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Relationships EduCation & Sex Education (RSE)

Children and young people are growing up in an increasingly complex world and living their lives seamlessly including online. This presents many positive and exciting opportunities, but also challenges and risks. In this environment, children and young people need to know how to be safe and healthy, and how to manage their academic, personal and social lives in a positive way.

From the beginning of primary school, building on early education, pupils should be taught how to take turns, how to treat each other with kindness, consideration and respect, the importance of honesty and truthfulness, permission seeking and giving, and the concept of personal privacy. Establishing personal space and boundaries, showing respect and understanding the differences between appropriate and inappropriate or unsafe physical, and other, contact – these are the forerunners of teaching about consent.

Respect for others should be taught in an age-appropriate way, in terms of understanding one’s own and others’ boundaries in play, in negotiations about space, toys, books, resources and so on.

Teaching about families requires sensitive and well-judged teaching based on knowledge of pupils and their circumstances. Families of many forms provide a nurturing environment for children. (Families can include for example, single parent families, LGBT parents, families headed by grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents/carers amongst other structures.) Care needs to be taken to ensure that there is no stigmatisation of children based on their home circumstances and needs, to reflect sensitively that some children may have a different structure of support around them; e.g. looked after children or young carers.

In a school wide context which encourages the development and practice of resilience and other attributes, this includes character traits such as helping pupils to believe they can achieve, persevere with tasks, work towards long-term rewards and continue despite setbacks. Alongside understanding the importance of self-respect and self-worth, pupils should develop personal attributes including honesty, integrity, courage, humility, kindness, generosity, trustworthiness and a sense of justice. This can be achieved in a variety of ways including by providing planned opportunities for young people to undertake social action, active citizenship and voluntary service to others locally or more widely.

Relationships Education also creates an opportunity to enable pupils to be taught about positive emotional and mental wellbeing, including how friendships can support mental wellbeing.
Through Relationships Education (and RSE), schools should teach pupils the knowledge they need to recognise and to report abuse, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse. In primary schools, this can be delivered by focusing on boundaries and privacy, ensuring young people understand that they have rights over their own bodies. This should also include understanding boundaries in friendships with peers and also in families and with others, in all contexts, including online. Pupils should know how to report concerns and seek advice when they suspect or know that something is wrong. At all stages it will be important to balance teaching children about making sensible decisions to stay safe (including online) whilst being clear it is never the fault of a child who is abused and why victim blaming is always wrong. These subjects complement Health Education and as part of a comprehensive programme and whole school approach, this knowledge can support safeguarding of children.

By the end of primary school:

Families and people who care for me

Pupils should know:

  • That families are important for children growing up because they can give love, security and stability 
  • The characteristics of healthy family life, commitment to each other, including in times of difficulty, protection and care for children and other family members, the importance of spending time together and sharing each other’s lives 
  • That others’ families, either in school or in the wider world, sometimes look different from their family, but that they should respect those differences and know that other children’s families are also characterised by love and care
  • That stable, caring relationships, which may be of different types, are at the heart of happy families, and are important for children’s security as they grow up 
  • That marriage represents a formal and legally recognised commitment of two people to each other which is intended to be lifelong
  • How to recognise if family relationships are making them feel unhappy or unsafe, and how to seek help or advice from others if needed.

Caring friendships

Pupils should know: 

  • How important friendships are in making us feel happy and secure, and how people choose and make friends  
  • The characteristics of friendships, including mutual respect, truthfulness, trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness, generosity, trust, sharing interests and experiences and support with problems and difficulties 
  • That healthy friendships are positive and welcoming towards others, and do not make others feel lonely or excluded 
  • That most friendships have ups and downs, and that these can often be worked through so that the friendship is repaired or even strengthened, and that resorting to violence is never right 
  • How to recognise who to trust and who not to trust, how to judge when a friendship is making them feel unhappy or uncomfortable, managing conflict, how to manage these situations and how to seek help or advice from others, if needed.

Respectful relationships

Pupils should know: 
  • The importance of respecting others, even when they are very different from them (for example, physically, in character, personality or backgrounds), or make different choices or have different preferences or beliefs  
  • Practical steps they can take in a range of different contexts to improve or support respectful relationships 
  • The conventions of courtesy and manners 
  • The importance of self-respect and how this links to their own happiness 
  • That in school and in wider society they can expect to be treated with respect by others, and that in turn they should show due respect to others, including those in positions of authority
  • About different types of bullying (including cyberbullying), the impact of bullying, responsibilities of bystanders (primarily reporting bullying to an adult) and how to get help
  • What a stereotype is, and how stereotypes can be unfair, negative or destructive  
  • The importance of permission-seeking and giving in relationships with friends, peers and adults.

Online relationships

Pupils should know:

  • That people sometimes behave differently online, including by pretending to be someone they are not 
  • That the same principles apply to online relationships as to face-to-face relationships, including the importance of respect for others online including when we are anonymous.
    the rules and principles for keeping safe online, how to recognise risks, harmful content and contact, and how to report them 
  • How to critically consider their online friendships and sources of information including awareness of the risks associated with people they have never met
  • How information and data is shared and used online.

Being safe

Pupils should know:

  • What sorts of boundaries are appropriate in friendships with peers and others (including in a digital context) 
  • About the concept of privacy and the implications of it for both children and adults; including that it is not always right to keep secrets if they relate to being safe 
  • That each person’s body belongs to them, and the differences between appropriate and inappropriate or unsafe physical, and other, contact
  • How to respond safely and appropriately to adults they may encounter (in all contexts, including online) whom they do not know 
  • How to recognise and report feelings of being unsafe or feeling bad about any adult.
  • How to ask for advice or help for themselves or others, and to keep trying until they are heard  
  • How to report concerns or abuse, and the vocabulary and confidence needed to do so
  • Where to get advice e.g. family, school and/or other sources.  

Click here to read a Relationships, sex and health education: a guide for parents.