SRE becomes LGBT+ inclusive RSE in Wales

Kirsty Williams AM

Sex and Relationship Education in Wales faces a shakeup – becoming LGBT+ inclusive and renamed Relationship and Sexuality Education to emphasise that it is about much more than sex. 

Education Secretary in the Welsh Coalition Government, Kirsty Williams AM, has announced that Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) will be a statutory part of Wales’ new curriculum which will be in place from 2022.

At present, SRE is a statutory part of the basic curriculum in Wales but it is down to schools to decide their approach to the subject and this sometimes doesn’t stretch beyond the biological aspects of human relationships.

RSE broadens this area of study and places an emphasis on forming and maintaining healthy, happy and fulfilling relationships. Learners will also be given a much broader understanding of sexuality that is fully inclusive of LGBTQI+ learners and includes wider issues such as consent, domestic abuse and respecting diversity.

The decision to change the focus of this area of study to relationships and sexuality, as well as the decision to make it statutory, reflects its immense importance in terms of how learners understand themselves, each other, their community and society.

When Wales’ new curriculum is in place in 2022, RSE will become statutory from the age of 5 to 16, but learners will not be taught about topics for which they are not developmentally ready.

RSE would simply continue with the same approach as the Foundation Phase in Wales (for children aged 3-7) which ensures that children learn about relationships with friends and family and how to stay safe.

The Education Secretary also announced that there would be changes to SRE training in both initial teacher education and within the existing workforce. £200,000 will be made available to education consortia so they can begin the process of identifying professional learning needs in this area.

The Education Secretary joined learners at Ysgol Casnewydd in Newport to see how they are working across the curriculum to understand issues such as gender and sexual equalities and rights.

Kirsty Williams said:

“The days of traditional sex education are long gone; the world has moved on and our curriculum must move with it.

“Sex should never be taught in isolation for the simple reason that it is about so much more than just sex; it’s also about relationships, rights and respect and that must go hand in hand with a much broader understanding of sexuality. Anything less does a disservice to our learners and teachers.

“The fact is relationships and sexuality shape our lives as well as the world around us. They are a fundamental part of who we are and how we understand ourselves, each other and society.

“By creating RSE as a statutory area of study in our new curriculum for Wales, we will support our young people to develop healthy relationships, maintain good mental health and keep physically and sexually safe.

“Of course, thirty years on from the introduction of Section 28, we will also ensure that RSE is fully inclusive of all genders and sexualities and meets the needs of LGBTQI+ learners.

“Crucial to all of this will be ensuring that our teachers have the knowledge and confidence to provide the RSE our learners deserve. That’s why we’re providing to ensure that we get the training and professional development right.

“Thirty years ago Margaret Thatcher denounced local education authorities for teaching children that “they have an inalienable right to be gay”. I want all our learners to know that they have an inalienable right to be happy – this is the driving force behind the changes we’re proposing.”

Professor Emma Renold, whose review forms the basis of the new RSE model, said:

“I am delighted that the expert panel’s recommendations have been met with such unequivocal enthusiasm by Kirsty Williams. Embracing and implementing the panel’s evidenced-based vision to transform Relationships and Sexuality Education, from effective pedagogy to teacher training, will, over time, ensure a relevant, engaging and high quality RSE that meets the needs of all children and young people.

“Underpinning the new curriculum with the core principles of rights, equity, inclusivity, protection and empowerment makes for a very promising future for RSE in Wales and takes forward some of the best practice already underway in primary and secondary schools in Wales, and internationally.”

While Relationships and Sexuality Education will become statutory as part of the new curriculum when it is rolled out in 2022, the change in name will be actioned as part of a refresh to guidance for the current curriculum. It is intended for this guidance to be published early next year.

As well as reflecting this name change, the guidance will provide schools with greater support on a range of topics such as education for LGBTQI+ learners and prevention of violence against women and domestic abuse.

All secondary settings in Wales, including special schools and pupil referral units, have the statutory obligation to provide sex education to their learners.

Sex education forms part of the “basic curriculum” in Wales (alongside Personal and Social Education (PSE) and Work Related Education). Schools are able to decide on the content and approaches they use when delivering the basic curriculum.

Relationships and Sexuality Education will be statutory within the new curriculum from the age of 5, as this is the age of statutory schooling. All Relationships and Sexuality Education provided for children and young people must be appropriate to their age and developmental stage, and there are no plans to change the principle of a right to withdraw. Similarly there are no plans to change the duty for schools, including those with a religious character, to provide Relationships and Sexuality Education that is consistent with their ethos.

Equivalent reforms for England were expected prior to the snap 2017 General Election and have since run into the ground leaving pupils in England with an SRE curriculum designed in the year 2000 — when from sexting to trans visibility the world was a very different place to be growing up.