School children across the country are to be taught about physical and mental health, staying safe online and the importance of healthy relationships, under new plans published by the government this week.
The proposals will be the first update to current PSHE curriculums since 2000 and will make health education - including lessons on depression and anxiety - compulsory to all. Sex education will become mandatory in secondary years.
Although some have welcomed the proposals, others have criticised the delay in implementation: teachers will be provided with necessary resources from September 2019 but won’t be teaching the syllabus until the following autumn.
Under the relationship education, primary aged children, will be taught in an “age appropriate” way about the features of healthy friendships, family relationships and other relationships they are likely to encounter.
At secondary school, teachers will build on the foundations built in primary school and extend teaching to include intimate relationships as well. It will also discuss issues of consent and LGBT issues.
For the mental health component lessons will help support the development of qualities such as confidence, resilience, self-respect and self-control. It will also make sure children and young people learn how to recognise when they and others are struggling with mental health and how to respond.
Children will also be taught about staying safe online – complementing the existing computing curriculum – and how to use technology safely, responsibly and respectfully.
On the physical side of the programme (following the publication of the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan) pupils will be taught about the benefits of healthy eating and keeping fit.
Although the comprehensive plan is in final stages of planning, it is still subject to a further 12-week consultation on content and how the subjects are taught.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said of the plans: “I want to make sure our children are able to grow up to become happy and well-rounded individuals who know how to deal with the challenges of the modern world.
“Many of today’s problems did not exist when we last gave schools guidance on how to teach Relationships and Sex Education 18 years ago.”
Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan agrees that guidance will address issues facing children today: “We welcome the proposed guidance, and its focus on the issues Barnardo’s has campaigned for such as consent, healthy relationships and staying safe online.”
But others have said that proposals do not go far enough (especially as all topics currently covered in PSHE such as financial literacy and preparation for the workplace have been omitted).
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction but it does not go as far as we would like it to.
“The evidence submitted from our members to the recent consultation made it clear that the best way for schools to teach relationships and sex education is within the context of PSHE and we remain disappointed that the government is still stalling on making PSHE statutory for all pupils in all schools.
And some just want the roll-out date to be sooner as the government had made a commitment to statutory relationships and sex education by September 2019.
Almudena Lara, NSPCC’s head of policy and public affairs, said: “While compulsory lessons are a long awaited step... we are disappointed that implementation is being delayed again to 2020.
“By then up to 1.4 million children will have started primary school without a requirement for clear age appropriate lessons on consent, appropriate boundaries, healthy relationships and how to treat others.”