A big thank you to all of the parents in England who completed our recent survey on sex education, or, as it’s called going forwards, Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education (RE/RSE for short). It’s clearly a subject that matters to parents – 86% told us that being consulted on this issue is important to them.
In total, 341 parents gave their views. This was instrumental in enabling us to respond to the government’s consultation and tell them what parents think about RE/RSE and their proposed changes to how it is taught in English schools. The questions we asked were posed in such a way as to enable us to gather data to answer specific questions that the Department for Education had set. We also quoted from our Annual Parent Survey 2018 and Teacher Survey 2017.
Key survey findings
1. Relationships Education in Primary Schools
- 78% of parents felt that all of the proposed topics for Relationships Education in primary school are age-appropriate
- Consent, LGBT relationships and the menstruation cycle were the most common suggestions for what else was needed to provide primary school children with sufficient knowledge to have positive relationships.
2. Should primary schools teach Relationships and Sex Education?
The government asked whether or not primary schools that wish to teach it should be able to provide age-appropriate Relationships and Sex Education to primary school children. When we asked parents their views in general terms:
- 70% supported the move, 16% opposed, and the rest were unsure
- 77% agree schools must consult with parents about detailed content of what will be taught.
Asking specifically about their child’s primary school introducing Relationships and Sex Education:
- 57% said they would be wholly or mostly supportive
- 21% said they would consider being supportive, but only after consultation with parents
- 6% would not be supportive and would withdraw their child
- 2% would oppose the measure but allow their child to attend.
3. Relationships and Sex Education in secondary schools
The majority of parents who took our survey were supportive of the government’s proposed course content.
- 82% felt all of the suggestions were age appropriate.
Common parental suggestions for what they would like to see included in course content to give their child sufficient knowledge to help them to have positive relationships were:
- Awareness of LGBT relationships
- Consent, including the age of consent
- Respect for those who choose not to have sex before marriage
- Sanitary products
4. Should parents be able to withdraw their child from RE/RSE?
This is a divisive and sensitive issue among the parent community. 84% of parents have told us they would like schools to consult them on a regular basis*, and 87% of parents answering our survey told us it was important that their child’s school consults them about how it teaches RE/RSE.
- At primary school age, 56% support another parent’s right to withdraw, but 32% oppose
- At secondary school age, 31% support another parent’s right to withdraw, but 60% oppose
- 67% felt that a 15-year old is mature enough to make up his/her own mind.
There are competing rights, strong views and concerns in this area, which makes open communication on all sides essential. It’s important that parents know exactly what is being taught in RE/RSE, and that they are consulted on how the subjects are taught. This may allay fears some parents may have, but allow all parents to make an informed decision as to whether or not they wish to withdraw their child. Schools should have procedures in place to ensure that a constructive conversation can occur, with the school providing every opportunity for a positive solution.
5. How do parents want to be engaged on RE/RSE content?
In general, parents showed a preference for a group meeting at school (27%) to talk about RE/RSE, with an online form a close second (26.5%), which would be of benefit for parents who may have commitments that would keep them away from organised meetings. Only 1% indicated that they did not wish to be consulted.
Raising concerns is a more personal matter, and this reflected in the top choice, which was speaking to their child's form teacher (30%), and the second most popular method was speaking to the head teacher (19%), with email in third place (17%).
We are concerned that when we asked parents how their child’s school currently keeps them informed about sex education, 35% told us that they are not kept informed. The next most popular answer was by letter (30%). Parents say they would like schools to provide more face-to-face engagement, with the option to air their views.
Overall, we felt that the Department for Education should listen to ‘pupil voice’ too, and ask young people what support they need, and what does and doesn’t work for them. It is important that all stakeholders are listened to during this process, and accommodation is made where necessary for SEND pupils, where the pupil and parent may need to be consulted in order for schools to provide the right support for their unique circumstances.
Educating children in RE/RSE in the school setting is clearly an important subject for most parents, and one which encompasses a wide range of views. Open communication with school should ensure sensitivity. Even where parents have different views about the final outcome of changing RE/RSE, they must be considered partners, consulted and made part of the decision-making process by government in the first instance, and by schools once RE/RSE is taught in the classroom.
*Annual Parent Survey 2017