BHA welcomes Government move towards relationships and sex education in all English schools; expresses concerns about opt-outs for ‘faith’ schools

Last month the BHA published a report revealing that Ofsted alone cannot be relied upon to ensure that schools to teach relationships and sex education (RSE) properly, recommending that the subject be made statutory.

Today the BHA has welcomed the Government’s moves towards making this the case for all schools, but has expressed concern about the fact that religious schools ‘will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith’.

The BHA has been campaigning for compulsory RSE for more than five decades, working closely alongside fellow members of the Sex Education Forum (SEF), and through the SEF advisory group.

Following on from decades of campaigning by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and others, the UK Government has today announced that it is making relationships and sex education (RSE), renamed from sex and relationships education, compulsory in all English secondary schools, and relationships education compulsory in primaries. However, it has also said that ‘as now, faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith’. The BHA has welcomed the announcement as a first step in the right direction, but emphasised the need for all pupils to receive the full, comprehensive, and age-appropriate RSE to which they should be entitled.

The Government is also giving itself the power to extend this to personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), if it later decides to do so, without the need for further consent from Parliament. The change is being made through an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, and new regulations and updated guidance will be produced to go alongside it.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘All the available evidence points to comprehensive, age-appropriate, and fully inclusive relationships and sex education leading to the best outcomes for young people in terms of ensuring relationships are healthy, happy, and consensual, preventing unwanted pregnancies, and reducing STIs. We welcome the fact that the Government is now taking a first step towards recognising this in law. But it is essential that teaching in all schools is as comprehensive and inclusive of all pupils as possible, and we are concerned that this may well not be the case.’

‘It is vital that any new requirements are extended to religious schools. A child’s access to accurate, evidence-based, and relevant information, designed for the simple purpose of keeping them safe, should not be dependent on their religious or non-religious background, nor on the type of school to which they happen to have been sent. It should be clear to everyone that either all children have a right to this education, or no such right exists.’

The BHA sits on the advisory group of the Sex Education Forum, and has been working for several months now in a close coalition with other charities, including the Sex Education Forum, PSHE Association, Terrence Higgins Trust, National Children’s Bureau, Barnardo’s, NSPCC, Stonewall, and Plan UK, to try and secure compulsory SRE by way of an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill.

Last month the BHA also published a landmark report, Healthy, happy, safe? An investigation into how PSHE and SRE are inspected in English schools, which revealed that Ofsted has been ‘almost totally neglecting’ SRE and PSHE in school inspections. SRE and PSHE were mentioned in fewer Ofsted reports for the 2015/16 academic year than all other established subjects. This is despite the fact that the Government had frequently said that Ofsted inspections alone are sufficient in ensuring that schools teach SRE and PSHE properly. In light of the findings, the BHA recommended full, comprehensive, and age-appropriate PSHE and SRE be made compulsory in all schools.


For further comment or information please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 7324 3072/0781 55 89 636.

Read Education Secretary Justine Greening’s written ministerial statement:

Read the BHA’s previous story, ‘Major new BHA report: school inspections ‘almost totally neglect’ PSHE and SRE’:

Read the BHA’s report, Healthy, happy, safe? An investigation into how PSHE and SRE are inspected in English schools:

Read more about the BHA’s work on PSHE and SRE:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

The BHA is a member of the Sex Education Forum (SEF) and PSHE Association and sits on SEF’s advisory group.