build on the knowledge acquired at primary and develop further pupils’ understanding of health, with an increased focus on risk areas such as drugs and alcohol, as well as introducing knowledge about intimate relationships and

… mental wellbeing is central …The new subject content will give them the knowledge and capability to take care of themselves and receive support if problems arise.

Secretary of State Foreword p.4-5

What is Statutory Guidance?

The guidance sets out what schools’ legal duties with respect to Relationship Education (Primary), Relationships and Sex Education (Secondary) and Health Education and provides recommendations which they should follow on how to teach these subjects. Schools who do not follow the guidance “will need good reasons for doing so.” (p.6)

  • Schools are free to determine how to deliver the content set out in this guidance
  • Parents have the right to request that their child be withdrawn from some or all of sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE.
  •  Schools should support students to distinguish between different types of online content and help them make sensible decisions.

Policy on Relationships Education and RSE

All schools must have a written policy which “meets the needs of pupils and parents and reflects the community they serve.” They must consult parents in developing and reviewing their policy. They must provide a copy free-of-charge to anyone who asks and should publish it on the school website.

Typical policies are likely to include sections covering:
  • details of content/scheme of work and when each topic is taught, taking account of the age of pupils
  • who delivers either Relationships Education or RSE
  • how the policy has been produced, and how it will be kept under review, in both cases working with parents
  • how delivery of the content will be made accessible to all pupils, including those with SEND
  • explanation of the right to withdraw
  • requirements on schools in law e.g. the Equality Act (please see The Equality Act 2010 and schools: Departmental advice)
  • how often the policy is updated
  • who approves the policy.

What should policies take account of?

In all schools, when teaching these subjects, the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching.

Schools should assess each resource that they propose to use to ensure that it is appropriate for the age and maturity of pupils, and sensitive to their needs.

Schools should also ensure that, when they consult with parents, they provide examples of the resources that they plan to use. Inviting parents into school to discuss what will be taught, [can] address any concerns and help support parents in managing conversations with their children on these issues. …. It is important through such processes to reach out to all parents, recognising that a range of approaches may be needed for doing so.

Schools should consider what they can do to foster healthy and respectful peer-to-peer communication and behaviour between boys and girls.

Schools should be alive to issues such as everyday sexism, misogyny, homophobia and gender stereotypes and take positive action to build a culture where these are not tolerated.

At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender], they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a stand-alone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this.

Governing boards should also make sure that … clear information is provided for parents on the subject content and the right to request that a child is withdrawn [from sex education].


Relationships Education (Primary)

From the beginning of primary school, building on early education, pupils should be taught:

  • how to take turns,
  • how to treat each other with kindness, consideration and respect,
  • the importance of honesty and truthfulness,
  • permission seeking and giving,
  • and the concept of personal privacy.
  • Establishing personal space and boundaries,
  • showing respect and understanding
  • the differences between appropriate and inappropriate or unsafe physical, and other, contact.

From the beginning, teachers should talk explicitly about the features of healthy friendships, family relationships and other relationships which young children are likely to encounter. Drawing attention to these in a range of contexts should enable pupils to form a strong early understanding of the features of relationships that are likely to lead to happiness and security


By the end of Primary School teachers should address online safety, appropriate behaviour online and sharing images. Relationships Education should encourage resilience helping children believe they can achieve, persevere, work towards long-term goals and weather setbacks. In addition pupils should understand how personal qualities like kindness and trustworthiness are the building blocks of strong relationships, and that friendships support mental wellbeing.

Children in Primary Schools mature at different rates, both physically and emotionally. The guidance suggests that schools have clear policies and teacher training to address what is appropriate to discuss in whole class settings and where one-to-one or small group approaches would be more appropriate.

Sex education

Sex education is part of the National Curriculum in Secondary Schools but not in Primary Schools.

Where a maintained primary school chooses to teach aspects of sex education (which go beyond the national curriculum for science), the school must set this out in their policy and all schools should consult with parents on what is to be covered. Primary schools that choose to teach sex education must allow parents a right to withdraw their children.


What pupils should know by the end of primary school

What students should know by the end of secondary school

Provisions to support gender-questioning children in schools
Print Friendly, PDF & Email