House of Commons approves compulsory Relationships and Sex Education in English schools, whilst expressing concerns on ‘faith’ school opt out

8 March, 2017

Stella Creasy MP warned about the ‘spectre of Section 28’ present in the legislation

Government proposals to make Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) compulsory in all English schools were approved by MPs in the House of Commons yesterday.

The change comes as part of an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill introduced by the Government, and follows decades of campaigning, intensified in recent months, by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and a broad coalition of education and children’s rights experts. Subject to final approval by peers in the House of Lords, the amendment will make RSE compulsory in all secondary schools and relationships education compulsory in all primary schools, including academies, independent schools, and ‘faith’ schools.

However, the amendment requires teaching to be appropriate to the religious backgrounds of the pupils, and the Government announced previously that ‘as now, faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith’. Raising concerns about whether or not this would affect the access of all children in such schools to full, comprehensive, and age-appropriate information, the BHA briefed MPs ahead of yesterday’s debate:

‘A child’s access to accurate, evidence-based information about relationships and sex should not be determined by their religious or non-religious background, nor by the type of school to which they happen to have been sent.

If all children have a right to comprehensive, age-appropriate RSE, as the Government maintains they do, then all children must have access to it. To allow certain types of school to opt out of this teaching, as is proposed, is either to declare that no such right exists, or to endorse the widespread violation of that right.’

Labour MP Stella Creasy expressed concern that the wording in the legislation brought to mind the ‘spectre of section 28’, a controversial piece of legislation repealed in 2003 which prohibited local authorities and schools from ‘intentionally promoting homosexuality’. Whilst supporting the move for compulsory RSE, Creasy said that ‘we should not trade off making progress on some areas of society – through bringing in an ability to talk about consent and domestic abuse [in schools] – against not making progress on gay rights’.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘We have been campaigning for compulsory sex and relationships education in schools for decades, and we’re delighted that the Government has now moved to effect this change. Children will be safer as a result, more resilient to discriminatory attitudes and stereotypes, and more able to engage in happy, healthy relationships.

‘However, we remain extremely troubled by the presence of what might effectively act as a “faith” school opt out. The Government must make absolutely clear that this is in no way an invitation to schools to shirk their obligation to provide children with comprehensive, accurate, and evidence-based information in the range of areas covered in RSE, nor to neglect their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010.’


For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on or 0207 324 3078.

Read the BHA’s briefing to MPs:‘faith’-school-opt-outs-1.pdf

Read yesterday’s House of Commons debate in full:

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘BHA welcomes Government move towards Relationships and Sex Education in English schools; expresses concerns about opt outs for ‘faith’ schools: 

Read the written ministerial statement announcing the proposal:  

Read the BHA’s previous story, ‘Major new BHA report: school inspections ‘almost totally neglect’ PSHE and SRE’:

Read the BHA’s report, Healthy, happy, safe? An investigation into how PSHE and SRE are inspected in English schools:  

Read more about the BHA’s work on PSHE and SRE:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

The BHA is a member of the Sex Education Forum (SEF) and PSHE Association and sits on SEF’s advisory group.