Queen gives royal assent to statutory sex and relationship education

The Queen has given royal assent to a law that makes sex and relationship education statutory in all schools.

The Children and Social Work Bill was given Royal Assent late last week – making it through just in time, as Parliament is imminently set to be dissolved ahead of June’s general election.

The law commits to developing guidance to make SRE mandatory in all schools, after pressure on the issue from sexual health and children’s campaign groups.

Education Secretary Justine Greening says the new law will “put Relationships and Sex Education on a statutory footing, so every child has access to age appropriate provision, in a consistent way”.

The law itself does not require sex ed to be LGBT-inclusive, but LGBT charity Stonewall says it will be “working with the Government to ensure [LGBT issues] are reflected in updated guidance for schools”.

Justine Greening

The Act itself does not go into specifics about the SRE provisions – but does specify lessons will cover “safety in forming and maintaining relationships, the characteristics of healthy relationships, and how relationships may affect physical and mental health and well-being”.

Stonewall Chief Executive Ruth Hunt, said: “This is a huge step forward and a fantastic opportunity to improve inclusion and acceptance in education.

“Currently over half of secondary school students say they never have any discussion of LGBT relationships in their lessons, and over half of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people are bullied in our schools because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That is unacceptable. By mandating all schools to provide good quality, age-appropriate relationships and sex education the Government has paved the way to change that situation.

“This should mean that all schools provide the space to discuss LGBT relationships and the issues LGBT people face, enabling more lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people to feel accepted in their school environment.

“We look forward to working with the Government on updating the guidance for schools to ensure that this measure helps to transform the experience of LGBT young people in all schools.”

Education Secretary Justine Greening said: “Relationships and Sex Education and PSHE teach children and young people how to stay safe and healthy, and how to negotiate some of the personal and social challenges they will face growing up and as adults.

“These subjects form part of the building blocks young people need to thrive in modern Britain. At the moment, too many young people feel they don’t have the relationships and sex education they need to stay safe and navigate becoming an adult.

“It is time to make this change to ensure all children and young people have access to these subjects and to update the current statutory guidance for relationships and sex education which was introduced nearly twenty years ago, in 2000.

“We need high quality, age-appropriate content that relates to the modern world, addressing issues like cyber bullying, ‘sexting’ and internet safety.

“We will now begin a review and gather expert opinions to ensure these subjects really have a positive impact on young people.”

Campaigners have urged the government to commit to LGBT-inclusive SRE in all schools, given speciic wording was missing from the bill.

David Geary of Pride in London said: “Healthy sex and relationship education cannot be wholly effective until it helps every pupil in the classroom. In continuing to separate, single out and ignore the needs of LGBT+ pupils, the government is helping to cement stigma, self-doubt, confusion and bullying.

“Such an omission lets down pupils right across the country, who need effective and positive support to develop into the healthy, confident and safe LGBT+ adults they deserve to be.

“Parents too benefit from having such a support as they learn to be the best guardian they can be for their LGBT+ child.

“Politicians across the political spectrum have signed the Pride in London Pledge which calls for the inclusion of same-sex relationship education in all London schools to ensure the representation of different families and communities within SRE.”

Ian Green of HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “In order to fully address the sexual and mental health crisis among young people, we will need to ensure that any legislation around SRE has a strong emphasis on neglected topics such as sexual health and on LGBT relationships, in order to tackle high rates of STIs among young people and ongoing homophobia in our school corridors.

“To deliver real change for young people, the government must also ensure teachers get allocated time, resource and training to do justice to this vital subject. With the budget announcement expected next week, now is the time to invest in SRE.

“Only then can we ensure that all young people – wherever they go to school, and whatever their sexuality – are empowered to make positive and informed decisions and to have healthy relationships, which they are ready for, and want.”