February is LGBT+ History Month.

It feels a special one this year, in September 2020 it becomes compulsory for all schools to teach about LGBT+ relationships, sex education (RSE) and health education in England.

When I was at school, unbeknownst to Little Adele, Section 28 was in place – the legislation that Thatcher brought out that made ‘promoting homosexuality’ illegal. Which in practice meant that many young people were not given the relationship, health or sex education that would keep them safe; society in the UK remained a hostile environment for the LGBT+ community and there are many tragic stories as a consequence.

Move to Adult Adele, and there is now legislation from the Department of Education1 stipulating that RSE now must include LGBT+ content. Additionally, there is clear guidance that RSE in general will have parity with other subjects when it comes to Ofsted inspections.

“we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum.”2Department of Education

Recently I have been asked to write articles and deliver workshops on how us – the teachers who were not taught about LGBT+ issues – should be teaching it to the next generation. The main point of guidance is that schools: “should ensure that this content (LGBT+ RSE) is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson.3 – The add on ‘LGBT+ lesson’ is no longer sufficient, which is a welcome nod of equality, especially when it comes to the perceived value of non-heterosexual and heterosexual relationships and families.

At SecEd’s recent conference Statutory RSE & Health Education: Supporting Student Wellbeing Lucy Emmerson from the Sex Education Forum gave clear strategies for schoolwide implementation of the new curriculum, as well as how to communicate and work collaboratively with parents and carers. Two main structural points that stuck out to me were that schools should have a named governor and member of staff to lead on the RSE curriculum. For more information, resources and audits I heartily recommend the Sex Education Forum’s website.

Also at the conference, Rebecca Jennings – Author and Trainer on Age Appropriate Sex Education, led a powerful session on potentially contentious topics in the curriculum and how they might be approached: the main message being that these topics should be approached – in age appropriate ways. Inevitably LGBT+ came up as one of those topics, with discussion around the recent protests in some Birmingham schools about the LGBT+ content.

What the legislation states:

Primary

The specific advice at primary level is that Relationship and Health Education is taught.

The focus in primary school should be on teaching the fundamental building blocks and characteristics of positive relationships, with particular reference to friendships, family relationships, and relationships with other children and with adults.4

Relationships Education, whilst overlapping, is different to Sex Education- you can learn about different families all over the world – without discussing the sex life of the people, whatever their gender identity or sexuality. E.g. “In the UK you can only marry one person, in other countries men can marry more than one person but this is not allowed for women.

Sex education, in any form, is not compulsory until secondary school, however some primary schools may begin this earlier – depending on the pupils’ needs.

Nowadays, your pupils will know someone who openly identifies as LGBT+, some may have same-sex parents/carers and family: thus why discussion of different families and relationships needs to be addressed at primary level- to leave out a part of a pupil’s lived experience of relationships based on sexual orientation, gender identity or any other of the protected characteristics, would go against the Equality Act 2010.

To answer the question: Are we teaching our 5yr olds about Trans people?

The answer is yes – in an age appropriate way, in the same way as we would teach about all types of differences in humanity. Under British Values, to miss out a group of people based on their gender identity goes against the Equality Act 2010. Again, this is not a stand alone lesson where you ‘tackle the issue’ but rather a wider conversation about people, gender, families, relationships and difference. For more ideas on how to teach this look at Stonewall and the Sex Education Forum’s resources.

The guidance states that by the end of primary school:

That others’ families, either in school or in the wider world, sometimes look different from their family, but that they should respect those differences and know that other children’s families are also characterised by love and care.5

Secondary

Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way…There should be an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships. This should be integrated appropriately into the RSE programme, rather than addressed separately or in only one lesson.6

At secondary the emphasis on the equality between all types of gender identity and sexual orientation are evident. Sexual Health and experience can be different for different genders, and there are specific differences around teaching on contraception, society’s acceptance and laws and sexual health safety outside of the UK – however, there are also many similarities when it comes to topics around consent, mental health and stereotypes.

The key points are:

  • The statutory guidance says that LGBT RSE is part of the curriculum.
  • Pupils may be withdrawn from Sex Education but not Relationship Education.
  • Sex Education is not compulsory until secondary, however primary schools may introduce it if required for their cohort.
  • Relationship Education is compulsory throughout.
  • Pupils at primary are to be taught different types of families and relationships in Relationship Education.
  • To exclude families and relationships based on their gender, gender re-assignment or sexual orientation, religion (or any other protected characteristic) would go against the Equality Act 2010.

All pupils are expected to have been taught about LGBT RSE by the end of their education.

For more information on Training staff, SEND pupils + RSE, LGBT+ and Faith Schools, and working with Parents/Carers see my article LGBT+ in the RSE Curriculum.

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To book me for a talk/workshop on LGBT+ in the new Curriculum, or SEND pupils and the new RSE curriculum get in contact here.

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LGBT+ History Month Assembly/Lesson resource here.

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