Heads will decide if pupils can be withdrawn from sex education

It will be up to headteachers to decide whether their pupils can withdraw from sex education in their schools from 2020, Schools Week has learned.

Under the new curriculum, parents will have a right to “request” their children be withdrawn from “some or all” of sex education at secondary school, and heads will be advised to approve such requests “unless there are exceptional circumstances”.

At the moment, parents have an automatic right to withdraw their children from sex education, without the permission of heads, but a review of the right was launched last year, amid legal concerns.

The government will today publish its draft guidance on relationships and sex education, which is due to become compulsory in all schools from 2020.

Ministers previously committed to maintaining the right for parents to withdraw their children from sex education.

But in briefing circulated to MPs ahead of the announcement, seen by Schools Week, Damian Hinds, the education secretary, said such a right is no longer compatible with the law.

“A right for parents to withdraw their child up to the age of 18, which has normally existed historically, is no longer compatible with English caselaw, or the European Convention on Human Rights, as it does not take into account the point at which a child becomes competent to make this decision for themselves.

“An end to the parental right at age 16 would not be compatible, as it does not allow a child to opt in t sex education before the legal age of consent.

“I have therefore decided to give parents the right to request their child be withdrawn from some or all of sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE. Headteachers will make a decision with the support of the statutory guidance, which sets out that unless there are exceptional circumstances, the parents’ request should be granted until three terms before the pupil turns 16.

“At that point, if the child wishes to have sex education, the headteacher should ensure they receive it in one of those terms.”

The briefing document also confirms that PSHE will not become mandatory in schools after Hinds decided the economic education element does not need to be compulsory.

Health education will form part of the relationships and sex education curriculum, while steps will be taken to “improve provision” of financial and careers education.

“Financial and economic education are crucially important,” said Hinds. “I am assured that they are already sufficiently covered in the curriculum, in marks and citizenship, and careers education is an important part of our careers strategy.

“For these reasons, I am not proposing to make economic education compulsory.”