6 issues to learn about intercourse schooling guidelines – and what they imply for fogeys

Guidance on what can and can’t be taught in relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) in schools has been set out by the Government.

Draft rules were published on Thursday setting out strict age limits for when kids should be taught about certain areas, such as pornography or puberty, in schools. Ministers set out plans to block the “contested topic of gender identity” being taught in lessons at all.

The guidance was ordered last year after Rishi Sunak came under pressure from Tory MPs over reports of inappropriate content being taught in schools. Conservative backbencher Miriam Cates, a former biology teacher, has been leading the push, telling MPs last year that children are given “graphic lessons on oral sex” and how to choke your partner safely.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was forced to admit she does not know how widespread the teaching of “inappropriate” material about gender identity is in schools when she was grilled on the new guidance. She only said she had seen “some evidence from some people” that pupils were being taught that there could be “72 genders” and gender could “change daily” as facts.

The Tory Minister formally set out the guidance in Parliament. The Department for Education (DfE) has invited people to give their views on the draft guidance as part of a consultation which will be open until July 11. The Mirror has broken down all the key parts of the new rules below.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan set out the guidance in Parliament

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan set out the guidance in Parliament
Thomas Krych/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock)

1. What age will children be taught about sex education?

The new guidance sets out age restrictions on the teaching of certain topics.

Age eight: It says teaching around the human life cycle including puberty, key facts about the menstrual cycle, including physical and emotional changes, should not be taught before Year Four (about age 8).

Age nine: The DfE recommends sex education is taught no earlier than Year Five (around age 9) and is in line with what pupils learn about conception and birth as part of the national curriculum for science such as the main external body parts, the human body as it grows, including puberty, and reproduction in some plants and animals.

Age 11: The draft rules say harmful sexual behaviour in relationships, including concepts and laws relating to sexual harassment, revenge porn, sexual exploitation and abuse, grooming, stalking and forced marriage should not be taught before Year Seven (age 11). The risks of sending naked photos can also be taught from 11.

Age 13: While the risks of inappropriate online content such as pornography can be discussed “in an age-appropriate way” from Year Seven, the details of sexual acts should not be discussed before Year Nine (age 13), the guidance says. Domestic violence, coercive control and sexual violence, including rape and sexual assault should not teach be taught about “in any sexually explicit way before Year Nine”.

2. How much control do parents have?

The guidance says: “Primary schools should consult parents about the detailed content of anything that is to be taught in sex education.

“This process should include offering parents support in talking to their children about sex education and how to link this with what is being taught in school.”

Schools should, at minimum, provide parents with a representative sample of the resources that they plan to use, enabling parents to continue conversations started in class, and should ensure that parents are able to view all curriculum materials used to teach RSHE on request. Parents are not able to veto curriculum content, but it is right that they are able to see what their children are being taught,

Parents have the right to request that their child be withdrawn from some or all of sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE. Pupils are not able to request to withdraw. Parents do not have the right to withdraw their pupils from topics taught as part of the science curriculum, including science topics related to puberty or sexual reproduction.

Parents do not have the right to request withdrawal from relationships education, but relationships education should not include topics which involve explaining different forms of sexual activity. However, relationships education may include topics related to preventing sexual abuse.

3. What are the rules on gender identity?

The guidance states schools should not teach about the broader concept of gender identity.

It says: “Gender identity is a highly contested and complex subject. It is a sense a person may have of their own gender, whether male, female or a number of other categories. This may or may not be the same as their biological sex. Many people do not consider that they or others have a separate gender identity.”

It adds that if asked about the topic of gender identity, schools should “teach the facts about biological sex and not use any materials that present contested views as fact, including the view that gender is a spectrum”.

It states: “Material suggesting that someone’s gender is determined by their interests or clothing choices should not be used as it risks leading pupils who do not comply with sex stereotypes to question their gender when they might not have done so otherwise.”

While school must not teach about gender identity, the guidance makes clear that pupils should be taught the law about gender reassignment. “Schools should be clear that an individual must be 18 before they can legally reassign their gender,” it says. “This means that a child’s legal sex will always be the same as their biological sex and, at school, boys cannot be legally classified as girls or vice versa.”

4. Can LGBT content be taught?

The guidance says that pupils should understand “the importance of equality and respect and should learn about the protected characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender reassignment, by the end of their secondary education”.

It states: “We expect the majority of primary schools to teach about healthy loving relationships. Primary schools have discretion over whether to discuss sexual orientation or families with same-sex parents.

“At secondary, there should be an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships, and secondary schools should ensure that this content is integrated into RSHE programmes of study rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson.”

Children can be taught about the online harms of social media, apps and online gaming from the age of seven

Children can be taught about the online harms of social media, apps and online gaming from the age of seven
Getty Images/Westend61)

5. What is the guidance on online harms?

On online safety and harms, the guidance states that teaching about why social media, some apps, computer games and online gaming are age-restricted, and the risks relating to online gaming, including that it can become addictive, should not be taught before year three (age seven).

The guidance also warns that care should be taken when teaching that the internet can be a negative place where online abuse, bullying and harassment can take place, not to expose children to “concepts which may not be appropriate for them”.

Relationships education may include topics related to preventing sexual abuse, for example sharing inappropriate material online, providing teachers do not describe the nature of any sexual activity involved before the age limit set.

Pupils should learn about the law, including the Online Safety Act and laws around online behaviours including image and information sharing (including ‘sexting’, youth-produced sexual imagery, nudes, AI-generated sexual imagery and deepfakes). Pupils should understand the law about online sexual harassment and online sexual abuse including grooming and sextortion, as well as pornography.

6. Can the age limits ever be broken?

The guidance indicates there can be some flexibility on age limits on teaching of certain topics.

It said this can happen if necessary “to respond promptly to issues which pose an imminent safeguarding risk to their pupils”, but that parents must be informed in advance if something is to be taught earlier than expected.

The document states: “For example, if a primary school becomes aware that pupils are circulating pornographic material on social media, or if a secondary school becomes aware of a problem with sexual abuse in Key Stage 3, it would be appropriate for the school to address this with pupils in order to tackle the behaviour promptly, make them aware of the risks and consequences, and prevent it from happening in future.

“However, this does not mean schools should go into the details of the sexual acts in question.”