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Department for Education Statutory Guidance for Relationships and Sex Education in England: A Rights-Based Approach?.

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Emma DobsonORCiD


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In England, the Children and Social Work Act (HMSO, 2017) bestowed compulsory status on relationships and sex education (RSE), which means that young people’s right to receive RSE has been codified in law. This paper analyzes how this right is upheld and enacted within the Department for Education (DfE) (2019) statutory guidance on RSE for schools in England. The analysis suggests that the guidance features contradictory discourses in which young people’s rights are ostensibly advanced, but remain structured by adult-centric, heteronormative understandings of sex and relationships. It upholds a decontextualized and legalistic approach to rights, responsibilities, informed choice, and decision making. A narrow conception of rights is particularly evident regarding young people’s digital sexual cultures, which are predominantly framed in terms of risk and harm. We argue that scholars should investigate how educators are designing and delivering RSE in light of the guidance, and the opportunities for and obstacles to a genuinely “rights-based” approach to RSE. While the policy discussed in this article is specific to England, the discussion has wider relevance for practitioners and policymakers across cultural and geographic contexts as it draws upon a model for analyzing how young people’s sexuality is presented and addressed in legislative and curricular documentation.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Setty E, Dobson E

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Archives of Sexual Behavior

Year: 2023

Volume: 52

Issue: 1

Pages: 79-93

Print publication date: 01/01/2023

Online publication date: 28/09/2022

Acceptance date: 13/04/2022

ISSN (print): 0004-0002

ISSN (electronic): 1573-2800

Publisher: Springerlink


DOI: 10.1007/s10508-022-02340-5


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