What is the difference between RSE and PSHE?

From September 2020, it is statutory for all primary schools to teach relationships and health education. However, due to the impact of COVID-19, the DfE has agreed to some flexibility but teaching is expected to start by the summer term 2021 at the latest. These learning areas are vitally important, but many teachers and schools (and parents) are still catching up with the new guidance due to all of the recent disruptions. Many questions are still being asked and we hope this blog post will get everyone up to speed with some frequently asked questions.

To address the title question – What is the difference between RSE and PSHE? From the academic year 2020/21 RSE will become statutory for all children, whilst PSHE remains non-statutory, although it is recommended that RSE is taught within the wider PSHE curriculum. The guidance for RSE does not cover everything needed for a well covered PSHE curriculum, so if asked the question has RSE replaced PSHE – RSE should be part of PSHE, not instead of.


The DfE says,

“Personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education is an important and necessary part of all pupils’ education. All schools should teach PSHE, drawing on good practice, and this expectation is outlined in the introduction to the proposed new national curriculum.

PSHE is a non-statutory subject. To allow teachers the flexibility to deliver high-quality PSHE we consider it unnecessary to provide new standardised frameworks or programmes of study. PSHE can encompass many areas of study. Teachers are best placed to understand the needs of their pupils and do not need additional central prescription.

However, while we believe that it is for schools to tailor their local PSHE programme to reflect the needs of their pupils, we expect schools to use their PSHE education programme to equip pupils with a sound understanding of risk and with the knowledge and skills necessary to make safe and informed decisions.”

We already have a handy blog post about this where you can read exactly what is covered in primary RSE lessons?. In a nutshell, RSE stands for “relationships and sex education” and as part of Relationships and Health Education, is a new approach to teaching children about relationships and health.

Is it now statutory for a school to have a specific RSE policy (although a PSHE policy remains non-statutory, you should probably do one anyway)? According to the DfE RSE guidance, a school’s RSE policy should:

  • Define any sex education they choose to teach other than that covered in the science curriculum.
  • Set out the subject content, how it is taught and who is responsible for teaching it.
  • Describe how the subject is monitored and evaluated.
  • Include information about a parent’s right to request that their child be excused.
  • Confirm the date by which the policy will be reviewed.

It is also suggested that the following are covered:

  • Details of content/scheme of work and when each topic is taught, taking account of the age of pupils.
  • Who delivers the lessons.
  • How the policy has been produced, and how it will be kept under review, in both cases working with parents.
  • How delivery of the content will be made accessible to all pupils, including those with SEND.
  • Explanation of the right to withdraw.
  • Requirements on schools in law e.g. the Equality Act (please see The Equality Act 2010 and schools: Departmental advice).
  • How often the policy is updated.
  • Who approves the policy.
  • The policy should also reflect the views of teachers and pupils. Listening and responding to the views of young people will strengthen the policy, ensuring that it meets the needs of all pupils.

With this in mind, Kapow Primary has a Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and PSHE scheme of work which covers all of the statutory content. In each year and key stage, lessons are divided into three topic areas:

Families and relationships

Health and wellbeing

Safety and the changing body

Schools can decide when to teach each topic in the year. This gives the flexibility to link learning to topics in other subjects.  Each year group also has an introduction lesson designed for the beginning of the year in which children will negotiate the ground rules for this subject.  A transition lesson will also be available for the end of the year allowing children to reflect on learning and prepare for their move into the next year group.

Each lesson plan is divided into a starter (attention grabber), main focus (the main event)  and round up (wrapping up) activity to clearly structure learning.

Key vocabulary is listed to help teachers focus the learning.  A variety of learning activities are used including structured discussions, drama and role-play and creative projects. There is flexibility for creative activities to be undertaken individually, in pairs or in small groups. Supporting resources are included and are shown on the interactive whiteboard, or where the children need a copy, easily printed from the online platform. There are sufficient written activities to ensure schools can provide effective evidence of learning and progression. 

Specially created age-appropriate animated videos are also included to support the teaching of some of the more complex areas including puberty in years four, five and six. These can be used as an integral part of the suggested Kapow Primary lesson or used independently as part of the school’s own scheme of work for RSE.

Each lesson has been carefully planned to be age-appropriate, giving children the opportunity to explore issues they are likely to be experiencing at the time or in the near future.  Each lesson suggests how to differentiate between children needing additional support and those who are working beyond the expected standard. Topics are regularly revisited to support the development of children’s understanding of the issues. Key questions are included which teachers can also use to assess children’s understanding throughout the units. 

Having all the resources in an easy to navigate online platform will save time for busy teachers. The clear lesson plans make preparation for each lesson straightforward.  Throughout, teachers are encouraged to think about how the issues might relate to their class and ensure they are meeting their needs and are ready to deal with any issues which arise. 

To aid subject leaders an overall curriculum plan demonstrates the progression in the topics over the year groups, in addition to information for parents and carers.  Also included are videos to help develop teacher confidence in delivering the content which could be used in an in-school training session or by individuals as needed. 

The full scheme covers the statutory content and more. It provides a complete programme of PSHE education and Citizenship. This will support schools to address the Ofsted requirements for Personal Development including British Values.  

Overall, the Kapow Primary RSE scheme of work is a comprehensive resource for KS1 and 2. 



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Written by:
Sarah Huggins

Sarah has over 20 years’ experience in education. Starting as a Primary teacher, Sarah then moved into an advisory role that covered both PSHE education and Citizenship. She delivers courses for teachers, as well as sessions for children and young people and creates educational materials. 

Sarah runs her own independent education consultancy company Personal Development Matters, which supports schools to deliver high-quality PSHE education as well as other areas of personal development.