The government recently announced that all school children will learn about good physical and mental health, how to stay safe online and offline, and the importance of healthy relationships.
From September 2020, all pupils will undertake compulsory health education, which will have a strong focus on mental wellbeing, as well as introduction of a reformed relationships education curriculum in primary school and relationships and sex education in secondary school.
Teachers will be expected to teach and enable pupils how to spot poor mental health and stay healthy, helping them “grow-up happy and well-rounded”, education secretary Damian Hinds has said.
This comes 20 years after the government last made changes to health, relationships and sex education. This is in the context of a world, which looks significantly different to children from 20 years ago, with fundamental changes for how children develop their relationships, including understanding the online risks for children with the development of social media as a key feature in the majority of children's lives.
These changes have gained widespread public attention, in part, due to some parental protests at schools in parts of England regarding their current curriculum, and not the proposed changes. The most visible example of this was at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, where protests took place regarding the curriculum.
There are a number of myths being circulated regarding the 2020 changes. The first is that schools will be required to teach concepts and values that are contradictory to some religious beliefs. This is not the case. Schools are required to comply with the relevant requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty, which means, in making decisions, respecting the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and other conduct that is prohibited by the Equality Act. In this way together we can deliver equality of opportunity for all and foster good relations between people who share lifestyle characteristics and people who do not.
A second myth is that these changes will conflict or compromise parents' ability to educate their children according to their own religious, cultural and/or philosophical beliefs. However, how this curriculum will be taught will be a decision for individual schools, which will consult with parents before the introduction of the new relationships education. School governing bodies, which will include parent governors, will then work with their teaching staff to deliver the most age appropriate elements of the new curriculum to the pupils. Schools will have the ability to amend their approach, if they justify it is necessary to support pupils and families at the school.
Once an approach has been established, school leaders will retain the ability to amend as circumstances change and at all stages ensure that all pupils are supported to grow-up healthier and happier, and all are prepared for the opportunities and challenges of an “ever more complex” world, both on and offline and without prejudice.