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Welsh Government announces major overhaul of Relationships and Sexuality Education

The Welsh Government has announced today a major overhaul of sex and relationships education, renaming the subject Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), making it compulsory in schools from age five, and ensuring it is fully LGBT inclusive. The change comes following a review of the subject published last year and will be implemented by 2022 as a statutory part of Wales’ new curriculum.

Wales Humanists, which has helped to lead the campaign for comprehensive and compulsory RSE in Wales in recent years, has welcomed the move and described the changes as ‘vital to ensuring that children have all the information they need to stay healthy, happy, and safe’.

Currently, only secondary schools in Wales are required by law to provide sex education to their pupils, but the content of this education is entirely up to the school to decide and the subject’s guidance has not been updated since 2010. Following the announcement today, however, RSE will be statutory for all pupils aged 5 to 16, and new guidance will be published next year. The subject will also be fully LGBT inclusive. Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said:

‘The days of traditional sex education are long gone; the world has moved on and our curriculum must move with it.

‘Sex should never be taught in isolation for the simple reason that it is about so much more than just sex; it’s also about relationships, rights and respect and that must go hand in hand with a much broader understanding of sexuality. Anything less does a disservice to our learners and teachers.

The fact is relationships and sexuality shape our lives as well as the world around us. They are a fundamental part of who we are and how we understand ourselves, each other and society.

‘By creating RSE as a statutory area of study in our new curriculum for Wales, we will support our young people to develop healthy relationships, maintain good mental health and keep physically and sexually safe.

‘Of course, thirty years on from the introduction of Section 28, we will also ensure that RSE is fully inclusive of all genders and sexualities and meets the needs of LGBTQI+ learners.’
Disappointingly, however, the Welsh Government also announced that parents will retain their right to withdraw their children from RSE, and that faith schools will still be free to teach the subject in line with their religious ethos.

Wales Humanists Development Officer Kathy Riddick commented, ‘We are so pleased that the Welsh Government has listened to the calls of campaigners, children’s rights experts, and education professionals in introducing statutory RSE right the way through school. The subject is vital to ensuring that children have all the information they need to stay healthy, happy, and safe, and Kirsty Williams’ emphasis on LGBT inclusion is absolutely right.

‘We are concerned, however, by the fact that faith schools will retain their freedom to teach RSE in line with their religious ethos. This might sound reasonable in principle, but in practice we know it means that some schools will pass judgment on same-sex relationships, advise against the use of contraception, and restrict information about abortion. None of these things are consistent with the inclusive vision set out by the Welsh Government today, so we hope it will come down hard on schools that try to limit RSE in this way.’

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