Relationships and Sex Education – Secondary

To nurture the skills of resilience is key to providing young people with the ability to cope with stress, adversity, failure and challenges. Resilience is evident when young people have a greater ability to “bounce back” when faced with difficulties and achieve positive outcomes.

Resilience empowers an individual to value the importance of self-respect and self-worth, to discriminate between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in relationships and to know when, how and to whom to seek advice when a relationship is perceived to be unhealthy – negative, disrespectful and/or harmful.

Schools play a pivotal role in promoting safe, healthy relationships on and offline. Rather than being see in isolation, embedding RSE across the whole school and curriculum avoids ‘forced’ conversations which can disengage and embarrass. Getting this right means not only a happier school community who are better able to get on together, but a reduction in risk taking behaviours, including early sexual initiation and negative outcomes such as unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections.

Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) should always be delivered as part of a planned, developmental RSHE education programme.

In any school that provides RSE, parents have the right to withdraw pupils from sex education but not from Relationships or Health Education. Parents have the right to request that their child be withdrawn from some or all of sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE.

Puberty.  1 in 4 girls start their periods before learning about menstruation in RSE. 38% of boys experienced ‘wet dreams’ before having learnt about them. 1 in 10 girls are unable to afford sanitary wear.

Sexual activity. Less than 1 in 3 teenagers (girls and boys) have first sex before 16. Some data suggests young people are starting sex at a later age.

Preferred sources of information. Young people cite school, parents, and health professionals as their most preferred source of information on relationships and sex. Young people cite school, parents, and health professionals as their most preferred source of information on relationships and sex.

Teenage pregnancy. Over the last 20 years the under-18 pregnancy rate has dropped by 64% but inequalities remain between LAs and individual young people. Poor school attendance, low attainment, and experience of being in care are strongly associated risk factors.

STIs.  Between 15-24, young men are 3.5 times more likely and young women 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with an STI compared to over 25s

HIV. In 2019, among 15-24-year olds, there were 363 new HIV diagnoses acquired sexually. In 2019, among 15-24 -year olds, there were 363 new HIV diagnoses acquired sexually. Of these, 74% were acquired through sex between men.

Source: PHE December 2020


A whole school approach moves beyond learning and teaching to pervade all aspects of the life of a school and has been found to be effective in bringing about and sustaining health benefits.

Evidence indicates that whole organisational (school/college) approaches are more likely to lead to sustained impact on health and education outcomes

Source: PHE

It is for schools to choose materials that align with the teaching requirements set out in the statutory RSHE guidance.

The DfE has not suggested that schools should pause implementation of the new curriculum. Schools have flexibility over how they discharge their duty within the first year of compulsory teaching. Schools who assess that they are prepared to deliver teaching and have met the requirements set out in the statutory guidance are encouraged to begin delivering teaching whenever is practicable to do so. However, schools that assess that they are unable to meet adequately the requirements because of the lost time, and competing priorities, should aim to start preparations to deliver the new curriculum and to commence teaching the new content by at least the start of the summer term 2021. To ensure teaching begins as soon as possible, schools are encouraged to take a phased approach (if needed) when introducing these subjects.

Schools are required to consult parents in developing and reviewing their Relationships Education/RSE policy; and the statutory RSHE guidance sets out clear advice on choosing resources. Schools should assess each resource they intend to use to ensure that it is appropriate for the age and maturity of pupils, and sensitive to their needs, where relevant. We also expect schools to consult with parents on these matters. Schools should also ensure that, when they engage parents, they provide examples of the resources they plan to use, for example the books or materials they will use in lessons.

Source: PHE December 2020

Guidance notes for secondary teachers on teaching Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) (February 2019)


  • The aim of RSE is to give young people the information they need to help them develop healthy, nurturing relationships of all kinds, not just intimate relationships. It should enable them to know what a healthy relationship looks like and what makes a good friend, a good colleague and a successful marriage or other type of committed relationship. It should also cover contraception, developing intimate relationships and resisting pressure to have sex (and not applying pressure). It should teach what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in relationships. This will help pupils understand the positive effects that good relationships have on their mental wellbeing, identify when relationships are not right and understand how such situations can be managed.
  • Effective RSE does not encourage early sexual experimentation. It should teach young people to understand human sexuality and to respect themselves and others. It enables young people to mature, build their confidence and self-esteem and understand the reasons for delaying sexual activity. Effective RSE also supports people, throughout life, to develop safe, fulfilling and healthy sexual relationships, at the appropriate time.
  • Knowledge about safer sex and sexual health remains important to ensure that young people are equipped to make safe, informed and healthy choices as they progress through adult life. This should be delivered in a non-judgemental, factual way and allow scope for young people to ask questions in a safe environment. Many teachers use approaches such as distancing techniques, setting ground rules with the class to help manage sensitive discussion and using question boxes to allow pupils to raise issues anonymously.
  • RSE should provide clear progression from what is taught in primary school in Relationships Education. Teachers should build on the foundation of Relationships Education and, as pupils grow up, at the appropriate time extend teaching to include intimate relationships. Alongside being taught about intimate relationships, pupils should also be taught about family relationships, friendships and other kinds of relationships that are an equally important part of becoming a successful and happy adult. This teaching should enable pupils to distinguish between content and experiences that exemplify healthy relationships and those that are distorted or harmful.
  • Pupils should understand the benefits of healthy relationships to their mental wellbeing and self-respect. Through gaining the knowledge of what a healthy relationship is like, they can be empowered to identify when relationships are unhealthy. They should be taught that unhealthy relationships can have a lasting, negative impact on mental wellbeing.
  • As in primary, secondary Relationships Education can be underpinned by a wider, deliberate cultivation and practice of resilience and character in the individual. These should include character traits such as belief in achieving goals and persevering with tasks, as well as personal attributes such as honesty, integrity, courage, humility, kindness, generosity, trustworthiness and a sense of justice, underpinned by an understanding of the importance of self-respect and self-worth. There are many ways in which secondary schools should support the development of these attributes, for example by providing planned opportunities for young people to undertake social action, active citizenship and voluntary service to others locally or more widely.
  • Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way. All pupils should feel that the content is relevant to them and their developing sexuality. Sexual orientation and gender identity should be explored at a timely point and in a clear, sensitive and respectful manner. When teaching about these topics, it must be recognised that young people may be discovering or understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity. 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.
  • It is recognised that there will be a range of opinions regarding RSE. The starting principle when teaching each of these must be that the applicable law should be taught in a factual way so that pupils are clear on their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
  • Schools may choose to explore faith, or other perspectives, on some of these issues in other subjects such as Religious Education.
  • Pupils should be well informed about the full range of perspectives and, within the law, should be well equipped to make decisions for themselves about how to live their own lives, whilst respecting the right of others to make their own decisions and hold their own beliefs. Key aspects of the law relating to sex which should be taught include the age of consent, what consent is and is not, the definitions and recognition of rape, sexual assault and harassment, and choices permitted by the law around pregnancy.
  • Grooming, sexual exploitation and domestic abuse, including coercive and controlling behaviour, should also be addressed sensitively and clearly. Schools should address the physical and emotional damage caused by female genital mutilation (FGM). They should also be taught where to find support and that it is a criminal offence to perform or assist in the performance of FGM or fail to protect a person for whom you are responsible from FGM. As well as addressing this in the context of the law, pupils may also need support to recognise when relationships (including family relationships) are unhealthy or abusive (including the unacceptability of neglect, emotional, sexual and physical abuse and violence, including honour-based violence and forced marriage) and strategies to manage this or access support for oneself or others at risk. Schools should also be mindful that for pupils who are or have experienced unhealthy or unsafe relationships at home or socially, the school may have a particularly important role in being a place of consistency and safety where they can easily speak to trusted adults, report problems and find support.
  • Internet safety should also be addressed. Pupils should be taught the rules and principles for keeping safe online. This will include how to recognise risks, harmful content and contact, and how and to whom to report issues. Pupils should have a strong understanding of how data is generated, collected, shared and used online, for example, how personal data is captured on social media or understanding the way that businesses may exploit the data available to them.
  • Some pupils are also exposed to harmful behaviours online, and via other forms of media, which may normalise violent sexual behaviours. A focus on healthy relationships and broader Relationships Education can help young people understand acceptable behaviours in relationships.

High quality RSE helps create safe school communities in which pupils can grow, learn, and develop positive, healthy behaviour for life.  Children and young people want to be prepared for the physical and emotional changes they undergo at puberty, and young people want and need to learn about safe, healthy relationships. Older pupils frequently say that sex and relationships education was ‘too little, too late and too biological’. Ofsted reinforced this in their 2013 Not Yet Good Enough report. It is also essential in meeting schools’ safeguarding obligations – again, Ofsted states that schools must have a preventative programme helping pupils to learn about safety and risks in relationships and RSE can help you to achieve this.

  • Key facts about puberty and the changing adolescent body and menstrual wellbeing
  • The main changes which take place in males and females, and the implications for emotional and physical health
  • How to recognise the characteristics and positive aspects of healthy one-to-one intimate relationships, which include mutual respect, consent, loyalty, trust, shared interests and outlook, sex and friendship.How to recognise the characteristics and positive aspects of healthy one-to-one intimate relationships, which include mutual respect, consent, loyalty, trust, shared interests and outlook, sex, and friendship.
  • That all aspects of health can be affected by choices they make in sex and relationships, positively or negatively, e.g., physical, emotional, mental, sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing.
  • The facts about reproductive health, including fertility and the potential impact of lifestyle on fertility for men and women and menopause.
  • That there are a range of strategies for identifying and managing sexual pressure, including understanding peer pressure, resisting pressure and not pressurising others. That there are a range of strategies for identifying and managing sexual pressure, including understanding peer pressure, resisting pressure, and not pressurising others.
  • That they have a choice to delay sex or to enjoy intimacy without sex.
  • The facts about the full range of contraceptive choices, efficacy, and options available. The facts about the full range of contraceptive choices, efficacy, and options available.
  • The facts around pregnancy including miscarriage.
  • That there are choices in relationship to pregnancy (with medically and legally accurate, impartial information on all options, including keeping the baby, adoption, abortion and where to get further help).
  • How the different sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS, are transmitted, how risk can be reduced through safer sex (including through condom use) and the importance of and facts about testing.
  • About the prevalence of some STIs, the impact they can have on those who contract them and the key facts about treatment.
  • How the use of drugs and alcohol can lead to risky sexual behaviour.
  • How to get further advice, including how and where to access confidential sexual and reproductive health advice and treatment.

Local Support

Cambridgeshire Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) Service

Cambridgeshire Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) Service The Cambridgeshire PSHE Service provides guidance, consultancy, training and resources to support and enhance the health and wellbeing of children and young people and their learning. This includes the curriculum for PSHE and Citizenship: its content, approaches to teaching and learning and monitoring and assessment. We also

Read More About Cambridgeshire Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) Service

Centre 33

Counselling in schools Confidential one-to-one therapeutic counselling for young people based in the school and during school hours. Sessions with a trained counsellor for a series of 50 minute sessions. Support for up to 6 students, once a week for a period agreed by Centre 33 and the school. Centre 33 counsellors deliver the service

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Dhiverse’s mission is to provide high quality sexual health and HIV support, education and information for all. Click on the links below to find out about the full range of services available as well as to visit the website. Call:01223 508805E-mail:

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The NSPCC provide a variety of group as well as one to one services to schools, many of which are FREE of charge. For information on the programme offers click below: To find out more simply contact the NSPCC Service Centre in Peterborough on 01733 207 620. Prior to making a referral, please contact the

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Terrence Higgins Trust

THT is part of the Cambridge and Peterborough Sexual Ill-Health Prevention Service We offer a range of services around sexual health. These include: Supporting schools to deliver RSE by offering free workshops. Offering free workshops on sexual health issues in community venues and online. Delivering free and confidential gonorrhoea/chlamydia screening in schools, community venues and

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The Kite Trust

The Kite Trust offers tailored staff training packages for all schools and colleges on LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning plus other related identities) inclusion and combating LGBTphobic bullying (also known as HBT – homophobic, biphobic and transphobic- bullying). We also deliver assemblies and workshops for students across the age ranges and offer support around

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Key Stage 3

Key Stage 4

Teacher Guidance