What LGBTQ+ education should we provide as part of our PSHE / Health & wellbeing curriculum?

LGBTQ+ education is one of the most contested parts of the Personal Development Education (PSHE) curriculum in schools and it has become highly politicised. It’s rare to find anyone who doesn’t have an opinion about it, and when these are expressed loudly, it can feel daunting for a school, and raise anxieties about whether they are ‘doing it right’ or at worst, in breach of the law. Views can be very pro-LGBTQ+, or against, and both have challenges associated with them as this article will later explore.

Some teachers fear they aren’t doing enough to include and educate LGBTQ+ pupils; others are concerned they might be confusing the wider student population. Parents and carers can be very supportive, or exceedingly critical. It’s not uncommon to find such polarised views in a school community.

This polarisation has become increasingly apparent as the visibility of trans people and those with alternative sexual orientations has been fostered in society. Legislation such as the Equality Act is over 10 years-old and it hasn’t moved with the times. This adds further complexities for schools, and society in general.

The rights of trans-women have become a contentious social issue as they can conflict with women’s rights. The rights of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals can be opposed by some faith groups whose religious teachings are not accepting of same-sex relationships. It is therefore perplexing when the Equality Act is applied, as all these groups are ‘protected characteristics’ under this legislation.

This sets in opposition the collective and individual rights of all these groups. Society doesn’t have an answer for this, leaving schools pondering about what and how they should be including LGBTQ+ in the curriculum. Ofsted (2021) has stated that:

'No matter what type of school they attend, it is important that all children gain an understanding of the world they are growing up in, and learn how to live alongside, and show respect for, a diverse range of people. When we inspect schools, we assess how well they equip children to do this.’

The Independent School Inspectorate has similar guidance.

What do young people want?

We (Chameleon PDE) are in the fortunate position of collecting the anonymised views of thousands of secondary school students every year (exceeding 10,000 responses). Our ‘How Are You?’ pupil survey asks pupils to evaluate the personal development education (PSHE) they receive. Open comment boxes allow students to state any topics they want to know more about. LGBTQ+ is always one of the most highly requested themes in every school we have surveyed, both at home and internationally.

Some of these pupils will be LGBTQ+ seeking validation and support. Others may be questioning their sexual orientation; some might be questioning their gender. This is a minority of the student population and yet markedly more of their peers also request LGBTQ+ focused lessons.

In Western culture there is more prominence of LGBTQ+ people in the media and society. It’s now commonplace to see representation in adverts, TV shows and movies. Shows like ‘Heartstopper’ on Netflix, and ‘Glow-Up’ on BBC3 feature a diverse and inclusive LGBTQ+ cast targeted at young people. Global phenomena such as Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ include LGBTQ+ characters, and Dr Who will have a trans companion in 2023. With this increased visibility is it any wonder why young people want to understand more and be educated?

It can be very easy to fall into the trap thinking we know what young people need to be taught. Do we always give them enough credit to take responsibility for their education, to ask questions, seek answers and discuss the world that is in front of them? If we leave it up to them to investigate on the internet or social media, what sort of information are they likely to find? Surely, it is better to have LGBTQ+ explained properly in school rather than leaving it to chance.

Age or developmentally appropriate?

Some vocal critics of LGBTQ+ education in schools allude that making pupils aware of different sexual orientations or genders is confusing, especially for students who are pre-puberty or going through adolescence. Some accuse schools of indoctrination to a ‘woke’ agenda. Others feel that it may encourage pupils to make ill-informed decisions about their gender or sexuality.

Paragraph 37 of the statutory Relationships, Sex and Health Education Guidance for English schools (DfE, 2020) states that,

‘Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age-appropriate in approach and content. At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this, and we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum.’

Furthermore, specific case law in R (L) v Hampshire CC (2022) confirmed that it is not illegal and there is no ‘indoctrination’ involved in explaining the meaning of intersex/ transgender/ agender etc, or in teaching that respect is owed to all individuals regardless of gender issues. This judgement also said that pressure groups who lobby for legal change, e.g., on the question of whether sex should be regarded as mutable or immutable, is not sufficient to turn a social or educational question into a political one.

Yet, LGBTQ+ education taught poorly or insensitively does have the potential to confuse or disenfranchise students. The needs of SEND pupils should also be specifically considered. That’s why it’s essential for teaching staff to be knowledgeable and confident about this curriculum area, and have had appropriate CPD. Access to resources with supportive teacher notes for non-specialists, such as those we provide our partner schools, are also vital.

The term age-appropriate used in statutory guidance isn’t a particularly helpful term and is open to interpretation. Some student cohorts may be immature, others may be worldly-wise. Having a static personal development (PSHE) curriculum that is rolled out year-on-year may not be suitable in meeting every student’s needs ad infinitum.

This is why we don’t offer our partner schools a programme to be routinely followed, but instead a library of resources, tools, and training to build a bespoke curriculum for every cohort of pupils. Allied with the data from our ‘How Are You?’ pupil survey, this assists our partner schools to ensure the curriculum is both developmentally appropriate and meets student need.

What about safeguarding and quality assurance?

Some adversaries of relationships and sex education (RSE), say that teachers are vulnerable to teaching inappropriate content as they are not specialists. It is often argued that time-poor teachers cannot properly quality assure PSHE resources. These claims are patronising. In our experience, the majority of teachers want to get this education right for their pupils which is why there can be so much anxiety about it. This does not belittle the need for high quality CPD and resources, but a common-sense attitude about this curriculum goes a long way. It is true that most teachers are non-specialists, but they have a strong sense of what their students need and use suitable teaching pedagogy.

Nevertheless, it’s still vital that quality assurance of resources and programme content is robust. Very occasionally an outside agency visits a school, or a certain resource is used, where inappropriate subject matter can be taught. This tends to happen in schools that pay lip-service to PSHE and the programme has not been given due care or attention. Fortunately, these occurrences are rarer than some might report.

Every pack in our PSHE library has a comprehensive set of notes including any safeguarding provisions that support the non-specialist teacher. We are not alone in this respect, and many other providers also do this. However, there are a small minority who don’t, so it’s always worth checking what resources your staff are using and who’s coming to do that ‘LGBTQ+’ input.

Should pupils be taught the new terminology?

Terminology about different genders and sexual orientations has increased dramatically over the last few years. Teachers tend to be worried about getting it wrong. This language is also often highly-contested by those who refute gender and sexual diversity. Regardless of one’s feeling about this, it’s highly likely the language is here to stay. So, do we inform our young people about it or leave them ignorant?

In our lesson packs we introduce some of the terminology at upper secondary. This is not to indoctrinate or confuse pupils, but to pragmatically prepare them for life beyond school where they will live and work alongside LGBTQ+ people. This is just another form of diversity to be respected alongside all others. Is this ‘woke’ or just learning to be nice?

Being ignorant of these terms, including preferred pronouns, could also lead the unwary to cause offence (even when none was meant). There is much unresolved debate about what constitutes ‘hate speech’ with regard to freedom of expression, human rights and equalities legislation. Educating students about these complexities is important.

Having carried out a research project on the normalisation of offensive language into young people’s language as part of my Masters in Education, a significant proportion of students in the study frequently used the ‘n’ word, the ‘p’ word, and LGBTQ+ phobic ‘banter’. They had no idea that these could possibly cause offence to others. Going to get a ‘chinky’ referring to a Chinese take-away had also been normalised. In their world the terms were ‘OK’. Helping students reflect on language and the contexts in which it is used is also an important aspect of any diversity curriculum.

LGBTQ+ terminology explained sensitively can help LGBTQ+ pupils appreciate the feelings they are experiencing. For questioning students, it can help them decode their emotions and reflect on whether their feelings are actually about gender, sexual orientation, or something that’s completely unrelated. By not teaching LGBTQ+, it potentially leaves these pupils isolated, confused and anxious.

What’s the evidence that LGBTQ+ inclusive PSHE is needed?

  • It reduces harm including sexual violence. Goldfarb and Lieberman (2021) conducted a systematic literature review in which they examined the past three decades of research on school-based relationships and sex education (RSE). This provided convincing evidence that RSE can reduce both sexual and domestic violence. As LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be victims of crime, including sexual violence and domestic abuse (Government Equalities Office, 2019), we have a rationale to teach pupils RSE and ensure it’s inclusive of LGBTQ+ individuals.
  • It can reduce LGBTQ+ targeted bullying and improve pupil mental health. In the same study Goldfarb and Liberman found that LGBTQ+ inclusive curricula were associated with higher reports of safety for individuals and lower levels of bullying in school. They also cite other methodologically strong studies which have linked LGBTQ+ inclusive education to lower reports of adverse mental health among all young people, irrespective of gender or sexuality.
  • Young people are more likely to speak out if being abused. Walsh et al (2015), found that children who are taught about preventing sexual abuse at school are more likely to tell an adult if they had, or were actually experiencing sexual abuse. The researchers reviewed data from 24 trials in which a total of 5,802 children took part in school-based prevention programmes. LGBTQ+ inclusive RSE is therefore likely to support LGBTQ+ pupils who are suffering abuse to seek support.
  • It encourages safer sexual practices and improves health outcomes for sexually active young adults. The second Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (DfE, 2021a) found that young people who did not receive any RSE in schools were more likely to take more sexual risks, including intercourse before the legal age of consent and unprotected sex. UNESCO (2016) conducted an evidence review on RSE, based on results from rigorous systematic reviews and randomised controlled trials in a broad range of countries and contexts. This concluded that RSE contributes to reduced risk taking, increased use of condoms and contraception. UNESCO also found that RSE, does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviours or sexually transmitted infection rates in young adults.

This information (and more) can be found in the Sex Education Forum’s latest briefing ‘Relationships and Sex Education: The Evidence’ and can be downloaded at this web address:


Too much or not enough?

As a child who was educated in the 1970s and 80’s, unless you were a straight, white, able-bodied, neurotypical, male pupil, you didn’t exist in my secondary school. Inclusion wasn’t on the agenda. As a result, bullying and mental health problems for students who were different was common.

Though times have moved on and schools are better at creating inclusivity, there are still risks of pupil stigmatisation and taking a retrograde step if we don’t embrace LGBTQ+ education as part of this inclusive approach.

I have witnessed schools ‘do’ inclusion, but leave out LGBTQ+ because it was too difficult or controversial for the setting. Others were worried about parental backlash. Contrarily, I know of schools who have pushed the envelope of LGBTQ+ inclusion too fast, and too far, making it perplexing for pupils and challenging for staff to teach. Too much emphasis on LGBTQ+ pupils without recognising other groups can make some students feel disproportionally represented leaving LGBTQ+ pupils a focus for harassment.

Top tips for a balanced approach

  • Consider all groups in school and ensure they are represented in PSHE lessons. For example, lessons with a bullying focus should include include all forms of bullying; racism, sexism, LGBTQ+ phobic slurs, able-ism etc.
  • RSE needs inclusive resources so pupils discuss relationships beyond white, married, heterosexual couples. Lessons need to reflect our diverse society or pupils won’t view it as ‘realistic’ and could disengage.
  • In teaching resources, use a range of images and scenarios that are inclusive of everyone. For example, in a lesson about relationships, include those with SEND, older and younger couples, LGBTQ+, lone-parent families, ethnic diversity etc.
  • There will be a need for some specific lessons with an LGBTQ+ focus at secondary school, but weaving LGBTQ+ alongside other forms of diversity throughout all PSHE will ensure everyone feels included and the lessons are always about everyone.
  • Teach the terminology to older pupils but you don’t need to include every possible word or variant. (We have a glossary freely available on our website for teachers to check language if they get asked by a pupil about a term that is not included in our teaching packs).
  • Ensure that gender and sexual diversity are explained to pupils sensitively, and that it’s a specific form of difference (and set of feelings) that is distinct from other differences pupils may feel. This can help challenge backlash from those who wish to accuse your approach as confusing for students.
  • Include contemporary debate about the challenges e.g. trans rights vs women’s rights, and allow pupils to argue different points of view. Not only will this help them discuss Fundamental British Values and citizenship, but also prepare them for the real-life arguments that are live and present in today’s culture.
  • Consider the additional needs of SEND students or those with social and emotional challenges and provide additional support if necessary.
  • Check the teaching resources being used and how they support non-specialist staff.
  • Consult with staff and ask how they feel about teaching this aspect of the curriculum. Put specific CPD in place. However, check out your training provider as some can actually disempower staff by expecting too much, too quickly. Remember the Dalai Lama who quoted ’Most real change is slow’. Getting LGBTQ+ education ‘right’ in your school will be a series of small steps, not one enormous leap.
  • Consult pupils about their PSHE (at secondary school). This is fundamental if you’re going to give them a programme that is relevant and meets their needs.

What about primary?

Anxieties about LGBTQ+ education can become charged when the focus is on primary schools. As with their secondary colleagues, the vast majority of primary school staff take a common-sense approach and include LGBTQ+ where it’s appropriate.

Primary schools are enabled to include LGBTQ+ content if they consider it ‘age-appropriate’ to do so and the DfE (2020) statutory guidance on relationships education for primary age pupils states,

‘Teaching about families requires sensitive and well-judged teaching based on knowledge of pupils and their circumstances. Families of many forms provide a nurturing environment for children. (Families can include for example, single parent families, LGBT parents, families headed by grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents/carers amongst other structures.) Care needs to be taken to ensure that there is no stigmatisation of children based on their home circumstances and needs, to reflect sensitively that some children may have a different structure of support around them; e.g, looked after children or young carers.’

This unequivocally gives primary schools permission to include LGBTQ+ content as long as it is well-considered and evidence-based on the needs of pupils. Unfortunately, we also have to manage the myths and misperceptions that have been propagated in the press and on social media about this. We hear of drag queens instructing children about how to be trans. Lessons that teach children about gay sex. I cannot vouch for all providers of LGBTQ+ education, but in our experience these stories turn out to be untrue, or present a ‘twisted’ version of the facts in order to promote a specific agenda e.g, trans-denial.

The rise of social media means a story can be Tweeted in 280 characters, so how can it possibly reflect the full picture? Similarly, teaching resources posted on social media to make a point by groups who have concerns about LGBTQ+ education, may have been carefully selected, and sometimes edited. This may not be a fair representation of the full resource. Can you judge what a jigsaw puzzle will look like from one piece? Social media backlash, especially on Twitter is likely to increase given the proposed changes to this platform and in light of RSE curriculum reviews that are underway in three of the home nations.

This type of narrative isn’t helpful for primary schools, who in recent years have seen protests from anxious parent groups. I am not belittling these parents’ concerns, but dig a little deeper and their worries can often be founded on myths and half-truths about a school’s approach. When a school consults parents and carers transparently, these misperceptions can be dispelled and leave them feeling reassured. If you wish to read more about consulting with parents and carers, and your rights about the sharing of teaching resources with them, read our article here:


So, what is appropriate in primary? As guidance explains the ‘nuclear family’ is common but by no means the norm, so when children are learning about families, we should be inclusive. If a child has two gay dads, they should feel validated, just as a child with a mum and a dad. We don’t need to go into any detail. Being gay can be explained to children in simple terms. It’s when a man and man, or a woman and a woman love each other in a romantic way. This isn’t discussing anything sexual.

Children should also be taught that using any unkind word is hurtful. Primary schools who take an inclusive line bring in all sorts of words at this point. This includes any LGBTQ+ slurs they have heard the children using. This isn’t singling out some words over others - it’s well-judged inclusive education.

What about trans?

Trans-inclusion provokes strong arguments on all sides of the debate so how should this be taught in school? At primary level is it a necessary part of the curriculum? That very much depends on your cohort of pupils. If they have a trans-classmate then the pupils may need (with permission from the trans-child and their carers) some education to empathise with, and accept this pupil’s change in gender.

DfE (2020) supplementary guidance ‘Plan your RSHE curriculum’ adds,

‘We are aware that topics involving gender and biological sex can be complex and sensitive matters to navigate. You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear. Resources used in teaching about this topic must always be age-appropriate and evidence-based. Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material.’

Universal provision about trans in the primary classroom may not always be developmentally appropriate for all children in all settings. Primary schools often teach children about gender stereotyping and why this is unfair; add trans into the mix and there is potential for some children to become confused unless this is taught with sensitivity and clarity. If your younger pupils are not aware of trans or using transphobic language, then do you need to specifically teach about it?

Some primary schools feel they need to evidence teaching about every form of diversity or else they will be criticised by inspectors. However, when we celebrate uniqueness with children, we don’t actually need to have specific lessons about every different race, culture, disability, type of LGBTQ+ person. Our over-riding aim is to help them to be kind, respectful and inclusive of everyone who reciprocates these values. This learning can start at an early age, and it doesn’t always need to be specifically focused on any type of diversity.

However, as children become older, more aware and accepting of wider diversity then some simple education about trans might be appropriate. As with their secondary counterparts, children will be aware of their world and will be trying to make sense of it. The trick here is to make the teaching simple and clear enough so the children understand this is very specific type of difference. This is rooted in the resources you choose to use and the confidence of your staff to teach this content.

At secondary school we choose to widen pupils understanding of diversity, and everything I have discussed previously comes into play. This is succinctly summarised in paragraph 75 of the DfE (2020) statutory guidance,

‘Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way. All pupils should feel that the content is relevant to them and their developing sexuality. Sexual orientation and gender identity should be explored at a timely point and in a clear, sensitive and respectful manner. When teaching about these topics, it must be recognised that young people may be discovering or understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity. There should be an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships. This should be integrated appropriately into the RSE programme, rather than addressed separately or in only one lesson.’

Further support

If you require some additional advice about providing for trans pupils, the following publication ‘Guidance for maintained schools and academies in England on provision for transgender pupils’ (November 2022) has been jointly produced by ASCL, The Chartered College of Teaching, NAHT, Confederation of School Trusts, ISBL and the National Governance Association.

If you would like some support around LGBTQ+ inclusive education we offer a free no-obligation online consultation. Please email info@chameleonpde.com

We also offer teaching resources, our ‘How Are You?’ pupil consultation service and staff CPD.

This article has been authored by Richard Palmer of Chameleon PDE.


DfE. (2020) Relationships education, relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education - statutory guidance for governing bodies, proprietors, headteachers, principals, senior leadership teams, teachers. (Paras 36 and 37 are cross-referenced in KCSIE 2022, para 204, indicating that countering homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse, like any form of bullying, could be seen as a safeguarding issue in appropriate cases.)

DfE. (2020) Plan your relationships, sex and health curriculum non -statutory guidance. London.

DfE. (2021a). Experiences of Relationships and Sex Education, and sexual risk taking: Young people’s views from LSYPE2. London.

Goldfarb, E.S. and Lieberman, L.D. (2021). Three Decades of Research: The Case for Comprehensive Sex Education. Journal of Adolescent Health, 68, 13-27.

Government Equalities Office, (2019). National LGBT Survey : Summary Report [Accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-lgbt-survey-summary-report/national-lgbt-survey-summary-report ]

Ofsted. (2021) Inspecting teaching of the protected characteristics in schools.

UNESCO. (2016). Review of the Evidence on Sexuality Education. Report to inform the update of the UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education; prepared by Paul Montgomery and Wendy Knerr, University of Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention. Paris: UNESCO.

R (L) v Hampshire CC [2022] EWHC 49 (Admin), [2022] ELR 314, para 26.

Walsh, K., Zwi, K., Woolfenden, S., Shlonsky, A. (2015). School-based education programmes for the prevention of child sexual abuse. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 4.