The Scottish Government is consulting on its draft statutory guidance for the delivery of relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education in Scottish schools. The current guidance has been in place since 2014.

What are the proposals? 

We are encouraging our members, parents and all those with an interest in education to engage with this consultation as it is the best chance to make your views known on this important subject. The guidance provides the framework for how teachers provide RSHP education in schools, and the Scottish Government is consulting the public on its wording to ensure the updated statutory guidance is fit for purpose”. 

The main changes to the guidance are to: 


…embed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusive education across the curriculum and to review the delivery of Personal and Social Education (PSE).”

…providing more detail on the process for withdrawing a child or young person from relationships, sexual health and parenthood education.” 

In addition, there are new sections on the following five topics: 

  • consent and healthy relationships 
  • faith and belief 
  • gender inclusive education 
  • inclusion of understanding about differences of sex development (DSD) / variations in sex characteristics (VSC) / intersex people 
  • lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusive education 

The Scottish Government says on the consultation page: 

As the primary educators of their children, it is important for parents and carers to offer their views on the content of the revised guidance. It is equally important that, as users of the revised guidance, teachers and school staff are able to offer their views, both personal and professional. In particular, views are sought on whether: 

  • the content of the revised guidance is clear in its aims 
  • the guidance provides the necessary and relevant information to guide teachers on their delivery of RSHP education 
  • the specific guidance contained is accurate and relevant in providing factual and meaningful learning on the specific topics it covers 
  • the resources and signposts are relevant, up-to-date and useful in supporting teachers and school staff to provide meaningful RSHP learning” 

The consultation – key points

  • The consultation is open for responses until Thursday 23 November;
  • There are 11 questions, you don’t have to respond to all of them; 
  • You can save your progress and come back to it later. 

We will be responding on behalf of our membership, and this guide will help anyone with an interest in responding to do so for themselves. We would encourage you throughout your response to provide your own positive or negative examples or experiences with RSHP education, if you feel comfortable to do so. This will help the Scottish Government to see how the guidance might work in practice, and to improve it. 

You can read the draft guidance here, and the consultation can be found here.

Section One – Introduction

Q1. Is the draft introduction clear on the status and application of the guidance?

The draft introduction is available as a drop-down menu on this question, and this is the case for other questions in the consultation that refers to specific wording. 

We think the draft introduction is clear. You may wish to recommend that the Scottish Government expands upon the following paragraph: 

Local authorities, as any public authority, have a duty to act in a way which is compatible with the human rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights. This applies to the rights of parents and carers as well as the rights of children and young people. Parents and carers have the right to have their children educated in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions. This is why RSHP education should be presented in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within a framework of sound values and an awareness of the law, and teachers should work closely with parents in its delivery, by discussing proposed lessons and resources with them in advance.” 

Section Two – RSHP Education

Q2. How clear is the purpose of the relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RHSP) education section? 

We think it is clear, but we think that (as will be a recurring theme throughout the consultation) more specific guidance could be given to teachers about how to carry RHSP education out. For example: 

Educational practitioners can do this through a whole school approach using learning and teaching methodologies which promote effective learning and by being sensitive and responsive to the wellbeing of each child and young person. When delivering learning and teaching in RSHP education, the responsibility for all, in this case, is the relationships aspect of this topic. 

Schools and teachers should refer to their own school’s context, using people and places in their local area, or the individual interests of classes and pupils, to choose topics to focus on when developing learning and teaching in RSHP education. Actively involving children and young people in the co-design process will help make lessons more relevant and therefore more rewarding for them.” 

These are laudable aims, but we would encourage more specific resourcing and guidance in supporting teachers to cater for the children in their classroom. For example, taking the time to learn about and acknowledge the different family values and backgrounds of the children at their school as part of lessons themselves. This would provide healthy opportunities for mutual understanding of diversity and equality for the children themselves. 

Q3. Is the guidance sufficiently clear in relation to the rights of parents and carers and is the process for withdrawing a pupil sufficiently clear?

We think it is unclear for the rights of parents and carers. 

We welcome that paragraph 2.9 in the draft guidance states, parents and carers…are their primary educators”, but paragraph 2.10 isn’t strong enough: 

Parents and carers should be given advanced opportunity to view key teaching materials and to ask questions about any aspect of the RSHP education programme. Evidence indicates, where this has happened, parents and carers feel more confident about speaking to their children at home and answering their questions, for example, on sexual health, relationships and physical development.” 

The word should” needs to change to must”. If parents and carers are the primary educators”, then schools should proactively go to them to give advanced opportunity to view teaching materials and to respond to questions about any aspect of RSHP education. This isn’t in conflict with the appropriate framing of children having the right to learn about RSHP

We welcome this paragraph: 

Under Article 12 of the UNCRC, every child and young person who is capable of forming their own views has the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting them, with those views being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child and young person. Schools should include children and young people in decisions about their school experience, ensuring their views are taken into account.” 

We think the wording is clear regarding withdrawal from RSHP education. 

Section Three – Embedding RSHP Education as a Whole School Approach

Q4. How effective is the guidance in explaining the key issues of a whole school approach alongside a positive school ethos and culture are highlighted to teachers in delivering relationships, sexual health and parenthood education? 

We have no recommendation on this question but we welcome the wording provided on this point in the draft guidance (provided in the drop-down menu on the question) 

Q5. Is the guidance sufficiently clear in supporting consent and healthy relationships having a greater focus in relationships, sexual health and parenthood education? 

This is a positive starting point for discussions on consent and healthy relationships, – but it is important to acknowledge that the role of consent is vitally important. Children should know they can say no” to things that don’t feel comfortable, and you may wish to make the point that abstinence can be a positive choice for children to make as something to be taught as part of RSHP education. This can tie in with positive teaching about our bodies made as female and male are good and worth looking after. 

We would comment on paragraph 4.8 in the draft guidance; we note there is an expectation that children and young people will have online sexual relationships — “…when they do enter into sexual relationships, whether in person or online”. We recognise the wording in the start of the sentence that children and young people who receive learning and teaching about these issues are more likely to delay the onset of sexual activity and experience positive outcomes”, but we would caution against even inferring that online sexual relationships are expected, especially when teaching about consent and healthy relationships to children. You may wish to also say that teaching on pornography shouldn’t be neutral – it is inherently harmful and dangerous. 

You may wish to recommend that abortion is discussed in a sensitive way to different beliefs about the subject (as well as about the physical and psychological impacts it can have on women and girls), and that language around sexual health should refer to medical and biological terms that children can understand. 

Q6. Is the guidance sufficiently clear in ensuring faith and belief is accurately captured in relationships, sexual health and parenthood education? 

Broadly, we think it is clear and we welcome the wording provided in the section Faith and Belief” in the drop-down – but we would ask the Scottish Government to do more to support teachers in being accommodating of children who hold a faith or belief who may consequently have different perspectives and understandings on aspects of RSHP education than the majority of other children. It is a difficult job for teachers to do this due to the way the guidance is written and we and the Evangelical Alliance along with our member organisations and churches are willing to assist the Scottish Government in supporting teachers to be inclusive of children who hold a Christian faith. 

We are concerned with the following wording in the whole school guidance: 

Schools should build links with local belief group representatives who can often help with understanding the concerns of members of their community – though schools should satisfy themselves that such representatives are indeed representative of the community they align with” 

It isn’t clear what the draft guidance is inferring here, and due to the confusion about this, we would strongly recommend a re-wording of this point and a further explanation. 

We welcome the wording in the other paragraphs after this. 

Q7. Is the guidance sufficiently clear in ensuring gender inclusive language is used to deliver relationships, sexual health and parenthood education? 

We think it is clear, but again we would ask for more support be given to teachers to carry out this guidance. 

Q8. Is the guidance sufficiently clear in explaining and including VSC/​DSD/​intersex people in relationships, sexual health and parenthood education? 

We think it is clear, but again we would ask for more support to be given to teachers to carry out this guidance. 

VSC – variations in sex characteristics 

DSD – differences in sex development 

(There are definitions of these terms in the drop-down menu) 

Q9. Is the guidance sufficiently clear in ensuring relationships, sexual health and parenthood education is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusive? 

We think the guidance is clear, especially in ensuring that children who are LGBT are not subject to bullying and are provided support in this regard when necessary. The wording around safeguarding is also especially clear. 

We would suggest there is more support for teachers in ensuring inclusion and equality for all children as outlined in the draft guidance, with the contrasting worldviews that may exist within the classroom. For example, as evidenced in sessions of the Scottish Parliament and wider public discourse over the past two years, different worldviews exist between different people when it comes to gender identity, and especially when it concerns children. 

It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that there will also be different worldviews on this amongst teachers. Working from the starting point, established in law, that everyone is equal and that protected characteristics are equally protected under the Equality Act 2010, how can the Scottish Government support teachers in navigating diverging worldviews amongst children while ensuring that this leads to a healthy, inclusive learning environment? You may wish to recommend that more support should be given to teachers on this point. 

Section Four – Key Learning Points for RSHP Education 

Q10. Is the guidance sufficiently clear in explaining the requirement for pupils with additional support needs to have relationships, sexual health and parenthood education? 

Overall yes, but we would recommend that the guidance makes clear that schools should engage with parents who have children with additional learning and development needs to ensure that the support is given. 

Section Five – RSHP Policy, Guidance & Resources

Q11. Does the guidance provide sufficient resources and signposts to support teachers in delivery of relationships, sexual health and parenthood education, if not, which resources do you think are missing? 

Transparency of the material being used and ease of access for parents and carers will be key in securing their confidence. 

We would recommend in your response to mention some organisations like Scripture Union Scotland, Christian Values in Education: Scotland (CVE), Youth For Christ, Living Out, Faith in Kids, Love For Life, Lovewise and the Association of Christian Teachers as good resources for schools to go to for the purposes of fulfilling the guidance in catering for children who have a Christian faith. 

We hope this guide is helpful for you in submitting your own response to the consultation. You can respond to it here: Delivery of relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education in Scottish schools — draft statutory guidance — Scottish Government consultations — Citizen Space