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Sex education: schools’ hotline FAQs

Practical Law Public Sector addresses the questions that schools may ask local authorities regarding day-to-day school management and sets out the legal issues to consider when responding:

This FAQ examines the issues arising when parents object to their children attending sex education classes on religious grounds. For details of all our school hotline queries, please see Practice note, Schools hotline FAQs.

Q: A parent of one of our pupils is angry at the content of our sex education classes, claiming that they breach his son’s human rights as a Christian. How should the school respond?

A: Sex and relationship education (SRE) is considered an essential part of the national curriculum. It is taught as part of the science curriculum and also in the context of relationships and health. The content of SRE lessons that goes beyond the science syllabus depends on the school’s governing body and headteacher, though parents should be consulted.

Parents may withdraw their children from that part of a school’s SRE that does not form part of the science syllabus. It is unlikely that anything in the syllabus would interfere with a pupil’s Article 9 right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under the Human Rights Act 1998 but it is advisable to engage with the parent with a view to finding out the basis of their objections and resolving the dispute. It is also advisable for a school to distribute the following leaflet: DfE: SRE and Parents (July 2001). If the child is withdrawn from SRE classes, the school will have to make alternative provision for him during that time.

The governing body must make sure when producing a statement of SRE policy that it includes a statement about the right of parental withdrawal (section 404, EA 1996). For more information, see Practice note, Sex education: schools’ obligations.

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