Schools in England are being told they can and should share what sex education pupils are being given as the minister in charge insisted she wants to “debunk the copyright myth that parents cannot see what their children are being taught”.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has written to schools to make clear they should provide parents with access to relationships, sex and health curriculum materials.
She has also written an open letter to parents, telling them they have the right to know what their children are seeing and being taught in the classroom.
Schools are still awaiting updated RSHE guidance, which the Government has said will go out “for full public consultation later this year”.
The latest update comes after a review into Relationships, Sex, Health and Education (RSHE) was announced in March following concerns that children are being exposed to “inappropriate” content.
The Department for Education (DfE) is currently leading the review, which is also being informed by an independent panel to provide “external expertise”.
The review is considering how to make sure all RSHE teaching is factual and does not present contested views on sensitive topics as fact, and the Government has previously indicated the panel would be advising on “clear safeguards to stop pupils from being taught contested and potentially damaging concepts”, including bringing in age ratings setting out what is appropriate to be taught at what age.
Ahead of new guidance being published, schools were being written to on Tuesday to make clear companies providing teaching resources cannot use copyright law to forbid schools from sharing materials.
Ms Keegan said any attempt to do so through contract terms would be unenforceable and void.
She said: “No ifs, no buts and no more excuses. This government is acting to guarantee parents’ fundamental right to know what their children are being taught in sex and relationship education.”
“Today I’m writing to schools and parents to debunk the copyright myth that parents cannot see what their children are being taught.
“Parents must be empowered to ask and schools should have the confidence to share.”
The department said schools should not enter contractual conditions that prevent them from sharing RHSE materials, and added that this latest update “provides the most categorical position on the application of copyright law in this area to date – as part of the government’s overriding approach to empower both teachers and parents to defend their rights”.
Jason Elsom, chief executive of parenting charity Parentkind, welcomed what he described as the department’s “timely move to strengthen parental rights in the teaching of RSHE”.
He said parents want transparency and the update “should help to reassure parents about the content and provision of RSHE”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the clarification over copyright law is “helpful” but added that the letter could create an expectation on schools to publish “every piece of planning and resource used across the RSHE curriculum”, something he said would be a huge additional workload when schools are already “significantly overburdened”.
He also said there had been no discussion ahead of the letter being sent out and described it as “slightly odd” for it to be sent when many schools are on half-term breaks.
Mr Barton added: “If the Government had spoken to the sector in advance of this statement we might have been able to resolve the practical difficulties it raises.”
Separately, schools are also still awaiting guidance on transgender pupils, for which no publication date has been given.
The school leaders’ union NAHT said this and the RSHE guidance are “what is really missing from this announcement”.
The RSHE consultation and “much-needed guidance around complex issues such as supporting transgender pupils in school” is what “both parents and schools need clarity on, and which the Government still seem no closer to delivering”, said NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman.