Is PSHE Compulsory?

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Sending your child to school is an exciting time for many parents. It represents a huge step in their lives and gives them a whole new level of independence. However, for many parents this is also a very anxiety inducing time. One thing that many parents worry about is what their child is being taught, and whether it aligns with their beliefs. In this article we will explore the rules surrounding PSHE lessons in schools and explain your options as a parent in this area of education.

PSHE is compulsory to be taught in UK schools at both primary and secondary levels, and in all types of school including faith schools, academies and independent schools. The PSHE curriculum is not nationally set, but must include relationships, and in secondary school must include sex education. Parents have the right to withdraw their children from sex education until the age of 16, but not from any other part of the PSHE curriculum, or from sex education as part of the science curriculum.

While this should have given you a short answer to your questions, please read on for full details including further information about what is included in the PSHE curriculum in schools.

What is taught in PSHE in schools?

PSHE stands for Personal, Health, and Economic Education. It includes RSE, relationships and sex education, which is a compulsory part of the curriculum in the UK.

The UK government states PSHE education in schools is intended to give students the knowledge they need to successfully make life choices as an adult. PSHE particularly focusses on health, wellbeing, and relationships. Schools prioritise age-appropriate and evidence-based teaching of these subjects, to help prepare students for adult life.

Schools are left to some extent to determine their own RSE and PSHE curricula. They are required to consult with parents in developing and writing their policies around PSHE and RSE. The requirements are deliberately looser than the national curriculum to make sure schools can reflect the needs of the community and students they serve in their PSHE teaching.

PSHE must also include teaching on LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people and issues. They state that students must understand the importance of respect and equality, and that sexuality and gender reassignment are protected under the equality act. Schools are required to ensure this content is sensitive and age-appropriate, as with the rest of the curriculum. More information on the guidance given to schools can be found on the gov website.

Does every child have to take PSHE?

In the UK, there is a law which makes relationship education compulsory for all primary school pupils, and relationship and sex education compulsory for all secondary school pupils, including those at independent schools. Furthermore, health education is compulsory in all schools except independent schools.

Parents have the right to withdraw their child from some or all of the sex education component of these courses. However, all children are required to take relationship and health education and they cannot be exempted from this for any reason.

It is important to note that some primary schools choose to teach sex education in addition to relationships. It will always be designed to be both developmentally and age-appropriate, and parents will be made aware that this is being taught as well. Parents have the right to excuse their child from this part of RSE in primary school.

Schools are also required to ensure that any teaching is accessible to all pupils, including those with SEND. The government states that it is important that students with SEND receive this education, as they are often more vulnerable to exploitation, and bullying.

Can you withdraw your child from PSHE?

As stated above, PSHE is compulsory in UK schools. However, parents can choose to withdraw their children from some or all of the sex education sections.

In order to request this for your child, you should first write a letter or email to your child’s headteacher or head of year. This will allow you to begin the process of documenting the request, which is important as schools are required to keep record of this kind of request.

Usually once the headteacher or head of year has received your letter they will ask to meet with you and discuss your choice. This is to help you to understand what would be taught in these sessions, to help you make an informed decision on which sessions you may wish your child to not attend.

They may also tell you about potential consequences of withdrawing your child, which the government suggests could include hearing peers versions of what was said rather than the teacher, and social and emotional consequences of exclusion.

Schools usually also wish to discuss this process with your child, if it is developmentally appropriate for them. This is particularly true in the latter stages of secondary education. This meeting will help the school to ensure your child’s wishes are understood and to clarify the nature and purposes of the curriculum to them.

However, ultimately this is the parents choice until the age of 16. After 16, except in exceptional circumstances, if your child wishes to receive sex education then the school will make arrangements to provide it to them. This is usually the same for children with SEND at 16, however teachers will take children’s specific circumstances into account.

Do faith schools have to teach PSHE?

Faith schools are also required to teach PSHE, and RSE. Their teaching is required to reflect the law, as in all schools, so that students know clearly what is and is not legal and the wider implications of their decisions.

The government states that the religious background of all pupils must be considered when planning teaching, to ensure that the subject is handled appropriately. This is to ensure that schools apply with the Equality Act, where religion and belief are protected characteristics.

However, all schools are also allowed to teach about faith perspectives on relationships and sex. Schools with a religious character can teach their faith perspectives on relationships, allowing for balanced debate on issues which may be seen as contentious within their religion.

*Check out the PSHE Association for more information about PHSE in schools.

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