Updated guidance on sex education in schools will be published for consultation in the autumn, with an expert panel appointed to advise on age ratings in a bid to ensure “disturbing or inappropriate” content is not being taught.
The five members have been chosen for their expertise in child safeguarding, health, teaching, curriculum development and equalities, the Department for Education (DfE) said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a review into Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) in March, after concerns that schoolchildren were being exposed to “inappropriate” content.
The DfE said the updated guidance is due to be published for consultation “in the autumn term”.
It is aiming to have the review completed by the end of the year.
The RSHE guidance is separate to guidance for schools in relation to transgender issues, which Mr Sunak has previously said will be published “for the summer term”.
The independent expert advisory panel will be made up of Professor Dame Lesley Regan, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Imperial College London and the government’s first ever women’s health ambassador; Sir Hamid Patel, chief executive of Star Academies; Helena Brothwell, regional director of school improvement for David Ross Academy Trust; Alasdair Henderson, a barrister specialising in public law, human rights and equality law; and Isabelle Trowler, the Government’s first chief social worker for children and families.
The panel will provide expert advice to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan on what is appropriate to be taught in RSHE and at what age, the department said, drawing on advice from schools watchdog Ofsted about where clear age ratings are needed “to reassure parents that there is no room for disturbing or inappropriate content to be taught in schools”.
Ms Keegan said: “The wellbeing and safeguarding of children is our absolute priority, and I share the concerns of parents and teachers about reports that inappropriate lessons are being taught in schools.
“The vast majority of teachers do an incredible job navigating these complex and sensitive issues. But the review of the statutory guidance – with the help of this expert panel – will provide clear safeguards against children being taught concepts they are too young to understand or that are inappropriate for their age.
“I’m determined to bring forward new guidance as quickly as possible, and schools should continue to engage with parents on lessons that cover the teaching of sensitive issues.”
The department said the panel, who are expected to give their time on a voluntary basis, will begin work immediately and complete it by September.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said schools had been left without support on the “complex and sensitive subject”.
Its general secretary Geoff Barton said: “The vast majority of schools already teach RSHE in a manner that is age-appropriate. The biggest challenge they face is the fact that they have been left to deliver this complex and sensitive subject with very little support from the government in terms of training and resources.
“We very much hope that the advisory panel will make recommendations not only on the RSHE curriculum but on the need for better support for schools.”