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Fact check: Government sex education lesson restrictions have some flexibility for teachers

New guidance says teachers should not teach certain things to children before they reach specific ages. (David Davies/PA)
New guidance says teachers should not teach certain things to children before they reach specific ages. (David Davies/PA)

Green Party peer and former leader Baroness Natalie Bennett claimed a new Government proposal would ban schools from teaching some children who  have begun menstruating about periods.

She wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Some pupils start menstruating at eight. Yet government plans to _ban_ them being educated about what is happening in their own bodies.”

Evaluation

It is correct to say that some pupils will start menstruating when they are eight years old.

It is also true that new proposals from the Department for Education said that “the key facts about the menstrual cycle” should “not be taught before year 4.” Students typically turn eight before they start year 4.

However, the new guidelines leave some flexibility for the teaching of such topics to start sooner should that be necessary for safeguarding reasons.

Baroness Bennett told the PA news agency that the instruction not to teach about menstruation before year 4 was “extremely clear and blunt” and it would be difficult for teachers to exercise any flexibility.

The facts

On May 16 2024 the Department for Education launched a consultation on new guidance over what can be taught in schools around sex, gender and changes to children’s bodies.

It set out a series of age limits to regulate when topics can be taught.

On page 32 a table includes an entry for “developing bodies” which states under the note “this should not be taught before year 4”:

Pupils should know:
– about growth, change and the changing adolescent body. This topic should include the human lifecycle. Puberty should be mentioned as a stage in this process.
– the key facts about the menstrual cycle, including physical and emotional changes.

All pupils have typically reached the age of eight when they start year 4.

The NHS says that while most girls’ start their period around the age of 12, “they can start as early as eight”.

This would suggest that some pupils might start menstruating before they reach year 4 and before the curriculum covers the subject.

However, earlier in the guidance the department gives teachers some flexibility.

Page 15 of the document acknowledges pupils might ask questions “which cover age-restricted content”.

It adds: “The school’s policy should explain how teachers will handle such questions, with an emphasis on supporting the child. This may include asking a pupil to speak to their parents or a trusted adult, signposting to support services where needed, and recognising that children whose questions go unanswered might instead turn to inappropriate sources of information, including online.”

It also says that: “In certain circumstances, schools may decide to teach age-limited topics earlier, provided it is necessary do so in order to safeguard pupils, and provided that teaching is limited to the essential facts, without going into unnecessary detail.”

Baroness Bennett told the PA news agency: “The page 32 reference is extremely clear and blunt and is surely the message teachers and school leaders are going to absorb.

“Given the political heat around this issue, it will be difficult to go to page 15 wording about flexibility and follow that, and under what circumstances? When there is one individual who starts menstruating and everyone knows why the lesson is happening?

“As many are saying, as happened under Section 28, the Government ruling is likely to have a chilling effect beyond even the actual restrictions planned.”

Section 28 was a law passed in 1988 by a Conservative government that stopped councils and schools “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. It was repealed in 2003.

Links

Post on X from Natalie Bennett (archived)

Draft Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health education (archived)

NHS – Starting your periods (archived)

Gov.uk – The national curriculum (archived)

Election Check 24