How relationship and sex education is changing in schools to be LGBT-inclusive

The law on relationship and sex education (RSE) has seen drastic changes in the past thirty years - particularly in its stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teaching.

In 1988 a law which banned "the promotion of homosexuality" came into force - section 28 of the Local Government Act prompted mass protests.

More than thirty years later, in September 2020 LGBT-inclusive RSE will become a legal requirement in every secondary schoolchild's education in English schools.

LGBT charity Stonewall said with the new changes, "it’s almost like [section 28] has been flipped on its head."

  • Protesters chained themselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace and organised marches against the introduction of section 28:

Secondary school students in Scotland will be introduced to the new curriculum in 2021 and Wales in 2022.

In Northern Ireland, grant-aided schools receive guidance on LGBT-inclusive education but there is no requirement for schools to implement the guidance.

The new curriculum replaces the last sex and relationship guidelines issued 20-years-ago.

  • How have the changes been received so far?

The Department for Education says it wants the new guidance to "support all young people to be happy, health and safe".

One of the most significant changes to the curriculum is the inclusion of LGBT relationship teaching - a move that faced backlash at a primary school in Birmingham after it was introduced there.

The protest's main organiser Shakeel Afsar claimed his group were taking action as the headteacher had not properly consulted parents about relationships teaching.

Mr Afsar further argued that education material used was not age appropriate, and claimed the school was "over-emphasising a gay ethos".

LGBT charity Stonewall says the protests show the "misunderstanding and misinformation" around the new changes. Head of Policy at the charity, Josh Bradlow, told ITV News:

"This teaching is not unusual, it’s timely and important. It really it just reflects the world that we live in.

He added: "There’s a really common narrative that faith and being LGBT are in opposition to each other - and that’s simply not the case.

"A lot of faith schools are really stepping up and sending an inclusive message.

"They recognise values like tolerance, acceptance, love and understanding are at the heart of their faith."

Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham faced months of protest over its inclusion of LGBT rights teaching. Credit: PA
  • So what exactly are the changes being made?

The Department of Education said there have been "common misconceptions" about the RSE curriculum. It said: "Pupils should be taught about the society in which they are growing up."

Adding: "Pupils should receive teaching on LGBT content during their school years.

"Teaching children about the society that we live in and the different types of loving, healthy relationships that exist can be done in a way that respects everyone.

While compulsory sex education will not be introduced to primary schools, the department says it "strongly encouraged" junior schools to "cover LGBT content when teaching about different types of families."

For older pupils, the department says secondary schools "should cover LGBT content" as relationship and sex education "should meet the needs of all pupils".

Floral decorations outside 10 Downing Street after a Pride reception in 2019. Credit: PA
  • Can schools be exempt?

In short, no. The guidance applies to all schools in England, including independent schools and faith schools.

Under the 2010 Equality Act, religion and belief are both protected - so too is gender reassignment and sexual orientation.

Guidance states that the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account in how certain RSE topics are taught, but this does not exempt schools from teaching them.

The Department of Education says schools with "a religious character" can build on the guided curriculum "by reflecting their beliefs in their teaching."

When the Welsh government consulted on changes to their RSE curriculum, education minister Kirsty Williams AM defended the right for Welsh faith schools to teach in line with their own beliefs.

Both religious beliefs and sexual orientation are protected by the Equality Act. Credit: PA
  • How was the new LGBT-inclusive curriculum created?

Officials worked with more than 90 organisations to help build the new RSE curriculum.

The Department of Education says a public consultation on the planned changes received more than 11,000 responses from teachers, schools, expert organisations, young people, and parents.

Following that process, the new statutory guidance passed through parliament to be introduced from September 2020.