Mental health on the curriculum in England
The focus on mental health and wellbeing on the national curriculum in England is changing.
In 2019, the government announced the introduction of a new compulsory subject – Relationships, Health and Sex Education, or RSHE.
RSHE in schools and further education settings
The introduction of RSHE as a subject became compulsory in September 2020, although the government has given an extension until summer 2021 to schools who are not yet able to because of the pandemic.
RSHE is taught in both primary and secondary education, although there are differences. In primary schools, RSHE may be known as RHE, as sex education is not compulsory until secondary school. However, some primary schools may choose to include this as part of their lessons.
RSHE is not currently compulsory in sixth forms, 16-19 academies or further education colleges.
Government guidance states that: ‘In primary schools, we want the subjects to put in place the key building blocks of healthy, respectful relationships, focusing on family and friendships, in all contexts, including online. This will sit alongside the essential understanding of how to be healthy. At secondary, teaching will build on the knowledge acquired at primary and develop further pupils’ understanding of health, with an increased focus on risk areas such as drugs and alcohol, as well as introducing knowledge about intimate relationships and sex.’
The subject is split into two sections: physical health and mental wellbeing and relationships.
Physical health and mental wellbeing
This area of RSHE covers:
- Mental wellbeing, which teaches students about the importance of mental health, how to talk about their feelings and where to seek help
- Internet safety and harms, which focuses on topics like cyberbullying, how to behave online, how internet use can affect body image, and online relationships
- Healthy eating
- Drugs, alcohol and tobacco, including the impact drug use can have on mental health
- Health and prevention, which touches on the importance of good sleep to mental wellbeing
- Basic first aid
- Changing adolescent body, which covers the emotional changes children and young people may experience as they grow
See the full breakdown for both primary and secondary schools on the English government’s website.
This part of RSHE covers:
- Families and people who care for me, which includes the characteristics of healthy family life and how to ask for help if family life is making them feel unhappy or unsafe
- Caring friendships, where pupils will learn about how to create and maintain healthy friendships and how to resolve issues with friends
- Respectful relationships, focusing on the importance of respecting others even if they come from different backgrounds, as well as learning about bullying
- Online relationships (primary), online and media (secondary), including the risks of talking to people anonymously on the internet, viewing harmful content online, and the impact that viewing pornography can have
- Being safe, which teaches students about consent, boundaries and the laws around this
- Intimate and sexual relationships (compulsory at secondary level only), which includes information on healthy intimate relationships, and identifying and managing sexual pressure