Schools

Revealed: The five advisers who will support DfE’s sex education review

Panel includes academy bosses, women's health ambassador, chief social worker and lawyer who liked controversial tweets

Panel includes academy bosses, women's health ambassador, chief social worker and lawyer who liked controversial tweets

31 May 2023, 15:07

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Gillian Keegan

The Department for Education has named five members of an independent expert advisory panel which will assist its review of relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) guidance.

Statutory guidance on the subject which came into effect in 2020 was already due to be reviewed later this year. But the review has become more high-profile amid claims that “age-inappropriate material” is being taught in some schools.

The panel members, who will give their time for free, will advise education secretary Gillian Keegan on “what is appropriate to be taught in RSHE and at what age”, and will consider evidence from Ofsted on what is currently being taught in schools.

Advisers include Sir Hamid Patel, chief executive of Star Academies and a member of the Ofsted board, and Helena Brothwell, regional director of school improvement at the David Ross Academy Trust.

Also on the panel is Alasdair Henderson, a barrister specialising in public law, human rights and equality law and the joint deputy chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In 2020 it was reported Henderson had ‘liked’ or retweeted social media posts criticising Black Lives Matter protesters and describing the words misogynist and homophobe as “highly ideological propaganda terms”.

Dame Lesley Regan, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Imperial College London and the government’s first ever women’s health ambassador will also sit on the panel. She has previously called for improved teaching about fertility.

At an annual conference for fertility charity Progress Educational Trust (PET) last year, she suggested teenage girls should be taught in school and on TikTok that their fertility is time-limited and their “ovaries get worn out”.

Also on the panel is Isabelle Trowler, England’s chief social worker.

RSHE review will consider additional content

The government’s review of RSHE will be the first of the statutory guidance since it came into force.

The DfE said it would “provide an opportunity to consider whether the guidance covers the right topics and offers teachers clarity on how to teach sensitive subjects and engage parents positively”. 

Keegan wrote to schools in March to remind them they are required by law to publish their RSHE policy and consult parents on it.

In a statement today, she said: “I share the concerns of parents and teachers about reports that inappropriate lessons are being taught in schools. 

“The vast majority of teachers do an incredible job navigating these complex and sensitive issues.

“But the review of the statutory guidance – with the help of this expert panel – will provide clear safeguards against children being taught concepts they are too young to understand or that are inappropriate for their age.”

The DfE said it would “also make sure priority issues are given the attention they deserve”, including considering new or extra content on mental health, suicide prevention, vaping and tackling violence against women and girls.

Terms of reference for the panel, published today, set out that the panel will “identify the topics” within the RSHE curriculum which would “benefit” from age limits.

As well as considering evidence from the schools watchdog, they will “engage openly” with schools and parents.

Their work will start in June and finish in September, when the chair will submit written advice and recommendations to the department.

The review is expected to be completed by the end of the year, following a consultation in the autumn.

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