Guidance launched on how to teach mental health and sex education in schools

All pupils will receive health education from 2020

Published on 27th February 2019

The government has unveiled guidance for when compulsory health education is  introduced in schools.

Pupils of all ages will be taught health education from 2020 which will focus on promoting the positive link between physical and mental health.

Compulsory relationships education will also be introduced for primary-age pupils and secondary-age pupils will be taught relationships and sex education (RSE), to ensure children have all the knowledge they need to grow up healthy, happy and safe.

Making health education universal – and updating sex education guidance for the first time since 2000 – will ensure pupils are prepared for the opportunities and challenges of an “ever more complex” world, both on - and offline.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: "Growing up and adolescence are hard enough, but the internet and social media add new pressures that just weren’t there even one generation ago. So many things about the way people interact have changed, and this new world, seamless between online and offline, can be difficult to navigate. Almost twenty years on from the last time guidance on sex education was updated, there is a lot to catch up on.

"Although sex education is only mandatory to teach at secondary, it must be grounded in a firm understanding and valuing of positive relationships, and respect for others, from primary age. In turn positive relationships are connected with good mental health, which itself is linked with physical wellbeing. So it is appropriate to make health education universal alongside relationships and sex education," he added.

The guidance follows a call for evidence and three-month consultation on the draft regulations and guidance. This received more than 11,000 responses including from leading charities, teaching unions and subject associations.

The guidance reveals how primary aged children will learn about mental wellbeing and why  simple self-care – like getting enough sleep and spending time outdoors and with friends – is important. Primary pupils will also learn about nutrition, the importance of staying active, and recognising the early signs of physical illness – ensuring pupils understand how mental and physical health are linked.

Age-appropriate online safety will also be delivered to children in primary schools – including what to do if they come across things they are uncomfortable with, the importance of respect for others even when posting anonymously, and the risks of talking to people on the internet that they don’t know in real life.

Children will also learn about the dangers of spending too much time online if this prevents children from exercising, getting enough sleep, or being an active part of their community.

The new secondary school content will build on everything children learn at primary school, and will ensure pupils are equipped to spot the signs of common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression in themselves or others. Young people will learn how to discuss their emotions accurately and sensitively, about the impact of alcohol and drugs on physical and mental health, and how to access professional help.

Pupils at secondary schools will also be taught online safety topics, including the serious risks of sharing private photos, the impact of viewing explicit or harmful content and how the internet can sometimes promote an unhealthy view of sex and relationships.

Schools will be able to access supporting information on how to teach about all aspects of internet safety to help teachers deliver this in a co-ordinated and coherent way. The new content will complement the existing computing curriculum, which gives pupils a grounding in how to use technology safely, responsibly, respectfully and securely.

Schools will have the flexibility to decide exactly how they teach the new content promoting health, wellbeing and respectful relationships. The government is also providing a £6m budget in 2019/20 for a school support package to cover training and resources to ensure teachers are well-prepared ahead of the subjects becoming mandatory in 2020.

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: "The guidance published today is a welcome step forward in preparing children for adulthood, improving their wellbeing and keeping them safe and healthy. By providing compulsory health education with a strong focus on mental wellbeing, and guaranteeing relationships education in primary schools and relationships and sex education in secondary schools, the government has responded to the needs and concerns of children, young people and parents.

"This is an important milestone but there is further work ahead to ensure the new requirements fulfil their potential for helping children grow up healthier and happier," she concluded.

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