Although there have been changes to RSHE statutory guidance this year, parents retain the right to withdraw their child from Sex Education at primary and secondary school. The right to withdraw refers only to the Sex Education element of RSHE. Parents are not able to withdraw their child from Relationships or Health Education.
At secondary school level, parents are entitled to withdraw their child from sex education, other than the sex education contained in the National Curriculum as part of science. As stated by the DfE, “at key stage 3 and 4, the national curriculum for science includes teaching about reproduction in humans; for example, the structure and function of the male and female reproductive systems, menstrual cycle, gametes, fertilisation, gestation, birth and HIV/AIDS.”
The Health Education element of RSHE includes a section for secondary schools including the changing adolescent body, puberty, the menstrual cycle and menstrual wellbeing.
It remains the school’s responsibility to interpret what is deemed solely ‘sex education’ and this should be explained to any parent that requests their child is withdrawn. Consideration should be given as to whether being withdrawn from education really benefits the child and this should be discussed in depth with parents. The DfE explains, “Sex and relationship education (SRE) is compulsory from age 11 onwards. It involves teaching children about reproduction, sexuality and sexual health. It does not promote early sexual activity or any particular sexual orientation.”
Advice for dealing with the right to withdraw
Should your school receive a request to withdraw, the head teacher should discuss with parents and carers the benefits of their child receiving this important education, detailing any detrimental effects that withdrawal might have. This may include the social and emotional effects of being excluded, as well as the likelihood of the child hearing their peers’ version of what was discussed in class, rather than what was directly discussed by the teacher.
A common reason for parents withdrawing their child from sex education is their religious beliefs. Faith schools are not exempt from teaching RSE. Guidance states that in all schools, the religious background of all pupils must be considered so that the topics covered in RSE classes are appropriately handled. Schools must ensure they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010, under which religion or beliefs are protected characteristics.
Also note, a child has the right to opt into sex education from their 15th birthday (specifically three academic terms before they turn 16). At this point, if they wish to receive sex education, the school should make arrangements for this to happen. It would be good practice for the head teacher to discuss the request with parents and carers and, as appropriate, with the child to ensure that their wishes are understood and to clarify the nature and purpose of the curriculum.
Schools are advised to keep a record of the withdrawal process and their dialogue with parents relating to requests to withdraw from sex education.
Relationships Education, Health Education, Science and Sex Education are designed to work together to protect children by ensuring they understand their bodies, emotions, the human life cycle, acceptable behaviour as well as right and wrong.
You can find more information on dealing with the withdrawal process here.
We have created a comprehensive mapping document which highlights which elements of our resources should be considered as part of your opt-out policy. We are also always on hand to provide advice or refer iAchieve schools to the relevant authority for further guidance.
Find out more about our RSHE resources here.