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Relationship, Health and Sex Education (RHSE)

What is Relationship, Health and Sex Education?

The Government Statutory Guidance around Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) states that:

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’.

‘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.’

Since September 2020, Relationships Education has been compulsory for all pupils receiving primary education and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) for all pupils receiving secondary education. Health Education is now compulsory in all schools too.

Children and young people are growing up in an increasingly complex world and they need to know how to be safe and healthy. RSE helps them embrace the challenges of creating a happy and successful adult life. These subjects support children and young people to develop healthy relationships, and to keep themselves and others safe, both on and offline. It also provides pupils with the knowledge that will enable them to make informed decisions about their wellbeing.

What is taught in schools?

By the end of Primary school children will have been taught:

  • Information about healthy relationships including:
  • Communicating their own boundaries and recognising the boundaries of others
  • Staying safe online
  • The difference between appropriate and inappropriate or unsafe contact
  • Teaching about different family models and same-sex relationships
  • Health Education
  • Puberty including menstruation
  • Characteristics of good physical health and mental wellbeing

By the end of Secondary school children will have been taught about:

  • Families
  • Respectful relationships including friendships
  • Online and media
  • Being safe
  • Intimate and sexual relationships including sexual health in an age-appropriate and inclusive way
  • The law

RSHE and the Law

It is a legal requirement for RHSE to be taught in schools. The government expects:

all schools to teach the full RSHE curriculum to secondary age pupils and relationships and health education to primary age pupils.’

Parents have a right to request that their child is withdrawn from sex education, but not from relationships education.

Parents and RSE

It is natural for children and teenagers to be curious about sex and relationships as they grow older but for parents and carers this can be a very worrying time, who may worry their child is growing up too quickly or they may be worried about their safety.

The NSPCC suggest the following when wanting to start a conversation with your child about sex and relationships:

  • Try to find a good time to start a conversation. Pick a time when your child’s relaxed and when there aren’t other people in your family around. You might want to have the conversation in a neutral place, such as on a walk or a bike ride, or even in the car, rather than somewhere at home where you might be interrupted.
  • It can help to make the conversation relevant to something that’s happened recently. For example, if you’ve been watching a TV series or film where one of the characters is in a relationship. You could ask your child what they think about the character’s relationship and if it’s healthy or unhealthy. Or if your child’s been learning about sex and relationships education in school, you could ask them how they’re finding this or what everyone in the class thought about it.
  • Try not to rush the conversation and let your child talk to you in their own time. It can help to have several short conversations rather than trying to cover everything at once. If your child feels uncomfortable, let them know that you’re there if they want to talk to you about relationships at a different time.

There is lots more advice on the NSPCC website if you are worried about your child’s relationship and/or want advice and information about a range of topics including Sexting and Grooming: Link here to NSPCC Healthy relationships | NSPCC

If you have a younger child you may still be concerned about them hearing things about sex and relationships. The NSPCC Talk Pants Resource Talk PANTS helps children understand that their body belongs to them, and they should tell someone they trust if anything makes them feel upset or worried.

The Talk PANTS rules are:

  • Pants are private
  • Always remember your body belongs to you
  • No means no
  • Talk about secrets that upset you
  • Speak up, someone can help

Link here Talk PANTS & Join Pantosaurus – The Underwear Rule | NSPCC

RSE for pupils with SEND


The curriculum and topics covered in RSE sessions in school for children and young people with SEND will be similar or the same as those without SEND but the pace and detail may be different. Schools may need to tailor the content and teaching to meet the specific needs of pupils.

RSE and Autism

Autistic young people may develop in different ways to their non-autistic peers, and this may include differences in:

  • Social awareness
  • Communication
  • Emotional recognition

Many autistic young people find change difficult and the physical, emotional and social changes that that occur during puberty can be very distressing, especially as they can be unpredictable. Sensory aspects of puberty can also be very concerning, for example, smelling different, developing body hair, starting periods etc.

The Leeds organisation STARS (Specialist Training in Autism and Raising Standards) has more information and resources about RSE and autism including those aimed specifically at parents:

RSE and Physical disabilities

Young people with physical disabilities may have anxiety about having a different body shape or image, may worry about how their body works and what others may think. They may have additional worries and questions about puberty, how they can have sex and whether they can have children.

Supporting your child with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities with RSE

  • Start talking to your child early so that problems are less likely to arise. Make a plan about how you will talk with and to your child
  • Talk openly and casually, perhaps while you’re doing something else, such as washing up or driving the car. This gives the message that it is not something secretive or to be afraid of
  • It is important that your child can ask you questions. Answer honestly and if you don’t know the answer say you will find out. If your child asks a question at a difficult time prepare a response, e.g. “that’s a good question, let’s talk about it later”. However, ensure you do return to their question or you risk your child not coming back to you in future.
  • Read books and leaflets, watch videos and take advantage of situations that might arise (for example on television) that might help trigger a conversation
  • Use the correct terminology when talking about body parts. Knowing the correct words for parts of their body helps to keep children and young people safe and look after their health. Even if you use other words at home, it’s important that children know the correct terms too.
  • Don’t give up if your first attempt doesn’t go well. Try a different approach or an alternative resource such as a book, video link or website

Additional support from Leeds MENCAP

Speak to other parents with children with SEN and disabilities on our closed Facebook group.

Follow us on Facebook to hear about our upcoming events.

Check out the rest of our Family Support offer. We have:

  • Weekly Chats and Tots coffee morning
  • Family Support workers who can offer advice, signposting and support
  • Lots of tips and resources about RSE on our website

Additional support and Resources

This information is not affiliated with Leeds MENCAP.

Read an overview of what children learn in Relationship and Sex Education: What do children and young people learn in relationship, sex and health education – The Education Hub (blog.gov.uk)

Read about supporting a SEND child with puberty from a parent’s perspective: Puberty! – Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Puberty and disabled teens | Family Lives

Watch a selection of short videos about consent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO3i1EJE6DI

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