Children with photos

Q. As a parent of a child with a disability, how can I respond to the Government consultation on relationships and sex education?

A. Claire Lightley, Head of Training at the sexual health charity FPA

The Government has announced that, from 2019, every school in England will have to teach relationships and sex education (RSE) in secondary schools, and relationships education (RE) in primary schools.

Welcome news

The Government consultation on relationships and sex education is particularly welcome news for parents of children with disabilities or special educational needs. Although many schools do a fantastic job of teaching relationships and sex education, up until now the quality of the subject has been patchy, and young people have been allowed to fall through the gaps. The impact of this is felt even more strongly by children and young people with a disability.

Stigma against people with a disability having loving, happy and sexual relationships still persists, with only 3% of adults with a learning disability living in a couple. The burden of poor sexual health is also more likely to be felt by people with a disability, with higher rates of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among D/deaf young people and adults.

And sadly, research suggests that children with a disability are more likely to experience sexual abuse – something that can be partially prevented by making sure those children know about the difference between safe and unwanted touch. A 2015 study showed that young people who learned about relationships and sex education mainly at school were less likely to have experienced sexual abuse.

How can you help make sure your children get the education they need?

The Government is currently drafting the official guidance for relationships and sex education in schools, which will outline the topics they expect schools to cover and the way they expect teachers to deliver RSE lessons.

They particularly want to hear from parents and carers, to help them shape the new advice to meet the needs of all young people.

You can respond to the survey online before it closes at 11.59pm on 12th February 2018. There are only seven questions, and each can be answered with just a few sentences. Responding will take only a few minutes, and it could really help to make sure your child gets the high-quality education they deserve.

What should I tell the Government?

As the parent of a child with a disability, you have unique expertise to share. This can help the Government make sure that relationships and sex education works well for your child.

If your child has a learning disability, you might want to point out the importance of teaching topics by ability – not age. Depending on their ability level, the exact same subject might be confusing for one 13-year-old, and boring for another! And if they’re in a mainstream setting, it’s also important to make sure that children get the appropriate level of support, so they don’t get left behind.

It’s also vital to make sure that schools have access to the right materials. These need to be suitable for different disabilities or special educational needs, and also represent children with different disabilities, so they can see themselves reflected in what they’re learning.

Primary schools

The first question in the Government’s consultation asks what you’d like primary schools to teach. We recommend thinking about this question in terms of what you’d like your child to know by the end of primary school and why.

What do you think would be important for them to know, to make sure they understand their bodies and puberty, can have strong relationships with their friends and family, and stay safe online?

Don’t be put off by the call for ‘evidence’– your experiences are the evidence the Government needs!

The question asks what are the three main topics you think are important. You can find some suggestions on what you’d like to include in our guidance for parents.

Secondary schools

The second question asks what you’d like secondary schools to teach. If you’re the parent or carer of secondary-age young people, it’s useful to think of this question in terms of what knowledge and skills you would like your child to have learned by the time they leave school.

Do you have any good examples of RSE that your child told you about? What made that good? Is there anything you would want your child’s school to cover that you feel less confident talking about?

The question asks what are the three main topics that you think are important. You can find some suggestions on what you’d like to include in our guidance for parents.

Your child’s online life

The third question asks what you think should be taught about how to manage relationships and interactions online. To answer this question, you should think about your child’s online activities and draw on your own experiences in your answer.

Do you feel you need any support in understanding what your child does online, and would you welcome lessons on online safety at your child’s school?

You might want to emphasise the importance of starting these lessons at the right time to make sure that children are empowered with the knowledge and resources to keep themselves safe. Research has found that children with a learning disability are four times more likely to be exploited online.

Talking to parents

The fourth question asks how schools should communicate, or consult, with parents. To answer this question, you should focus on your experience of your child’s school informing you about their RSE.

For example, did you receive a letter, or did the school hold a meeting? Did you feel you understood what your child would be learning?

This question also provides a space for you to discuss the right to withdraw. What do you think schools could do to make sure fewer children are withdrawn from RSE lessons? In your experience, what sort of approach helps parents to best understand the benefits of RSE?

For more information about the Government’s consultation, and suggestions for how you could complete it, have a look at What They Need To Know, our guidance for parents.

It’s time to have your say on the Government consultation on relationships and sex education to shape the way our children learn about sex and relationships in school. But be quick, you need to respond to the survey online before it closes at 11.59pm on 12th February 2018.

Claire Lightley is Head of Training at the sexual health charity, FPA.

About FPA and its work with parents

FPA has more than 85 years’ experience looking after the nation’s sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing. Our vision is a society where everyone can make positive choices about their own sexual health and wellbeing.

FPA educates, informs and supports people through our specialist sexual health programmes and counselling service, our websites and publications, our training for professionals and our public awareness campaigns.

FPA created a course, Speakeasy, which offers a flexible and relaxed way for parents and carers to improve their confidence talking about relationships and sex with their children. You can find out more here.