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17th Aug 2018 5:03pm News

DFE Consultation on Relationships and Health Education – Implications for Citizenship Education

ACT's response to DFE Consultation on Relationships and Health Education

DFE Consultation on Relationships and Health Education – Implications for Citizenship Education

Summary of the DFE consultation proposals

The DFE proposes to introduce new subjects through the basic curriculum:

  • Relationships education (primary)
  • Relationships and Sex education (RSE) (secondary)
  • Physical health and mental wellbeing education (primary and secondary).

Statutory guidance will accompany this with detailed content and what will be expected of all primary and secondary schools.

If implemented, the proposals could make aspects of Citizenship education mandatory in every primary and secondary school. This could go some way to addressing the House of Lords Select Committee recommendation that Citizenship must be a statutory subject in every school, not just state-maintained schools. However, the relationship between any new requirements and the subject of Citizenship needs urgent clarification.

A consultation on the proposed regulations and draft statutory guidance was launched on 19 July and will be open until the 7 November 2018.

How do the proposals relate to Citizenship?

The DFE proposal includes statutory guidance for the new subjects with an extensive list of content. Many of the areas included relate to Citizenship. For example:

  • the law in relation to legal ages, sex, rape, FGM, pregnancy, marriage and civil partnerships, consent, domestic abuse, grooming, coercion and substance misuse
  • critical media literacy
  • extremism
  • crime
  • bullying and discrimination
  • gender identity, diversity
  • the right to privacy and rights and responsibilities of citizens
  • active citizenship and social action which are presented as contributing positively to mental health and wellbeing.

The content in the DFE consultation draft is considerably more detailed than in the National Curriculum. Teachers have been in touch with ACT, questioning how the DFE proposals relate to the existing requirements and work that schools are already doing. This is one of the key questions that ACT is seeking to clarify with DFE.

The drafts fail to recognise relationships education as part of the wider social curriculum – an issue that ACT raised in the first DFE consultation on RSE in February. Relationships education is not just about personal relationships it is about the groups and communities we belong to, understanding of diversity, as well as how we live, work and make decisions together in society – and this content is addressed in Citizenship.

The DFE have also announced there will be more work on financial and economic education but emphasise that this will focus on the role of the existing Mathematics and Citizenship curricula.

What does ACT have to say about these proposals?

There are almost daily calls for education that teaches about democracy and improves the political literacy of citizens. Yet despite being a National Curriculum and GCSE subject and having a DFE Programme of Study in primary education, not every school teaches Citizenship. In the battle of priorities in schools, subjects like Citizenship are being squeezed. The concern is that this proposal could further undermine the subject.

Ultimately a child’s Citizenship education is going to be increasingly determined by the type of school they attend because the basic curriculum applies to all schools and the National Curriculum to state-maintained schools only.

ACT will be developing a full response to this consultation in the autumn, but we have taken initial soundings from members who tell us they have real concerns about curriculum confusion and the workload that will be involved if these requirements are implemented in the current form.

The DFE say the intention is not to duplicate content and schools should continue what they are doing. However, it is going to be difficult to untangle this in a practical sense because there are links and connections between the proposals and the content for Citizenship, both in the National Curriculum Programmes of Study at key stage 3 and 4 and in the DFE Programmes of Study for Citizenship at key stages 1 and 2.

The starting point should be how RSE and Health education can already be addressed through existing subjects including Citizenship, Science, PE and Computing; what information, guidance and support is already provided to pupils through pastoral support and PSHE education; and then what else is needed?

Links and overlaps with Citizenship
We are pleased to see all schools will be required to teach some aspects of Citizenship under these proposals. However, it needs to be made clear that it is Citizenship being taught.

The introduction of active citizenship which ACT campaigned for in 2014 is welcome. But active citizenship and social action need to be taught in conjunction with knowledge and understanding about how democracy works, and the different forms of political and democratic participation citizens can take.

Similarly, it makes no sense to separate out factual knowledge of specific legal acts from the knowledge and understanding needed on what law is, the rule of law and how the justice system operates or aspects of media literacy from teaching about the roles of the media in a democracy in relation to freedom of speech, public interest, the right to privacy and how to hold those in power to account.

Where there is a lack of clarity and coherence in national policy there tends to be additional work for teachers in interpreting and making sense of things and as a result poorer quality provision and outcomes for children. The last thing we need is more of a muddle about what should and should not be taught. In the worst cases Citizenship could lose out if schools simply stop what they are currently doing and replace it with these new subjects.

So at the very least, the relationship between any new requirements and what is in the existing National Curriculum for Citizenship and the Primary Programme of Study for Citizenship, must be set out clearly within statutory guidance to all schools.

The essential role of Citizenship teachers
DFE will also need to show that they value the role of specialist trained Citizenship teachers who will no doubt be asked to lead on RSE and Health education. Resources and training for teachers and support for schools will be essential if this is going to have any chance of being successful. ACT would expect to have a very clear role in leading this, particularly because of the content overlaps.

We welcome the new work planned on economic and financial education which has long been an essential part of effective Citizenship education. We look forward to continuing to work with colleagues in the economic and finance education sector to improve the quality of teaching here and have already quality assured some key teaching resources from providers such as HMRC. We also see this as being an essential part of Citizenship education for those in post 16 education and training. We need to ensure progression in Citizenship from primary to post 16.

Finally, it is important for schools and teachers to remember that at this stage all of this is subject to consultation and there will be no changes to requirements in schools until 2020.

Liz Moorse, Chief Executive

What ACT is doing next?

ACT is already working with DFE to discuss these points with the aim of clarifying how and where the proposed new requirements relate to the existing Citizenship curriculum in primary and secondary schools and to ensure Citizenship is properly represented in any new statutory guidance to schools.

ACT will be developing a formal response to the DFE consultation and are consulting with teachers and other members and organisational members to inform this.

ACT is working with a range of organisations and teaching unions to discuss the issues raised by the consultation. ACT has also been contacted by the PSHE Association to discuss the proposals.

The DFE consultation is open until 7 November 2018. Any changes in requirements for schools are not due to take effect until 2020.

What you can do next?

Let us know your comments and questions by contacting us or join the debate on and Twitter @ACitizenshipT

Respond to the consultation

Relevant documents
DFE consultation

The Primary Programmes of Study for Citizenship at key stages 1 and 2

The National Curriculum for Citizenship at key stage 3 and 4

GCSE Citizenship Studies content