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Sex and relationships education (SRE): a parent's guide for primary school age children
Children usually receive their first lesson about puberty at school in Year 5. Sex and relationships education (SRE) isn’t currently compulsory in all schools in the UK, although the UK government has said it must be taught in all schools in England from 2019 and include informaton on children's digital life. (Follow these links for Information for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.)
Those aspects of sex and growing up that form part of the national science curriculum do have to be covered. The 2015 National Curriculum for Year 5 Science in England, for example, includes bodily changes, saying that: ‘Pupils should be taught to describe the changes as humans develop to old age’ – which may well be interpreted as covering puberty.
Parents have the right to withdraw their children from lessons about puberty and sex where these form part of SRE, but not from lessons that form part of the national science curriculum.
In general, puberty starts for girls between the ages of eight and 13 and boys between nine and 14 so it's essential it is covered by either parents or school – or both – by then.
Why is SRE important in schools?
Many argue that sex and relationships education, delivered in the right way, is an important part of a child’s personal, social health and economic education (PSHE).
The PSHE Association believes that Year 5 is the latest time at which puberty should be addressed by schools. They argue that a decision to withdraw a child from SRE can have a negative impact on children, who will be unaware of the potentially alarming changes happening to their bodies if their parents decide not to educate them about it at home. A better-prepared child is almost certainly more confident to tackle life as a tween.
If, for whatever reason, a parent doesn't prepare their child for the onset of puberty and all the physical and emotional changes their child will experience as a consequence, it's important that they are able to get this information at school.
‘It’s important that they feel they can talk to you and come to you with questions at this confusing and challenging time’
Even if your child is taught about sex education at school in informative and high-quality lessons, it’s still a good idea to talk to them about growing up. It’s important that they feel they can talk to you and come to you with questions at this confusing and challenging time.
Tips on talking to your child about puberty
- It’s best to introduce the topic of puberty to your child as young as you are comfortable with, so they know about it before they start developing – and before they start becoming embarrassed about talking about their bodies.
- Ask your child’s school about the kind of lessons they will have on the topic and when they will happen. You can then tailor your talk based on what they will learn/ have already.
- Try to avoid making it a formal, daunting process. Keep the conversation light and short in a relaxed, comfortable environment. It doesn’t have to be a 40-minute lecture. A quick 10 minute chat about what happens to your body as you grow older is a good start. Our piece on talking about sex might help you: the suggestions in this article can also be applied to talking about puberty.
- Let your child know you’re always happy to answer any questions they have, or, if they’d prefer, suggest they talk to another family member or trusted adult – maybe an older brother or sister or close family friend.
You can also make use of the resources below to help you and your child in the process.
The PSHE Association https://www.psheassociation.org.uk/content.aspx?CategoryID=1172
Great books on puberty and growing up - http://www.babble.com/mom/need-to-have-the-talk-top-20-parent-recommended-books-for-boys-and-girls-of-every-age/
Puberty for boys http://www.childline.org.uk/Explore/puberty/Pages/PubertyBoys.aspx
Puberty for girls https://www.childline.org.uk/Explore/puberty/Pages/PubertyGirls.aspx
Puberty for parents https://www.plannedparenthood.org/parents/puberty-101-for-parents
Brook: articles on body parts, puberty, keeping clean and more https://www.brook.org.uk/your-life/category/my-body
Sex Education Forum: organisation that works to achieve quality SRE http://sexeducationforum.org.uk/
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
First published: July 2015
Updated: May 2018