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Labour faces pressure to ditch Tory RSHE reforms

More than 100 organisations have urged the new government to ditch the Conservatives’ draft relationships and sex education (RSHE) guidance, which they warn “falls short of what is required to help keep children safe, healthy and prepared for modern life”.

Organisations working across education, safeguarding, child sexual abuse, violence against women and girls, mental health, online safety and LGBT+ inclusion warned the proposed age restrictions and topic bans “pose a threat to the preventative role of RSHE”.

This could limit the “prevention of harm in relation to issues including sexual health, violence against women and girls, mental health, safeguarding from sexual abuse, inclusion and tackling current and emerging threats like online misogyny”.

The Conservative government launched a consultation in May on planned updates to guidance first issued in 2019, following a review of the reforms.

Calls for ‘fresh start’ to RSHE review

It proposed age limits on “sensitive” topics, ordered schools not to teach about “gender identity” and to share materials with parents.

Lucy Emmerson

Ministers were accused at the time of stirring up “culture war” issues in the run-up to the election.

The consultation closes today. To coincide with its closure, more than 100 organisations including the ASCL and NAHT leaders’ unions, the PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum have issued a joint statement calling for a “fresh start” to the review.

“We are calling on the next government to discard the draft guidance and begin this process in due course, focusing on the needs of children and young people and supporting teachers to deliver a high-quality, inclusive curriculum.”

Lucy Emmerson, CEO of the Sex Education Forum, said age restrictions would be a “backward step making children more vulnerable to abuse and harm”.

PSHE association chief executive Jonathan Baggaley, warned he had “deep concerns about the development process and shortcomings of the draft guidance, particularly on critical aspects of children’s safeguarding, wellbeing and inclusion”.

Scope and timing of consultation ‘problematic’

In the statement, shared exclusively with Schools Week, the signatories said RSHE “helps to protect children and young people from harm, keep them healthy and prepare them for life’s challenges and opportunities”.

Current guidance, in force since 2020, is based on “robust evidence, informed by a rigorous engagement process and a twelve-week consultation”.

They warned the “limited scope and structure” of the recent review, and “reduced eight-week consultation, is also problematic, as is the general election falling during this consultation period”.

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

This removed the “opportunity for planned Department for Education stakeholder engagement”.

Pepe Di’Iasio, from ASCL, said government should “redraft the consultation…school and family relationships need strengthening rather than undermining”.

Paul Whiteman, of the NAHT, said the draft guidance was “unworkable, out of touch with the realities of what children and young people are experiencing in their lives, and undermines best practice in terms of both safeguarding and pedagogy”.

“The new government must scrap it and begin a fresh review with proper collaboration.”

The full statement

Relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) helps to protect children and young people from harm, keep them healthy and prepare them for life’s challenges and opportunities.

The current statutory guidance for RSHE in England – in force since 2020 – is based on robust evidence, informed by a rigorous engagement process and a twelve-week consultation.

It had support and input from safeguarding bodies, national children’s charities, specialist violence against women and girls organisations, faith and belief groups, parents and carers, teachers, teaching and leadership unions and young people, and votes of support from 538 MPs from across the political spectrum.

The current guidance provides the foundation on which schools have improved teaching of high quality, age-appropriate RSHE since 2020, despite Covid disruption.

Any review of RSHE must build on this progress and focus on responding to the needs and experiences of those the guidance will support: children and young people, teachers and schools.

‘Falls short’

We are concerned that the draft new RSHE guidance out for consultation until 11 July falls short of what is required to help keep children safe, healthy and prepared for modern life.

Age restrictions and topic bans pose a threat to the preventative role of RSHE, limiting the prevention of harm in relation to issues including sexual health, violence against women and girls (VAWG), mental health, safeguarding from sexual abuse, inclusion and tackling current and emerging threats like online misogyny.

The limited scope and structure of the review, and reduced eight-week consultation, is also problematic, as is the general election falling during this consultation period (thereby removing the opportunity for planned Department for Education stakeholder engagement).

A fresh start and a new review is needed. We are calling on the next government to discard the draft guidance and begin this process in due course, focusing on the needs of children and young people and supporting teachers to deliver a high-quality, inclusive curriculum.

‘Future updates to RSHE must be…’

Evidence based: using the best available evidence of what works in preventative education and the needs and experiences of all children and young people, so that it is effective, relevant, up-to-date and age and developmentally-appropriate.

Transparent: any evidence and recommendations that inform new proposals should be published, as should any evaluations of RSHE under current guidance.

Representative: there should be ongoing engagement with a wide range of stakeholders, including parents and carers, children and young people, teachers and teaching and leadership unions, national safeguarding bodies, children’s charities and specialist VAWG organisations, academics and experts.

The signatories

Safeguarding, child protection and rights

  • Barnardo’s
  • NSPCC
  • Girlguiding UK
  • Amnesty International UK
  • Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse (CSA Centre)
  • Lucy Faithfull Foundation
  • Plan International UK
  • Catch22

Education and Unions

  • ASCL
  • NAHT
  • National Education Union
  • PSHE Association
  • HMC
  • BSA Group (Boarding Schools’ Association)
  • Coram
  • University of Birmingham, School of Social Policy and Society
  • Big Talk Education
  • Human Values Foundation
  • Jigsaw Education Group
  • Training Works
  • Chameleon PDE Ltd
  • Wickersley Partnership Trust
  • PSHE Service Cambs

Violence against women and girls

  • The End Violence Against Women Coalition
  • Refuge
  • Women’s Aid Federation of England (Women’s Aid)
  • Rape Crisis England & Wales
  • Everyone’s Invited
  • Action Breaks Silence
  • Advance
  • Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid
  • Bold Voices
  • Beyond Equality
  • FORWARD
  • Imkaan
  • IKWRO – Women’s Rights Organisation
  • IRISi
  • Jewish Women’s Aid
  • Juno Women’s Aid
  • Kindling Transformative Interventions
  • Latin American Women’s Aid
  • Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS)
  • LMK Let Me Know
  • Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation (MEWSO)
  • Our Streets Now
  • Rights of Women
  • Solace Women’s Aid
  • Surviving Economic Abuse
  • Survivors Of Abuse
  • Tender
  • This Ends Now
  • Violence Against Women and Girls Research Network
  • Woman’s Trust
  • Women’s Budget Group
  • Roj Women’s Association
  • White ribbon UK
  • Agenda Alliance
  • Standing Together
  • Respect
  • Savana

Mental health, physical health, and sexual & reproductive health

  • Anna Freud
  • AYPH
  • Mencap
  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  • Terrence Higgins Trust
  • British Association for Sexual Health and HIV
  • Brook
  • Family Planning Association
  • Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange, University of Bedfordshire
  • The Centre for Emotional Health
  • Doctors for Choice UK
  • Dorset Healthcare Sexual Health
  • Gloucestershire County Council (GHLL)
  • Islington Council
  • Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust
  • Reproductive Justice Initiative
  • The Eve Appeal
  • The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare
  • Turning Point
  • Worcestershire Integrated Sexual Health part of Herefordshire & Worcestershire Health & Care Trust
  • Young Person’s Advisory Service
  • Croydon Youth Information & Counselling Service Ltd

Internet Safety

  • Childnet
  • Internet Matters
  • Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)
  • Parent Zone
  • SWGfL

RSE and Inclusion

  • Sex Education Forum
  • Stonewall
  • DEAFAX
  • Engendering Change Ltd
  • Fumble
  • It Happens Education Limited
  • Life Lessons
  • Life Support Productions
  • Lifting Limits
  • Loudmouth Education and Training
  • Make it Mandatory
  • Period Positive
  • Race Equality Foundation
  • School of Sexuality Education
  • Sexpression:UK
  • Split Banana
  • The Schools Consent Project
  • TransActual
  • The Story Project

Faith and Belief

  • Humanists UK
  • Methodist Church in Britain
  • thirtyone:eight

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