Dangers of sexting, mental well-being and the importance of sleep lessons to be taught at English schools

All children in England are to be taught a new set of compulsory lessons on relationships, keeping safe on the internet and looking after their own mental health.

The Government proposals will see primary school children be taught relationships education, secondary school kids will get relationships and sex education and children of all ages will receive health education.

Pupils will learn the link between physical and mental health, with lessons focused on the importance of getting enough sleep, the dangers of sexting, and spotting anxiety in their friends.

The new guidelines, some of which will be taught to kids as young as four, have prompted more than 106,000 to sign a petition calling for parents to be given the right to opt their kids out of relationship and sex education.

  • So what will the compulsory lessons cover?

  • Primary Schools

At primary school, pupils will learn mental wellbeing is a normal part of daily life and why simple self-care – like getting enough sleep and spending time outdoors and with friends – is important.

They will also be taught about nutrition, the importance of staying active, and recognising the early signs of physical illness – ensuring pupils understand how mental and physical health are linked.

Primary school children will also be taught age-appropriate online safety – including what to do if they come across things they are uncomfortable with, the importance of respect for others even when posting anonymously, and the risks of talking to people on the internet that they don’t know in real life.

In addition, they will learn how important it is that spending time online doesn’t get in the way of exercising, getting enough sleep, or being an active part of their community.

The Government says the content taught will be age appropriate. Credit: PA
  • Secondary Schools

The new secondary content will build on everything learned at primary school, ensuring pupils can spot the signs of common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression in themselves or others. Young people will learn how to discuss their emotions accurately and sensitively, about the impact of alcohol and drugs on physical and mental health, and how to access professional help.

Secondary pupils will also be taught online safety topics, including the serious risks of sharing private photos, the impact of viewing explicit or harmful content – including how to report it and get support – as well as how the internet can sometimes promote an unhealthy view of sex and relationships.

In addition, schools will be able to access supporting information on how to teach about all aspects of internet safety – not just those relating to relationships, sex and health – to help teachers deliver this in a co-ordinated and coherent way. The new content will complement the existing computing curriculum, which gives pupils a grounding in how to use technology safely, responsibly, respectfully and securely.

According to the curriculum guidelines produced on Monday, secondary school pupils will also be taught about female genital mutilation (FGM) - focusing on awareness, the availability of support networks, and reminding them that it is illegal.

Students aged 11 and older should also be taught about other forms of honour-based abuse, as well as grooming, forced marriage and domestic abuse as part of a strengthened curriculum, the Department for Education said.

Teachers at secondary school will have to take lessons on online safety topics, including the serious risks of sharing private photos, the impact of viewing explicit or harmful content - including how to report it and get support - as well as how the internet can promote an unhealthy view of sex and relationships.

Some of the new lessons will be taught to children as young as four. Credit: AP
  • How often will the lessons take place?

It will be left up to schools to decide exactly how they teach the new content, giving them the flexibility to promote health, wellbeing and respectful relationships – as many already do through PSHE – both across the curriculum and outside formal lessons.

  • Why the changes?

The announcement follows intense pressure for action in safeguarding vulnerable people, highlighted by the case of 14-year-old Molly Russell who killed herself in 2017. Her family found material relating to depression and suicide when they looked at her Instagram account after her death.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds. Credit: PA
  • What does the Education Secretary say?

“Growing up and adolescence are hard enough, but the internet and social media add new pressures that just weren’t there even one generation ago.

"So many things about the way people interact have changed, and this new world, seamless between online and offline, can be difficult to navigate. Almost twenty years on from the last time guidance on sex education was updated, there is a lot to catch up on," Damian Hinds said.

  • So why is there a petition?

The petition has been signed more than 100,000 times, meaning it will be debated in Parliament. Credit: petition.parliament.uk

More than 106,000 people have signed a petition calling for the right to opt their child out of the lessons.

The petition said: "We have grave concerns about the physical, psychological and spiritual implications of teaching children about certain sexual and relational concepts proposed in RSE and believe that they have no place within a mandatory school curriculum."

It claims "the above factors have not been given enough consideration" and many of the education resources will "actually cause more harm than good, particularly when child development and psychological factors are considered."

As the petition has been signed over 100,000 times it will be debated by MPs on Monday.