Knowing that the Government has statutory requirements for Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE), but that faith schools are able to teach RSHE in line with their faith’s beliefs can sometimes feel a bit confusing and overwhelming, especially when schools want to communicate clearly with parents. 

What is covered by statutory RSHE?

There are distinct differences between primary and secondary schools and the curriculum they are required to cover for RSHE.

In primary schools, the subject is entitled ‘Relationship and Health Education’. There is no compulsory mention of the word ‘sex’ in the subject for primary schools. This means that ‘sex education’ is an optional subject. In secondary schools, the subject is entitled ‘Relationship, Sex and Health Education’. Here, ‘sex education’ is a compulsory element of the statutory curriculum.

What does this mean in terms of what schools can and should teach, and what right do parents have to withdraw their children from lessons?

Let’s look at primary schools first. The DfE guidance says that:

Where a maintained primary school chooses to teach aspects of sex education (which go beyond the national curriculum for science), the school must set this out in their policy and all schools should consult with parents on what is to be covered. Primary schools that choose to teach sex education… must comply with a parent’s wish to withdraw their child from sex education beyond the national curriculum for science.

Therefore, in primary schools’ curriculums, it is important that schools identify if any aspects of the teaching include ‘sex education’, for example, teaching about sexual intercourse. If it does, then you should include this in your policy and consult with your parents about it.

In secondary schools, as part of the statutory curriculum in England, ‘Sex Education’ is compulsory. However, parents still have the right to withdraw their children from lessons that teach ‘Sex Education’. They can do so up to three terms before their children reach the age of 16. This means, for example, that if a student turns 16 in September, parents have the right to withdraw their child from these lessons up to the start of Year 10 – but not beyond.

However, the DfE Guidance states that:

…before granting any such request it would be good practice for the head teacher to discuss the request with parents and, as appropriate, with the child to ensure that their wishes are understood and to clarify the nature and purpose of the curriculum. Schools will want to document this process to ensure a record is kept.


Further to this, the DfE recommends that it is ‘good practice … to include the head teacher discussing with parents the benefits of receiving this important education and any detrimental effects that withdrawal might have on the child. This could include any social and emotional effects of being excluded, as well as the likelihood of the child hearing their peers’ version of what was said in the classes, rather than what was directly said by the teacher…’ #46

So, to summarise:

  • It is Relationship and Health Education in primary schools
  • And it’s Relationship, Sex and Health Education in secondary schools
  • If ‘sex education’ is included in primary schools, it must be included in your school policy through consultation with parents
  • If a parent requests that their child is withdrawn from Relationships Education or Health Education in primary schools, the DfE recommends that the head teacher opens up a dialogue with the parent to explain the statutory nature of the curriculum and what it does and doesn’t include.
  • If a parent requests the right to withdraw from ‘Sex Education’ in secondary schools, the DfE recommends opening up a dialogue with both the parent and the child to outline the benefits of the teaching.

What does the Catholic Church say about engaging parents?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church perfectly sums up the core principle that the Church gives us with regard to engaging parents when teaching their children about RSHE:

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.

CCC 2223

The Catholic Church further expands on this by saying that God has given each family its own specific and unique mission, and that the role of the school is to complement the educational responsibilities that have been bestowed upon parents.

According to the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome:

Catholic tradition teaches that God has bestowed on the family its own specific and unique educational mission… The educational task of the family and that of the school complement one another in many concrete areas.

So, parents are the first educators of their children. It is their right and responsibility to inform and educate their children in matters relating to human growth and development, particularly sexual development. Therefore, schools should always seek to work in partnership with parents and carers. The teaching offered by schools should complement and not replace their primary role. In doing so, we are fulfilling the mission of the Church and enacting the Home-Parish-School triangle: supporting the Church in its duty to educate on these matters, and assisting parents in their duties.

In conclusion, we can say there is a lot of synergy between what the Government says about engaging parents, and the emphasis placed by the Catholic Church on the centrality of parents to teaching the subject.

How does Ten Ten Resources enable schools to support parents?

As part of Life to the Full, we have created an Online Parent Portal. This section of our website is available to all parents whose child’s school uses Life to the Full. The Online Parent Portal provides a summary of each lesson, links to specific content and suggestions for further engagement at home. Every school is given a unique username and password which they can distribute to parents to provide all-year-round access to the portal.

Since September 2021, Ten Ten has been running online training courses for teachers, governors and parents. These training courses provide opportunities for further engagement and understanding on matters related to Relationships, Sex and Health Education.

Occasionally, we receive requests from parents (via their schools) for full access to the programme as part of the consultation process. From April 2022, we will be able to provide online access to the full programme of resources so parents can actively engage in the consultation process. All requests for full access must be made via the school, not directly with Ten Ten.