Draft RSE guidance leaves serious questions about safeguarding teaching

16 May, 2024

New draft guidance detailing how Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) should be taught in English schools has been released today (16 May) by the Department for Education (DfE). The draft guidance is in response to a review ordered by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in 2023.

The guidance is not legislation, and contrary to some media reports, nothing will be banned in law from being taught. For example, the DfE draft guidance states it recommends sex education from years 5 and 6 ‘in line with what pupils learn about conception and birth’, as well as ‘external body parts’ as long as they do not talk about sexual activity.

That said, Humanists UK is concerned about how the new guidance could impact safeguarding teaching. Children are vulnerable to abuse from ages younger than those suggested for first teaching in the guidance. The guidance also makes clear that schools with a religious character can continue to opt out of providing a comprehensive and objective curriculum.

Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Lewis Young said:

‘All children should receive an accurate, comprehensive education that would allow them to have healthy and fulfilling relationships. Nor should there be any faith-based carve-outs which could result in faith schools watering down RSE content to a point where it will leave students without the tools they need to navigate the challenges and complexity of the relationships they encounter in their adult life. 

‘Any new RSE guidance must be evidence-led and not calculated for headlines and political gain.’

Humanists UK is a longstanding member of the Sex Education Forum and the PSHE Forum, and campaigns for good quality, age and developmentally appropriate, and evidence-led Relationships and Sex Education. It has decades of working in this area. The new guidance is subject to consultation. Humanists UK will be responding in due course, and encouraging its members and supporters to do likewise.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 0203 675 0959.

Read more about our work on RSE.

Read the DfE press release.

Read the consultation.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.