Ian Timbrell portrait

Written by Ian Timbrell

Ian is an education consultant and trainer, supporting schools develop their provision for LGBT+ pupils and their RSE curriculum. He has worked in education for 15 years; including as a class teacher and a deputy head teacher.

The cursory glance at social media and the internet suggests that UK RSE curricula include suggestions of bondage, is opposed by most people, is queering education and is a risk to safeguarding. But what is the truth behind this opposition?

The backlash

Broadly, objections can be categorised into three areas: secrecy around RSE; developmentally inappropriate materials; the inability to withdraw from lessons; and the ‘queering’ of education. 

The secrecy around RSE 

A common oppositional narrative is that schools refuse to show what materials they are using. This view essentially accuses all teachers of not safeguarding their children. We’re not asked to show all materials so why is RSE different? If schools were to publish every piece of planning and resource used, the workload would push an already overworked system to the brink of collapse. This is not to say that there is no transparency. Generally, schools will share this information upon request, or through parent consultations.

RSE is developmentally inappropriate

Opponents of RSE claim it contains messages of anal sex, bondage, pornography and self-stimulation at age 4-6. My son is 9 and I would be horrified if he learnt any of these at his age. But he’s not. Because none of it is in the RSE frameworks.

Proponents of this message often use excerpts of preparatory paperwork as evidence for inappropriate content. But these aren’t in the mandatory documents. As part of any curriculum design process, you look at a wide range of documents to find out everything that is out there. That doesn’t mean that Governments use them, or that you agree with them.

I am not saying that no school has ever used inappropriate materials, but critics fail to acknowledge that these mistakes are in the smallest percentage of schools and instead of banning RSE for all, the individual school should take the appropriate action to ensure appropriate nature of the materials they are using in lessons. 

The inability to withdraw from lessons

In Wales, parents are not allowed to withdraw pupils from RSE lessons. Being told that we cannot withdraw our children from any areas of their life is bound to put some people’s heckles up. However, the reality is that this is the case for pretty much every other area of the curriculum. Schools would not allow withdrawal from English or Maths, so why should it be allowed from a framework that aims to develop healthy, happy people?

One of the reasons that withdrawing from all RSE lessons is not as simple as some would like you to think, is that effective RSE is primarily not delivered as ‘RSE lessons’. RSE encourages friendships and respect and so it is impossible to withdraw from any lesson that develops these attributes. What the parents here are generally saying is that they want them withdrawn from sex education and/or mentions of sexuality or gender. Withdrawing from RSE frameworks as a whole is impossible, but withdrawing from sections would be a logistical nightmare for schools and is not realistic.

The ‘Queering’ of Education

This phrase is fascinating, especially because it has no agreed universal meaning. Most opponents seem to be using it as a phrase to suggest that ‘Queer Theory’ is now underpinning education. They are conflating the true meaning of Queer Theory with conspiracy theories to suggest that there is collusion in education and health to somehow convert children to become LGBT+. This is rooted in LGBTphobia and is not founded on anything but discrimination and panic culture.

The real reasons for the backlash

The most obvious and largest group appear to be transphobic and homophobic. The reality is that up to 10% of the population are LGBTQ+ and if we do not ever discuss these things, this whole section of society will grow up wondering why they feel different. But also by deliberately not mentioning LGBTQ+ people, we are saying that they don’t exist, which is phobic in and of itself. Inclusion of LGBTQ+ people on displays, in books and in lessons is not going to turn anyone LGBTQ+, but it will make our world a more inclusive and tolerant place.

An argument opponents to RSE also use is that they don’t want sex talked about to three-year-olds. But sex doesn’t need to be mentioned. At that age, it’s about realising that there are different families and challenging gender stereotypes.

The final reason that I will talk about here is religion. A minority use religion as a reason for their children not to be ‘exposed’ to LGBT+ or gender discussions. I follow a number of LGBTQ religious individuals and organisations, and I can tell you that religion does not spread hate, people do.


In 2021, 5 parents took the Welsh Government to court to ban RSE. Unsurprisingly, they lost the court case as many of the disproved views from above were put forward as ‘evidence’.

The fact is, no matter what change happens in schools, there are always opponents and critics. But when you couple inevitable bemoaners with homophobia and transphobia, there was bound to be pushback. But RSE is key to making the UK an inclusive country and the vast majority of us know that it is the right thing to do and trust the teachers to do the best by their children.