Why we need to teach young people about healthy relationships and gender

Beyond Equality statement on RSHE guidance

Published 4th July 2024

Beyond Equality have seen the draft Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) guidance published by the previous government, setting out what schools must teach and when in relationships, sex and health education. 

We are concerned that the guidance prevents teachers from being able to teach about abuse at a timely point and challenge sexism, misogyny and prejudice fully. We echo the concerns raised by other organisations that this guidance does not represent the views and wishes of young people - and that it excludes the experiences of marginalised young people, especially trans young people. 

As an organisation working on positive masculinities, we welcome the inclusion of a specific focus on suicide prevention in the RSHE curriculum: given that men continue to be overrepresented in deaths by suicide, sensitive and inclusive teaching about identifying and responding to risk factors for suicide can play a vital role in supporting boys’ and men’s mental health and wellbeing.

We’re also pleased to see increased focus on online sexual abuse and harassment: Gen Z spend more time on social media than any previous generation, and it’s vital that today’s young people learn how to recognise and respond to abuse and harassment that happens online. This kind of teaching, when done sensitively and well, is vital in helping boys recognise the impact of gender-based violence for women and girls, and become allies in the struggle for gender equality.

We hope the government will provide schools and teachers with quality training and resources to ensure this teaching can be delivered to a high standard.

However, we are deeply concerned to see the introduction of age limits that require schools to wait until pupils reach a certain age before introducing particular topics. As other organisations have pointed out, these limits are confusing for schools to implement and make it difficult to teach even the permitted topics fully (for example, porn may be taught about from year 7, but sexual acts cannot be referenced until Year 9). 

We have serious concerns about the ban on teaching about violent abuse, including physical, psychological and emotional abuse, until pupils are in Year 9. Violent abuse has a direct impact on many children’s lives. The NSPCC have noted a yearly increase in the number of child protection referrals and ChildLine calls related to domestic abuse. SafeLives find that a quarter of 13-18 year old girls have experienced intimate partner violence in their romantic relationships - under the new guidance, the younger end of that age bracket would not be receiving any teaching to help them recognise what abuse is.

Teaching about how to recognise the signs of abuse, and how to seek help from trusted sources, is crucial to keeping all children and young people safe. What’s more, sensitive teaching about abuse can help young people who are perpetrating abusive behaviours themselves recognise what they’re doing and get help to stop.

We’re also very concerned about the ban on teaching about gender identity introduced by this guidance. This echoes Section 28 in preventing schools from teaching about LGBTQ+ people. The impact of this exclusion will be particularly damaging for trans young people - and it denies all children and young people the opportunity to learn about diversity and the world around us. 

Time and again, evidence has shown that quality, comprehensive and timely RSHE supports pupils’ wellbeing and safety. It’s also a crucial part of ending violence against women and girls. We hope the government will listen to concerns from the children and young people’s sector, from RSHE experts, from parents/carers and schools and will revise this guidance in the best interests of children and young people.

The draft RSHE guidance is open to consultation by the public until July 11th. Anyone who is concerned about the detrimental impacts of this guidance may wish to consider completing a consultation response. 

If you want to know more about the guidance and how it may affect schools and young people, you may find the following statements and explainers from the End Violence Against Women Coalition and from Sex Education Forum helpful.

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