LGBT-inclusive education: everything you need to know
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LGBT-inclusive education: everything you need to know

In April this year the government announced new regulations for teaching Relationships and Sex Education in England.

This was a great step forward in the fight for equality, marking a significant change in the way children and young people are taught about LGBT relationships and identities. We’ve put together these questions to help you understand what the new regulations mean, how they will be implemented and, more broadly, why LGBT-inclusive education is so important. 

What is LGBT-inclusive education and why does it matter?

For every young person to be pepared for life in modern Britain, it's vital that their curriculum reflects the full diverstiy of the world they live in. This includes teaching about LGBT people and themes. While Britain has made huge strides towards LGBT equality in recent decades, anti-LGBT bullying and language unfortunately remain commonplace in Britain's schools. Nearly half of all LGBT pupils still face bullying for being LGBT. A crucial part of tackling this problem is delivering a curriculum that includes LGBT people and their experiences.

LGBT-inclusive teaching ensures that LGBT children and young people, and children and young pople with LGBT families, see themselves reflected in what they learn. It also encourages all young people to grow up with inclusive and accepting attitudes.

Read personal perspectives from parents, teachers, students and former students

Show your support for LGBT-inclusive education

LGBT-inclusive education has been in the news recently because of changes to Government guidelines on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) for schools. The rest of these questions focus specifically on these changes to RSE in England. To find out more about our cross-curriculum LGBT inclusion, read our curriculum guide.

What has changed about Relationships and Sex Education?

In April 2019, with overwhelming support, parliament passed the new regulations for teaching Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in England. This means that from September 2020, all secondary schools in England will be required to teach RSE, and all primary schools in England will be required to teach Relationships Education (RE).

Schools will be able to decide exactly how they teach RSE and RE (for example, which lesson plans they use), but the guidance sets out the key information that pupils should be taught. At secondary level, all schools must teach about sexual orientation and gender identity. At primary level, all schools must teach about different family types, which can include LGBT families.  

Nothing has changed yet. The guidance comes into effect in English schools from September 2020, although the government is encouraging schools to adopt the changes before then.

Changes to Relationships and Sex Education are happening across the UK, but the below questions and answers mainly apply to England. See more about LGBT-inclusive education and how Relationships and Sex Education is changing in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the last question.

Why do we need new guidelines on Relationships and Sex Education?

The new guidelines on Relationships and Sex Education mean that everyone at school in England will be taught about what safe and healthy relationships look like and how to have them.

The guidance that was being used before this was last updated in 2000, nearly two decades ago. Since this was before the repeal of Section 28, the law which banned discussions of same-sex relationships in schools, the guidance excluded LGBT people and families.

The new teaching will better reflect the world that we now live in, including teaching about LGBT people, relationships and families, as well as covering other important issues like consent and online safety.

Thousands of schools already teach LGBT-inclusive lessons, but the new guidance means that all secondary schools who weren’t doing so will now have to, and primary schools will be encouraged to as well.

What do the new guidelines on Relationships and Sex Education actually say, and what’s the difference for primary and secondary schools?

For secondary schools the guidance states that:

  • RSE must be taught in all schools in England
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity must be explored at a timely point
  • Same-sex relationships should be included within lessons discussing healthy and stable relationships
  • Schools should ‘be alive to issues such as everyday sexism, misogyny, homophobia and gender stereotypes’ and take positive action to build a culture where these are not tolerated

 For primary schools, the guidance says that:

  • Relationships Education must be taught in all schools in England
  • It is recommended that schools teach Sex Education too, although they can choose not to
  • All schools should teach about different families (which can include LGBT parents), along with families headed by grandparents, single parents, adoptive parents, and foster parents/carers, among other family structures

Overall the guidance states that:

  • Schools need to make sure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met
  • All pupils need to understand the importance of equality and respect
  • Schools must ensure they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010, which name sexual orientation and gender reassignment as protected characteristics

Does this also include private schools?

Yes – the guidance applies to all schools in England.

So what will children in primary schools actually be learning about LGBT issues?

Lots of primary schools are already doing great work to teach their children about different families, and to prevent and tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

The difference is that now, every school will need to teach children about relationships and families. The guidance for primary schools says that this can include LGBT families, and that means teaching children that it’s OK to have two mums, two dads, or any other family structure. Take a look at some examples of books featuring different family structures.

New research shows that the majority of British public (60 per cent) think it's right for teachers at primary school to talk positively about different families, including LGBT families.

We believe that children deserve to learn about a world which reflects the one in which they are growing up. Many children will have LGBT parents, friends or family members, and this new guidance will help them to grow up knowing that their families are accepted as much as everyone else’s.

Will parents be able to withdraw their children from lessons about LGBT people and relationships?

Parents can’t withdraw their children from Relationships Education in primary or secondary school. But they can withdraw their children from some or all of Sex Education at both primary and secondary level, up until three terms before their child’s 16th birthday.

In primary school, headteachers must grant this request automatically. At secondary level, headteachers are encouraged to discuss the request with parents before they are able to withdraw their children from Sex Education.

We know that good Relationships and Sex Education equips children with the knowledge to keep themselves safe and understand when a relationship or sexual encounter may be risky or harmful. Without accessing this information through school, children or young people might look to less reliable resources online, which may offer inaccurate or harmful advice.

I’ve seen there are some protests at schools – what are these about?

It has been deeply saddening and distressing to see these protests. It is important to note that this is happening in a very small number of schools.

The protesters believe that teaching about LGBT people goes against their parents’ rights to decide what their children learn. Faith is often cited as a reason.

We know that lots of faith schools and faith leaders are very supportive of LGBT-inclusive education. With the support of the government, we have been working with over 600 faith schools in England who are committed to creating environments where all children, families and staff feel accepted and respected.

To prepare for when the new guidelines come into force in September 2020, it's essential that national and local government provide effective support for all schools to help them deliver LGBT-inclusive teaching and to engage with parents to explain the benefits of this teaching, and what it looks like in practice.

Is there political support for LGBT-inclusive Relationships and Sex Education?

Almost all MPs voted in favour of the changes to guidance (538 in favour, 21 against) and there was a consensus across all parties in support of this. This is a welcome change which moves us away from the shadow of Section 28, the legislation which effectively banned any discussion of same-sex relationships in schools. Now, we need the government to continue to support this decision and provide enough funding to help schools put these new guidelines into practice.

What’s Stonewall doing to support schools who are teaching about LGBT people and relationships?

Stonewall was founded in response to Section 28, the legislation which effectively banned any discussion of same-sex relationships in schools. As we celebrate our 30th birthday this year, it remains one of our top priorities to ensure that all children receive an education which reflects themselves, their families, and which celebrates diversity.

The work we do to support schools includes our School Champions and Children and Young People Champions programmes, resources for teachers, and the Children and Young People Conference we held this summer to celebrate the amazing LGBT-inclusive teaching that’s already happening in schools.

We will also keep speaking out in support of the good work that schools are doing, and campaigning for money and resources to enable schools to apply the new RSE guidelines. You can help us by holding an Equali-tea in your school or workplace or donate online.

How can local authorities support schools in embedding this new guidance?

Local authorities oversee most schools in England. Every local authority (or council) will have an elected representative who leads on education and supporting the schools in their area. Local authorities need to give a clear steer to shools about how to implement the new Relationships and Sex Education guidelines.

It is helpful for local authorities to know that people in their area support LGBT-inclusive education and expect them to support local schools in putting the guidance into practice.

Email your local authority now

Stonewall's Children and Young People's Services (CYPS) programme provides local authority Children's Services with bespoke support, guidance and training on LGBT-inclusion. Find out more

What is ‘age-appropriate’ teaching?

The guidance mentions that teaching Relationships and Sex Education in secondary schools and Relationships Education in primary schools should be delivered in an ‘age-appropriate’ way.

We believe it’s vital for children to know that LGBT people and families exist and that they should be accepted like everybody else. Children should learn this throughout primary and secondary school. Not only will this help young children from LGBT families feel accepted, it will also prevent bullying in the long run.

As children and young people grow up, it’s crucial that they can be themselves without feeling that there is anything wrong about doing so.

Importantly teaching should not only be ‘age-appropriate’ – it should also be timely. We know from our research that anti-LGBT bullying is common throughout primary schools, so it’s essential that children are supported to develop inclusive attitudes from a young age.

To find out more about how to do this, see our guide.

How can faith schools embed this new guidance?  

Many schools who are doing LGBT-inclusive teaching, along with tackling and preventing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, are faith and church schools.

The Public Sector Equality Duty requires all schools to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations between people. And the Equality Act 2010 lists ‘gender reassignment’ and ‘sexual orientation’ as protected characteristics, as well as religion or belief. This means that all schools have a duty to make sure that their students are not discriminated against, either because of their faith and/or because they are LGBT.

In the cases of the recent protests, we’ve seen some opposition from a small number of faith groups who believe that this education goes against their beliefs.

Many people of faith are also LGBT, and do not feel that the two are in opposition. It’s vital to work with faith and church schools to ensure that LGBT people of faith don’t face extra stigma for being who they are.

For more information on LGBT faith groups, see the below websites:

LGBT Muslim groups, Hidayah and Imaan. You can also contact the Muslim Youth Helpline.

LGBT Jewish group, Keshet UK.

LGBT Christian group, One Body One Faith

LGBT Catholic group, Quest.

I’m a parent/carer, how can I support my child's school to teach about LGBT people, families and relationships?

You can start the discussion with your child’s school. It may be a good idea to start by asking how they are planning to teach RSE when the new guidelines are introduced in 2020, and to ask them how they will make sure they are LGBT inclusive in their teaching.

Schools are required to engage with parents and carers in developing new policy. Schools will consult parents and carers in different ways, so you may be invited to a consultation meeting or to submit views by email, for example.

As part of the government’s new guidance, schools should have an up-to-date policy statement on RSE, which should be available to parents and carers. However, you can also ask about LGBT inclusivity in other policies, since LGBT inclusivity shouldn’t just be about RSE (find out more about this). Finally, you could suggest that they might want to become a Stonewall School Champion if they aren’t already.

You can also email your local authority to show your support for LGBT-inclusive education

Share our graphics in support of LGBT-inclusive education

I’m at school now, how will the changes in Relationships and Sex Education affect me?

Lots of schools will be seeing how their lessons need to be improved before the new guidance becomes compulsory in September 2020. What will change will depend on how old you are and what your school already teaches you as part of Relationship and Sex Education, along with whether it’s LGBT inclusive.

If you’re at a secondary school which doesn’t currently include LGBT relationships and identities in lessons about relationships and sex, your school will start to introduce this teaching from September 2020. These lessons will also cover important things like consent and online safety.

It’s also important that your voice is listened to. If you want to share your views, ask someone at your school what they’re doing to implement the new RSE guidance.

You can also email your local authority to show your support for LGBT-inclusive education

Share our graphics in support of LGBT-inclusive education

I work in a school, what resources do Stonewall have to help my school be LGBT inclusive?

Some useful resources include:

I’m a teacher, how can I help my students have a say?

We’ve made a guide for teachers to help them include their students’ voices in decisions made by the school.

If you work in a secondary school, find out more.

Will there be any more changes to Relationships and Sex Education, or is that it now?

The guidance is set to be reviewed in 2022. We are hoping to strengthen the guidance after this review. In the meantime, we are campaigning with other organisations for more funding to help schools implement this new guidance, as well as helping to equip teachers with the knowledge and confidence to provide effective LGBT-inclusive teaching.

Is this happening across the whole of the UK?

No, the introduction of the new guidance is only happening in England.

In 2018, the Scottish government announced that it had accepted the recommendations of the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group in full – meaning that from 2021, all schools will be required to embed LGBT-inclusive teaching across the curriculum (not just in teaching about relationships and sex). Find out more about LGBT-inclusive education in Scotland. 

In 2018, the Welsh government announced major changes to how Sex Education should be taught in schools. Kirsty Williams, the Minister for Education, announced that this will become Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). RSE will become a statutory part of Wales’ new curriculum, which will be in place from 2022.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Education requires all grant-aided schools to develop their own policy on how they will address RSE. Guidance commissioned by the Department (produced by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment) for both primary and post-primary includes information on LGBT inclusion and how to challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

However, there is no requirement for schools to implement this guidance, nor are schools inspected on how they implement the guidance. This means that in practice many schools are still not teaching LGBT-inclusive RSE.