Education Department clarifies new sex education rules

Mandatory lessons in all schools will address LGBT+ issues


London, UK – 13 December 2017


The UK government has confirmed that from September 2019, all schools in England will be required by law to teach Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and “ensure that young people, whatever their developing sexuality or identity, feel that RSE is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs.”

This commitment to LGBT-inclusive RSE comes from the Department of Education, replying on behalf of the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, to correspondence from Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

He raised concerns that the government had previously not made it clear that RSE would address the needs of LGBT+ pupils.

“LGBT+ pupils are some of the most vulnerable and under-served pupils in the school system. They mostly lack affirmation of their identity and the provision of life-saving safer sex advice. Nearly half suffer bullying which can have negative knock-on effects, including truancy, academic under-achievement, depression, anxiety and self-harm,” said Mr Tatchell.

The government statement further pledged:

“All primary schools (maintained, academies or independent) will be required to provide relationships education. All secondary schools (maintained, academies or independent) will be required to provide RSE.

“We have committed to retain for parents a right to withdraw their child from sex education within RSE (other than sex education in the national curriculum as part of science), but not from relationships education at primary schools will be required to comply with requests for pupils to withdraw from sex education, and it will be for individual schools to determine how best to communicate to parents about their relationships education and RSE provision and the right to withdraw.”

Addressing fears that faith schools will be given an opt out from mandatory RSE, the government confirms:

“We are committed to ensuring that the education provided to pupils in Relationships Education and RSE is appropriate to the age of pupils and their religious background. The Secretary of State must give guidance to schools on how to deliver this. This provision enables faith schools to teach these subjects according to the tenets of their faith, whilst still being consistent with the requirements of the Equality Act.

Reacting to the government statement, Peter Tatchell said:

“It is reassuring to know that LGBT+ education will be part of the new RSE; though we will want to see the precise details when they are announced in due course.

“Given that most religions do not accept same-sex relationships, it is hard to see how the government can square the right of faith schools to teach RSE according to the tenets of their faith while also conforming to the requirements of the Equality Act. What will happen when there is a conflict between the two?

“Upholding the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education at secondary level is a harmful concession that will deprive withdrawn pupils of access to information and support vital for their sexual and emotional health. It will put them at greater risk of unwanted pregnancies, abortions and sexual infections, including HIV.

“I have urged the Education Secretary to stipulate that the right of parents to withdraw their child should be interpreted by schools to require a parent to attend the school and take their child out of each class; that a written note from a parent will no longer be sufficient. This would maintain a parent’s right to withdraw their child, while ensuring that more children receive important knowledge and advice on protecting their sexual, emotional and physical well-being,” said Mr Tatchell.

Copy of Peter Tatchell’s original letter to the Education Secretary


Justine Greening MP
Secretary of State for Education


Dear Justine Greening,

Mandatory and LGBT+ inclusive SRE

We are delighted that earlier this year you agreed to make sex and relationship education (SRE) mandatory. This is an important step forward to prepare young people for adult life, to safeguard their sexual and emotional health and to reduce the incidence of sex abuse, teenage pregnancies, abortions and STI transmissions, including HIV.

You rightly identify that the aim is happier, healthier relationships.

Thank you.

We have a number of questions that we’d like to ask you:

  1. When will mandatory SRE come into force?
  2. At what ages will schools be required to teach it?
  3. How often? Once a year? Once a month? Once a week?
  4. Will SRE be mandatory in every school? Including academies, independent, private, free and faith schools? And international schools based in England?
  5. Are any schools exempt?
  6. Will faith schools be able to teach their own religious ethos against sex outside of marriage, divorce, inter-faith marriages, homosexuality and gender-variance?
  7. Will there be national guidance on the issues that schools will be legally required to teach about SRE?
  8. If so, what is this guidance?
  9. While we applaud your decision to make SRE a legal requirement for schools, we are concerned that this requirement will not include SRE on LGBT+ issues, including affirmation and support for LGBT+ pupils and the provision to them of potentially life-saving information about safer sex for young people in same-sex relationships.
  10. Can you please advise us why the mandatory SRE does not include LGBT+ issues, given the demonstrable needs of LGBT+ young people, as evidenced by their responses to the Stonewall School Report 2017 (see its key findings below).

This report shows that LGBT+ pupils are being badly let down by many schools.

You have indicated that you will consider making mandatory SRE LGBT+ inclusive.

11. When are you likely to announce the results of your consideration?

These are matters of deep concern to the whole wider LGBT+ community.

I would be very grateful if you could respond specifically to each of these 11 queries and add any additional information that you think may be relevant.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Tatchell
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Studio 5, 14 Marshalsea Road, London SE1 1HL


The Stonewall School Report 2017 found that:

Nearly half of LGBT pupils (45 per cent) – including 64 per cent of trans pupils – are bullied for being LGBT in Britain’s schools.

Half of LGBT pupils hear homophobic slurs ‘frequently’ or ‘often’ at school.

Three in 10 LGBT pupils report that their school does not say that homophobic and biphobic bullying is wrong. Only two in five LGBT pupils report that their schools say that transphobic bullying is wrong.

Just one in five LGBT pupils have been taught about safe sex in relation to same-sex relationships.

More than four in five trans young people have self-harmed, as have three in five lesbian, gay and bisexual young people who are not trans.

More than two in five trans young people have attempted to take their own life, and one in five lesbian, gay and bisexual students who aren’t trans have done the same.

See the full report: