Government launches consultation on physical and mental health education in schools

RCN welcomes proposals, but warns about lack of school nurses to help students with confidential issues 
Children in a classroom putting their hands up

RCN welcomes proposals, but warns about lack of school nurses to help students with confidential issues 

  • Draft guidance also includes updates to relationship and sex education 
  • Changes would come into effect in 2020 
  • Education secretary says he is 'open' to support schools in delivering proposals  

Picture: iStock

The government has launched a consultation on plans to make it compulsory for schools to teach children about the importance of good physical and mental health.  

The draft guidance by the Department for Education would also update the current approach to teaching primary school pupils about relationships and providing secondary school pupils with relationship and sex education.  

The plans have been welcomed by the RCN, alongside a warning to acknowledge the role school nurses already play.  

New proposals 

The existing guidance was last updated in 2000 and, if approved, the new framework would take effect from September 2020.  

There is a renewed focus on the importance of good mental health, as set out in a paragraph which reads: ‘Pupils should be taught how to judge when they, or someone they know, needs support and where they can seek support if they have concerns.  

‘This should include details on which adults in school (eg school nurses), and external sources of support, can help.’  

Under the new proposals, relationship education would continue to be mandatory. However, parents and carers would still retain their right to withdraw their children from certain aspects of sex education.  

Other aspects include lessons designed to keep pupils safe online, and support for the development of qualities such as confidence, resilience, self-respect and self-control.  

Adequate resourcing 

RCN professional lead for children and young people Fiona Smith said: ‘We welcome these proposals which recognise the importance of teaching mental and physical well-being in schools.  

‘School nurses and the RCN have been calling for personal, social, health and economic and sex and relationship education to be statutory subjects with adequate resourcing and assessment.  

‘However, some children will want to have private and confidential conversations on these subjects.' 

She added: ‘School nurses offer this vital service and as their number continue to fall, now more than ever, children and young people need help to make informed choices.’  

Chair of the British Youth Council Anna Rose Barker said: ‘Mental health and well-being continue to be a priority for young people in the UK, and it’s great that the government is taking steps to address the issue within the curriculum.  

‘The changes come following years of campaigning from young people who have made it clear that schools need to prepare young people for life post-education.’  

Today's problems 

The proposals are backed by education secretary Damian Hinds, who said: ‘Many of today’s problems did not exist when we last gave schools guidance on how to teach relationships and sex education 18 years ago.  

‘The action we’re taking is important to help support teachers and schools design a curriculum that will enrich their pupils in an age-appropriate way.’  

During a debate in Parliament last week, Mr Hinds said he is ‘open’ to whatever support schools need and would be listening through the consultation.  

The 12-week consultation runs until 7 November and is available here.

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