Sex and relationships education: frequently asked questions

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Sex and relationships education: frequently asked questions
Is sex education a statutory curriculum requirement?

  • Yes; governing bodies of all maintained schools are required to make, and keep up to date, a separate written statement of their policy with regard to the provision of sex education.

  • Primary schools must provide sex education as contained within the national curriculum in Wales, for example in the science subject order. Primary schools can provide a broader SRE programme but whether they do so is at the discretion of the school’s governing body.

  • In secondary schools and other settings that cater for learners of secondary school age, sex education forms part of the basic curriculum for all registered pupils at maintained schools who are of compulsory school age.

  • Special schools must also include provision for sex education for all registered pupils who are provided with secondary education at the school.

What are the requirements for faith schools?

  • All maintained schools, including faith schools, are required to have a policy with regard to the provision of sex education. Sex education policies should be culturally and religiously appropriate, inclusive of all learners and sensitive to the needs of the local community. Discussions with learners, their families and representatives of faith groups will help to establish and re-confirm what is appropriate and acceptable.

  • While faith schools may apply a particular religious ethos through their sex education policy, they are required to meet the statutory requirements that apply to all maintained schools and take note of guidance issued by the Welsh Assembly Government.

What are the implications of teaching SRE in faith-based settings?

        • SRE should be taught in a way that is appropriate to the religious and cultural backgrounds of learners and reflects the character and ethos of the school. However, this must not contradict children and young people’s right to accurate and objective factual information about personal relationships.

        • Faith-based settings can teach the views of their own faith on a variety of SRE topics, including abortion, and contraception. However, the teaching of sex and relationships in faith schools must promote equality and

  • present material that is accurate and balanced

  • make clear that there is a range of divergent opinions

  • not present that faith’s views as the only valid views.

  • For example, when communicating value judgments about lawful sexual behaviour, these should be limited to saying that the school’s religion regards something as sinful or morally wrong and not teach that it is sinful or morally wrong. If schools do not adhere to this approach, it may lead to teaching which is incompatible with the rights of all learners to be given the necessary information to make choices. It may also discriminate against certain children in respect of their private and family life.

Can parents/carers withdraw their child from sex education?

  • The Welsh Assembly Government recommends that schools should always work in partnership with parents/carers, informing them regularly in writing about the content of the SRE programmes.

  • However, parents have the right to request that their child be wholly or partly excused from receiving sex education at the school, other than sex education contained within the national curriculum, for example in science.

  • Parents/carers should inform the school of their wishes in writing and schools should keep a record of all such requests.

What aspects of sex education do schools have to teach in science?

  • At Key Stage 2, pupils should be given opportunities to study the names, positions, functions and relative sizes of a human’s main organs.

  • At Key Stage 3, pupils should be given opportunities to study the basic structure and function of cells, tissues, organs and organ systems and how they support vital life processes.

Are there any plans to revise the requirements for sex education in Wales?

  • No; the guidance for schools has been updated to reflect the requirements of the school curriculum but the Welsh Assembly Government has no plans currently to amend legislation relating to sex education.

How do the requirements for sex education in Wales compare with England?

  • The provision of sex education in England is the same as that in Wales (the same sections of the Education Act 1996 apply in both countries).

What is the difference between sex education and sex and relationships education?

  • In legislation, the reference is to the inclusion of sex education in the basic curriculum for maintained schools.

  • In practice, the term sex and relationships education (SRE) is commonly used to reflect the range of learning and support which schools provide regarding the emotional, physical and social aspects of relationships, sexual health and well-being.

Why teach SRE?

  • SRE helps learners to move with confidence from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. Schools should plan and deliver a SRE programme that meets the specific needs of learners.

How do schools know what to deliver as part of their SRE programme?

  • The non-statutory Personal and social education framework for 7 to 19 year-olds in Wales is the key document which schools should use to review and develop their SRE programmes.

  • Sex and relationships education in schools Welsh Assembly Government Circular No. 0019/2010 (September 2010) provides further guidance on the delivery of SRE in schools. The guidance is available online at

  • There is an expectation, shared with Estyn, that learning providers will draw on the Personal and social education (PSE) Framework and SRE guidance in deciding on their SRE provision.

How does SRE relate to PSE?

  • The ‘Health and emotional well-being’ theme and the personal and social skills focus of the PSE Framework provide clear opportunities to teach SRE.

What values underpin SRE?

  • Schools will want to reflect the values of their school community. Core values that underpin SRE include:

  • the importance of stable, loving relationships

  • mutual respect

  • rights

  • responsibilities

  • gender equality

  • acceptance of diversity

  • violence and coercion in relationships are never acceptable.

Are schools required to promote marriage in their SRE programmes?

  • Schools’ sex and relationships programmes should enable learners to understand the importance of a stable, secure and loving environment for family life. Under section 403 (1A) of the Education Act 1996, when sex and relationships education is provided, schools must teach the nature of marriage and its importance to family life and the bringing up of children. However, in a diverse society, learners will come from a variety of backgrounds and the Welsh Assembly Government recognises that there are committed and mutually supportive stable relationships outside of marriage.

Should schools teach about same sex marriages and civil partnerships?

  • SRE programmes should enable learners to understand the importance of a stable, secure and loving environment for family life. This includes same sex marriages and civil partnerships.

  • SRE should not discriminate against learners based on their home circumstances. Teaching about relationships should reflect and draw on the personal, faith and cultural background and experiences of learners, their families and communities.

How often should the sex education policy be updated?

  • There is no specified time period for updating the sex education policy. Governors Wales recommend that the sex education policy is reviewed as part of the regular cycle of policy review.

How should schools plan for progression and continuity in SRE?

  • It is for individual schools, based on their understanding of the needs of learners and in consultation with parents/carers, to decide when, precisely, in a key stage, specific topics should be addressed. However, schools should be mindful of feedback from learners which suggests that SRE topics are often delivered too late and not in a logical, timely order.

  • SRE should be developmental and build on learning year on year. Primary and secondary schools should work closely to ensure that there is consistency of approach and appropriate progression in SRE within and between schools.

  • It is highly unlikely that high quality SRE provision can be achieved if it is delivered solely through suspended timetable days.

Does teaching about SRE encourage sexual behaviour?

  • There is no evidence to suggest that the provision of SRE in schools encourages early sexual experimentation or makes young people more likely to enter into sexual activity. Effective, comprehensive SRE has been found to delay the onset of sexual behaviour and increase the use of contraception amongst young people who are sexually active.

  • There is an expectation that schools should help young people gain a clear understanding of the arguments for delaying sexual activity and resisting pressure. Schools should also explain how the law, and in particular the age of consent, applies to sexual relationships.

What opportunities are there to discuss teenage pregnancy?

  • As part of an effective sex and relationships programme, learners should have opportunities to develop the skills needed to make responsible and well-informed decisions about sexual health and well-being. They should also understand the consequences and risks of sexual activity.

  • Knowledge of the different types of contraception, and access to and availability of contraception is a major part of the Welsh Assembly Government’s strategy to reduce unintended teenage pregnancy. SRE programmes in secondary schools should provide learners with opportunities to understand about contraception within the context of relationships and the benefits of delaying sexual activity.

What opportunities are there to discuss parenting?

  • Within the ‘Health and emotional well-being’ theme in PSE, there are clear opportunities for learners to understand ‘the responsibilities of parents’ (Key Stage 3) and ‘the features of effective parenthood’ (Key Stage 4).

  • Schools have the flexibility to deliver PSE in ways which best meet the needs of their learners. Parenting classes are often provided as part of the PSE programme and this can include opportunities for learners to meet and learn from the experiences of young parents.

  • To support schools in implementing the PSE framework, the guidance website includes a case study which exemplifies a school’s approach to developing effective parenting skills. For more details visit:

What opportunities are there to discuss sexual orientation?

  • SRE programmes should be relevant to learners and sensitive to their needs. It is important that young people recognise diversity and show respect for others regardless of their sexual orientation.

  • Teachers should deal with matters of sexual identity and sexual orientation honestly, sensitively and in a non-discriminatory way, answering appropriate questions and providing factual information.

  • Schools should address bullying in all its forms, including any related to sexual orientation.

Can all schools teach about sexual orientation?

    • There are no legal barriers to discussing issues around sexual orientation in the classroom and responding to, and preventing, homophobic bullying.

    • Faith schools should be able to teach the tenets of their faith including the views of that faith on sexual orientation and same-sex relationships.

    • However, this must not affect children and young people’s rights to accurate and objective factual information and they should not present these views in a way that may be offensive to individual pupils or single out any individual pupils for criticism.

    • Faith schools should not suggest that their own views are the only valid ones, and they must, to comply with the requirements of equalities legislation, make clear that there is a wide range of divergent views.

What opportunities are there to discuss sexual exploitation?

  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child enshrines children and young people’s rights to be protected from sexual exploitation. Schools have a central role to play in reducing this risk.

  • Specifically young people should be given opportunities to understand the features of safe and potentially abusive relationships and to develop their skills to identify potential risks, stay safe and seek help if needed, including negotiating behaviour in personal relationships.

  • Learners should also be helped to develop positive attitudes and behaviours, including strategies for managing anger, frustration and aggressive feelings effectively, and for resolving conflict.

What SRE provision is available for learners aged 16-19?

  • The non-statutory Personal and social education framework for 7 to 19 year-olds in Wales is the key document which learning providers should use to develop SRE programmes for post 16 learners.

  • PSE is a compulsory component of the Welsh Baccalaureate core. To satisfy the requirements of the of the WBQ core, all learners must consider key issues from the ‘Positive relations’ and the ‘Good health’ elements, including sexual health elements. For more details visit:

Does Estyn inspect SRE?

  • This varies from school to school depending upon the focus of the inspection. However, Estyn is statutorily required to report on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of learners at any school they inspect, and to report on the contribution made by the school to their well-being. Such reports might provide useful evidence for the evaluation of a school’s SRE provision.

How can schools have their holistic approach to SRE recognised?

  • The Welsh Network of Healthy Schools Scheme (WNHSS), funded by the Welsh Assembly Government, offers a structured national framework for undertaking health-related work, including SRE, in schools. Local coordinators offer direct support in helping schools to identify their needs and plan appropriate actions to address those needs.

  • The WNHSS National Quality Award has a requirement that schools work on seven health topics including ‘Personal development and relationships’.

What bilingual resources are available to support the delivery of SRE in Wales?

  • The Welsh Assembly Government has commissioned bilingual versions of the SENSE interactive CDs - Growing Up and Keeping Safe for Key Stage 2 and Sex and Relationships for Key Stage 3. These materials have been made available free of charge to all schools in Wales and teachers have been offered training by local Healthy Schools coordinators

Who is responsible for choosing the learning resources used in sex and relationship education; and how can schools ensure that inappropriate materials are not used?

  • Head teachers and governors are responsible for making decisions about teaching and learning resources. They must have regard to the advice given in the Welsh Assembly Government’s guidance circular ‘Sex and relationships education in schools’.

Schools should

  • ensure that teaching and learning resources are inclusive, appropriate for the age and cultural background of pupils

  • consult parents about the sex education policy and why it is important that their children receive SRE

  • make every effort to engage parents in the development of SRE to ensure that they understand and are familiar with the content and learning resources used to deliver the SRE programme.

How do we ensure that SRE meets the needs of all learners?

  • Schools should ensure SRE programmes meet the needs of all learners – boys and girls, young people with additional learning needs and learners from different religious and cultural backgrounds.

  • Teaching should be inclusive, helping all young people to understand their physical and emotional development and enabling them to make positive decisions about their personal relationships, sexual health and well-being.

What are the implications of the Equality Act 2010 for SRE?

    • Under the Single Equality Duty defined in the Equality Act 2010, schools, in the ‘provision of their service’, cannot discriminate against learners on the grounds of race, gender, disability, religion/belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy/maternity, gender identity and/or age.

    • Whilst making decisions about the content of the SRE programme, governing bodies of all schools must be mindful of the legal requirements of the Single Equality Duty within the Equality Act 2010.

    • Schools should use teaching materials that show a range of people from diverse cultural backgrounds and represent a variety of family structures to reflect wider society. For example single parent families; families with same sex parents, children who live with their grandparents etc. This would support teachers by providing reassurance that it is appropriate to discuss all types of family life in schools and also avoid discriminating against those children who not live in the ‘traditional’ family structure for whatever reason.

Should schools allocate a specified amount of time to SRE?

  • Decisions regarding the delivery of the curriculum, including SRE, are rightly delegated to schools. Schools will continue to decide on time given and the strategies for learning adopted.

Should learners be consulted about SRE?

  • Learners have the right, as provided for by Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to contribute in a meaningful way to the development and review of a sex education policy and SRE programme. Pupil participation, such as the school council, enables learners to express their views on their needs at different key stages. Associate pupil governors also play an important role in representing the views of learners in governing body discussions about SRE.

What training is available for teachers to support the delivery of SRE?

  • All trainee teachers must meet the statutory Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) Standards in order to work as a qualified teacher. They are required to show that they can teach the required skills, knowledge, and understanding relevant to the curriculum for learners in the age range for which they are trained. The QTS Standards include specific requirements for trainees to be able to show that they are familiar with the PSE Framework.

  • Over recent years, one of the areas of eligible expenditure of the Better Schools Fund has been provision for specialist SRE support and training for teachers.

  • Typically, local authorities and other partners, such as Welsh Assembly Government funded Healthy Schools coordinators, have taken the lead in providing continuing professional specialist support and training for teachers.

  • A range of voluntary organisations, such as the All Wales Sexual Health Network, Family Planning Association Cymru, the Sex Education Forum and Stonewall Cymru, offer training for practitioners involved in the delivery of SRE.

What support is available for learning providers?

  • Information, advice and support with the planning and delivery of SRE is available locally across Wales from Local Authority PSE advisory staff, Welsh Network of Healthy Schools coordinators, and diocesan authorities and religious bodies.

  • Voluntary organisations, such as the All Wales Sexual Health Network, Family Planning Association Cymru, the Sex Education Forum and Stonewall Cymru, also provide specific support with aspects of SRE.

What support is available for learners?

  • To support the health, emotional and social needs of learners, the Welsh Assembly Government has developed a school-based counselling service that is independent, safe and accessible for all children and young people in Wales.

  • The role of school-based counsellors is to provide time, confidentiality and a safe place, to encourage and help a young person to talk about issues that are affecting them and to identify strategies that will help them to cope more effectively.

  • The support also includes providing individual learners with age-appropriate information about services that they can access, including helplines, websites and local advice and sexual health services.

  • Meic is the Welsh Assembly Government funded bilingual national advocacy service for children and young people in Wales.

How can schools work with parents/carers?

  • Parents/carers have a central role to play in terms of delivering positive messages to their children about sex and relationships. Examples of how schools can work with parents/carers include:

  • organising SRE awareness raising evenings for parents/carers

  • sharing governing body SRE-related decisions with parents/carers

  • making the school’s sex education policy available in a variety of formats e.g. in the school prospectus, on the school website

  • outlining in writing the school’s SRE programme

  • making a range of SRE learning resources available for parents/carers to look at

  • facilitating courses specifically for parents/carers, such as the Family Planning Association Speakeasy project.

How can schools challenge myths about the sexual activity of young people?

  • It is important that teachers delivering SRE have access to up-to-date statistics at a local and national level.

  • In reality, most teenagers of compulsory school age are not in a sexual relationship.

At what age should primary schools start teaching about puberty?

  • Decisions about the content and timing of SRE are left to individual schools. However, children and young people consistently report that they receive SRE too late. For example, teaching about menstruation should ideally take place before girls experience such changes.

Should teaching about puberty make reference to masturbation?

  • Social and cultural taboos and religious beliefs may create embarrassment around sexual health and well-being issues. Schools should create a supportive and respectful environment where the most challenging issues can be discussed with maturity and in a balanced way.

  • Ultimately decisions about the issues to be included in the SRE programme and the timing of their introduction is a matter for the school governing body. These decisions should be reflected in the school’s sex education policy.

How can the SRE programme link with related health promotion activities?

  • The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination programme is underway for all Year 8 girls. As part of the SRE programme and alongside other teaching about STIs, learners should be helped to understand what the virus is and the purpose of the vaccination programme. Learners also need to have a clear understanding that the vaccination programme will not protect them from all STIs and that young women still need to have regular cervical screening smear tests.

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