Cross-cutting themes for designing your curriculum

Schools and practitioners should have a methodology for designing a curriculum which incorporates, where appropriate, opportunities for learning and consideration of cross-cutting elements. These should allow learners to:

  • consider local, national and international contexts
  • develop understanding of relationships and sexuality education, human rights education and diversity, and careers and work-related experiences

Relationships and sexuality education (RSE) plays a vital role in enhancing learners’ well-being and safety and will be mandatory. Children begin to learn about relationships long before they start school. As soon as they enter the social world they will be encountering and interacting with complex and often contradictory messages about gender, relationships and sexuality that will shape their day-to-day lives and imagined futures. These messages come from advertising, books, music, social media and television, and from family members, peers and communities. What children and young people are learning and experiencing can include misconceptions and sometimes challenge adult assumptions or expectations. Through RSE, learners should be supported to explore and discuss information and values about relationships and sexuality that they are already exposed to and often struggle to navigate for themselves.

Schools have an important role for prevention and protection, discussion and responding to learners’ questions and needs. They have the potential to create safe and empowering environments that build upon learners’ own formal and informal learning and experiences, offline and online. This enables learners to reflect and express their views and feelings on a range of RSE issues. Central to this is acknowledging, discussing and engaging with a diverse range of perspectives: locally, nationally and internationally.

Relationships and sexuality education aims to gradually empower learners to build the knowledge, skills and ethical values for understanding how relationships, sex, gender and sexuality shape their own and other people’s lives. It seeks to support learners’ rights to enjoy equitable, safe, healthy and fulfilling relationships throughout their lives. This includes the ability to recognise, understand and speak out about discrimination and violence and know how and where to seek support, advice and factual information on a range of RSE issues.

It is proposed that schools will have a duty to provide RSE. Further guidance will be published before 2022 to support this, including guidance on the topics and learning that support RSE and how each Area can contribute to these.

Relationships and sexuality education should include developmentally appropriate learning around the following thematic areas.

Rights and equity

Learners should develop an understanding of how rights related to sex, gender, sexuality and relationships contribute to the freedom, equity, dignity, well-being and safety of all people. Central to this learning should be an understanding of the opportunities and challenges people face in exercising their rights across the world.


Learners should develop an understanding of how different types of safe, consensual, healthy and fulfilling relationships can be formed and maintained. Central to this learning should be recognising and understanding the diversity of relationships around the world, and over the life course.

Sex, gender and sexuality

Learners should develop an understanding of sex, gender and sexuality. This includes how biology, society and culture shape our sense of self and relationships with others. Central to this learning should be recognising the diversity of gender and sexual identity, expression, behaviour and representation, including LGBTQ+ diversity, and how social and cultural understandings of sex, gender and sexuality have changed over time and continue to evolve.

Bodies and body image

Learners should develop an understanding of the human body and how it changes over time, including people’s feelings about their bodies, and their sexual and reproductive capacities and functions. Central to this learning is recognising the diversity of the human body, and how understanding of human bodies is shaped by society, the law, science and technology.

Sexual health and well-being

Learners should develop an understanding of the positive role of sexuality in human life and a gradual awareness of personal sexual health and well-being. Central to this learning is appreciating the different ways that people express sexuality across cultures and contexts, including myths about sexual health and well-being.

Violence, safety and support

Learners should develop an understanding of the social, emotional, physical and legal nature and impact of gender-based and sexual violence, including online. Central to this learning should be supporting learners to understand and manage change, conflict, risk and pressures of different kinds. Building learners’ confidence to speak out and know how to seek advice and support is integral to RSE.

Principles for embedding RSE in the curriculum

Learning should be underpinned by a collective whole-school approach so that the following principles will be supported, reinforced and embedded across the school and wider community. Learning should be:

  • rights and gender-equity based so that learners can develop an understanding of how rights related to relationships, sex, gender and sexuality contribute to the freedom, equity, dignity, well-being and safety of all people
  • empowering to enable practitioners to create an affirmative and transformative RSE curriculum that enhances learner voice and agency. This can be achieved by inviting learners to advance social justice for gender, sexual and relationship equity and well-being
  • relevant and developmentally appropriate to ensure that all RSE provision recognises and responds to learners’ own capacities and needs. It will not assume, but attune to and build upon learners’ evolving knowledge and experience
  • co-produced, offering learners, parents and carers the opportunity to discuss and engage with decisions about learning and teaching in RSE. Provision should also draw on specialist services and expertise, and engage with local communities. This should be mindful of the different perspectives and backgrounds within a local community
  • creative so that RSE provision can benefit from how creative approaches have the potential to make ethical, safe and engaging spaces for learners to feel, think, question, embody and share their thoughts on sensitive topics
  • holistic and provided across the curriculum because relationships and sexuality education is a broad, inter-disciplinary and complex area that includes biological, social, psychological, spiritual, ethical and cultural dimensions that evolve over the lifespan
  • inclusive to ensure that all learners see themselves and each other in what they learn about RSE. Central here will be recognising and valuing diversity and difference across the domains of sex, gender, sexuality and relationships, and ensuring that RSE provision is inclusive of LGBTQ+ lives
  • protective and preventative so that learners are supported to understand and cope with change, conflicts and pressure; the knowledge to recognise discrimination and violence; and the confidence to seek support and advice on equalities and equity, health and violence regarding relationships, sex, gender and sexuality. Crucial here will be working in partnership with specialist services and expertise

Human rights are the freedoms and protections to which all people are entitled. The UNCRC was established to outline and safeguard every single human being’s basic rights, irrespective of nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, sexual orientation or any other status. What is more, we are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all related to one another, dependent upon one another and indivisible from one another.

Children and young people have specific human rights guaranteed by the UNCRC. The Welsh Ministers have adopted the UNCRC as the basis of policy making with regards to children and young people. The principles of the UNCRC informed the development of the four purposes. Supporting learners to know their rights and respect those of others through a human rights education enables a curriculum driven by these purposes.

Human rights education should encourage inquiry, analysis, forming arguments, making decisions, cooperation, evaluation, and developing behaviours informed by values. Human rights education encompasses:

  • learning about human rights – understanding human rights, and the sources of those rights including the UNCRC
  • learning through human rights – the development of values, attitudes and behaviours that reflect human rights values
  • learning for human rights – the motivation of social action and empowerment of active citizenship to advance respect for the rights of all

Learning about human rights

Human rights education supports learners to be able to apply the concepts, principles and language of human rights to understand their own needs and relationships. Learners can also apply this understanding to the entitlements of others, both in their community and beyond, and to identify when their rights or the rights of others are threatened or denied.

Learning through human rights

Embedding a children’s rights approach to education means learners should be supported to experience a practical application of their rights, supported by critical understanding of the rationale for this experience. A key principle of this approach is the right of children and young people to participate meaningfully in decisions that affect their lives. Involving children and young people in decisions about learning should be at the heart of curriculum design.

Learning for human rights

Human rights education encourages learners to critically examine their own attitudes and behaviours and enables learners to be ethically-informed citizens, who can be advocates for their rights and the rights of others. Learners should be empowered to take informed and ethical decisions to defend and advocate their rights and the rights of others.

Diversity here refers to recognising and celebrating the diverse nature of social groups and communities and to ensuring that the curriculum reflects that diversity and is responsive to the experiences of those groups and communities. At its most basic, it means being aware of the characteristics of others and treating others with compassion, empathy, understanding and equity, regardless of those characteristics. As learners progress, they should become increasingly aware of a range of specific characteristics which can define our identity, including sex, gender, race, religion, age, disability and sexuality.

Humans, by their very nature are social beings. They have diverse values, identities, behaviours and physical characteristics. The cohesion of any human society depends on how it manages that diversity. Valuing the different contributions and experiences of those in our social groups strengthens the connections between us and supports the well-being of all members of those groups. Sharing the experiences of others outside our social groups expands our horizons, adds to our perspectives and contributes to our shared sense of humanity. By feeling valued, we are empowered to make meaningful contributions to our societies.

School communities will reflect the diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives found in society. As learners grow, their social interactions are likely to become ever wider in an increasingly interconnected world. Creating a curriculum which recognises the diverse culture of their society enables learners to celebrate the diverse nature of all societies. This promotes equality, inclusion, social cohesion and a feeling of being valued.

In designing a curriculum, practitioners should incorporate opportunities for learners to:

  • develop empathy and compassion for others
  • celebrate diverse backgrounds, values and characteristics
  • develop their own values and sense of identity
  • develop understanding of people with different beliefs and perspectives
  • challenge stereotypes

Practitioners should also tell and listen to the stories of different groups, including minority groups, and enable all learners to see themselves and their experiences represented in the topics, experiences and knowledge developed through the curriculum.

Learning about careers and work-related experiences are fundamental to developing skills for work and life. This helps learners to understand the relationship between their learning and the world of work. Experiences should aim to open learners’ eyes to the possibilities that lie ahead and should provide high-quality advice about skills and career pathways, raising the aspirations of learners who may not consider that some opportunities are actually available to them.

School’s curricula should enable learners to gain experiences related to work and careers, developing knowledge of the breadth of opportunities available to them throughout their lives. This learning will help them make informed decisions about their career pathways. The four purposes and the integral skills which support them are central to preparing learners for careers and work. These support learners to be resilient, creative and ambitious, requiring them to solve problems, engage with different information and work independently. This will help prepare them to respond to the opportunities and challenges of a changing economic reality.

Learning about careers and work-related experiences should be explored through every Area. These skills are transferable, highly valued and sought after by employers.

Learning about careers and work-related experiences should include:

  • knowledge about different career pathways and workplaces – this should include an understanding of the factors that guide, shape and influence career prospects and development, and the skills needed to progress learners’ career plans and development
  • learning about and development of the skills to work towards careers and work pathways – this should include an awareness of individual skills, attributes and interests, and how they impact on career choices, along with an understanding of the consequences of those choices
  • employment and enterprise knowledge, which can be applied when seeking, applying for and sustaining employment or self-employment
  • knowledge and appreciation of local, national and international labour market trends
  • experiences to stimulate interest in different careers and work and to apply their learning in practical ways, e.g. entrepreneurial activity requires the development of enhanced reflection skills and relates to practical activities such as business start-ups and venture-creation programmes
  • opportunities to benefit from links with business and/or employers

Schools and practitioners should ensure careers and work-related experiences:

  • are explored from Progression step 1 onwards
  • are inclusive, emphasising opportunities for all, challenging stereotypes and addressing underrepresentation in different careers
  • are embedded authentically across learning
  • include a range of traditional and emerging work opportunities, including start-ups and entrepreneurship
  • incorporate the development of the integral skills
  • provide meaningful experiences and opportunities to engage with employers and different workplaces

Collaboration with individuals and employers provides learners with opportunities to learn about work, employment and the skills valued in the workplace. Learners can use the knowledge and skills gained from taking part in work-related experiences to develop successful enterprise activities. These can provide an authentic learning experience which helps them develop as enterprising, creative contributors, forming links with the world of work and raising their aspirations.

It is important for learners to be aware of all opportunities available to them post-16, and that they are all well prepared for progression to further learning. Learners should have opportunities to consider different options and information to broaden their horizons, excite their aspirations and support their decisions about their learning and career pathways post-16.

The local, national and international contexts provide key perspectives for learners and are of particular importance in supporting learners to realise the four purposes. They help learners make sense of the skills and knowledge they are developing by making connections with surroundings, experiences and events they may be more familiar with. They also introduce learners to less familiar contexts, broadening their horizons, engaging with perspectives different from their own and appreciating wider challenges and issues. These contexts also help them make sense of their relationship with their communities, their national identity and the wider world. This supports learners to develop a citizenship which is multifaceted, reflecting on their roles and responsibilities within each context and recognising the diversity within each. While local, national and international contexts provide distinct contributions to learning, they are profoundly interconnected. Curriculum content can often be considered through each context and practitioners should seek to draw across these contexts and support learners to understand the clear, intrinsic links between them.

These contexts provide an important opportunity for learners to understand and respond to different issues and challenges, including social, economic and environmental questions in working towards a sustainable and equitable future. The environment forms an important part of each of these contexts, with human impact transcending geographical and political boundaries. This includes the relationships between human activities and the local, national and international environment. Learners should have opportunities to respond to the issues and challenges that arise from these relationships, considering how they have shaped our past and present and how they may shape our future.

To understand Wales, learners should also develop an understanding of its relationship with and changing place within the United Kingdom and the stories and peoples of these islands: both now and in the past. Learners’ understanding of Wales should also recognise how different perspectives, values and identities shape Wales, rather than presenting a simplistic characterisation of a uniform Welsh identity.

Practitioners’ own understanding of the school’s local area and awareness of the changing issues and challenges in each context will help them to be creative in embedding these contexts in learning and teaching.

When embedding local, national and international contexts, practitioners should look for opportunities to support learners to:

  • develop learning through a range of places and events of significance
  • make links with local communities and organisations
  • learn about the contributions and experiences of different individuals that shape each context
  • learn about cultural diversity, values, histories and traditions that shape each context
  • understand different identities, histories, cultures, perspectives and values that shape communities and societies
  • recognise and engage with factors, influences and impacts (including economic, social and environmental impacts) locally, nationally and internationally
  • develop an authentic sense of cynefin, building knowledge of different cultures and histories, allowing them to develop a strong sense of individual identity and understanding how this is connected to and shaped by wider influences
  • draw on the stories and distinctiveness of a school’s local surroundings
  • understand their role as citizens and the structures of government which affect them in each context
  • explore, critically analyse and respond to contemporary issues and challenges affecting their lives and the lives of others through each context
  • understand sustainable development, the challenges the environment and society face and how they can engage with and make a difference on these issues supporting sustainable citizenship
  • understand contemporary Wales, providing opportunities to reflect, understand and analyse contemporary society and their engagement with it
  • recognise Wales’ diverse linguistic heritage and culture, and its connections with the rest of the world
  • recognise how our languages unlock knowledge about our literature, geography, history and their links beyond Wales
  • recognise the links between local, national and international contexts, understanding how they constantly influence each other
  • use critical analysis in each context, recognising both positive and challenging aspects within each