All you wanted to know about sex education in schools… but were afraid to ask

The government has announced it will introduce compulsory sex and relationship education for all schools, including academies.

What happens next?

The policy has been added to the children and social work bill which is currently making its way through parliament.

If passed, all the law will do is place a duty on Justine Greening, the education secretary, to bring forward further laws, known as ‘regulations’, to make the changes to the curriculum and extend them to academies.

The amendment to existing laws will also mean that in the future, if the secretary of state wants to make the teaching of personal, social, health and economics education (PSHE) to be compulsory then she can do that too. But that is likely to happen at a later date than the sex and relationship curriculum changes.

Spring 2017: Engagement

Officials will now start considering what should go into the new sex and relationships curriculum. The government has emphasised in many documents its intention to work with schools on the content. The policy paper says it will be developed with the “significant involvement of the teaching profession”.

Evidence will be sought from schools and their staff, along with parents, pupils, safeguarding and subject experts, faith groups and voluntary organisations, but it is yet to be revealed what form this exercise will take.

Autumn 2017: Draft laws

Once the content is decided, the government will publish draft regulations, the new laws and a consultation, though there’s not yet any word on how long the process will last.

The government’s own ‘consultation principles’ document says ministers should judge the length of a consultation on legal advice and take into account “the nature and impact of the proposal”.

This is the stage where differences over the proposed content of the subjects could emerge, with the curriculum for relationships education at primary level likely to be a particular bone of contention.

There has already been some disquiet among some backbench Conservative MPs over what they see as state meddling in parenting, and this could be echoed by others if it is felt that the guidance is too prescriptive over issues like same-sex relationships.

Late 2017/early 2018: Parliamentary debates

After the consultation concludes, the new legislation and guidance will be put to parliament and debated.

September 2019: First teaching

The government intends to pass the new laws at least one full year before they come into effect, so assuming that all goes well, schools will start teaching sex and relationships education from the start of the 2019-20 school year.

I am in a religious school, does this affect me?

Yes. Religious schools will still be expected to teach the sex and relationships curriculum, but they will be able to do so with due regard to their religious values.

Aren’t academies exempt from interference in the curriculum?

No. As long as something isn’t specifically prohibited in the contract an academy trust holds with the government to run a school, its ‘funding agreement’, then the government can still write laws that the academy must take into account.

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