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Relationships, Sex and Health Education

Volume 738: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2023

Earlier this year, I wrote to schools to set out that schools can and should share curriculum materials with parents, in light of the current concerns in relation to materials used to teach relationships, sex and health education (RSHE).

Parents are among their children’s most important teachers. It is vital that they know what their children are being taught in relationships, sex and health education, and that they are reassured that the materials used by schools are thoughtful and appropriate.

Today, I have written to schools again to provide further information in the light of some important cases. This letter confirms that, where contractual clauses exist that seek to prevent schools sharing resources with parents at all, they are void and unenforceable. This is because they contradict the clear public policy interest in ensuring that parents are aware of what their children are being taught in relationships, sex and health education.

The letter is clear that, if faced with such clauses, schools should write to providers asking for those clauses to be withdrawn on the ground that they are unenforceable. In the event that providers refuse to withdraw the clauses, legislation allows schools to still share resources proportionately, for the purposes of explaining to parents what is being taught.

For example, it is best practice to do this via a “parent portal” or, if this is not possible, by a presentation. This is providing that access to the documents is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgment of the provider’s authorship and includes a statement, which parents agree to as a condition of access, that the content should not be copied or shared further except as authorised by copyright law. Where relevant and possible, IT systems should also be in place to prevent downloading.

Where parents cannot attend a presentation or they are unable to view materials via a “parent portal”, schools may provide copies of materials to parents to take home on request, providing parents agree to a similar statement that they will not copy the content or share it further except as authorised by copyright law.

The points made in both of my letters will be reflected in the updated statutory RSHE guidance, on which we will publicly consult. This additional content will help to further strengthen schools’ position, as they have a statutory duty to have regard to the RSHE guidance and can communicate this duty to their external providers.

We are clear that in all circumstances, parents have a right to see the materials being used to teach RSHE, which is why we have written to schools and parents today clarifying the legal position and reiterating that right.