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Why are so many cast members leaving Sex Education?

Four popular stars of the show have confirmed their departures – but what does this mean for the future of the Netflix hit?

Sex Education
Published: Tuesday, 2nd August 2022 at 1:44 pm
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Across three seasons so far, Sex Education has emerged as one of Netflix's all-time biggest hits.


The antics of Otis, Maeve, Eric and countless other characters have proved immensely popular with viewers, helping the show win a devoted fanbase and a number of awards, not to mention all sorts of plaudits for the frank and engaging ways it deals with issues around teenage sexuality.

During the run, the cast list has also continued to swell, with several new characters having been added for each new season. Only, that cast list now looks like it could be set to shrink quite a bit ahead of the upcoming fourth run. So far, four popular cast members have confirmed they won't be back for the next season, which has led to a little disillusionment among the fanbase.

But what do these exits really mean for the future of the show? Read on for everything you need to know.

Who is not returning for Sex Education season 4?

Rakhee Thakrar as Emily Sands in Sex Education.
Rakhee Thakrar won't be back as Emily Netflix

The following cast members have been confirmed to not appear in Sex Education season 4.

  • Simone Ashley as Olivia Hanan
  • Tanya Reynolds as Lily Iglehart
  • Patricia Allison as Ola Nyman
  • Rakhee Thakrar as Emily Sands

Rakhee Thakrar recently became the latest cast member to announce she would not be returning for the fourth season. The former EastEnders star had played teacher Emily Sands in each of the first three seasons of the show – appearing in 17 episodes altogether – and took part in some key storylines, including pushing Maeve Wiley towards pursuing her academic goals.

She follows in the footsteps of three other stars who have confirmed they will be bowing out. The first to announce her exit was Simone Ashley, with the Bridgerton star revealing back in April that her time on the show was at an end – explaining that she was "a Bridgerton girl now" when quizzed about her future during an appearance on ITV's This Morning.

Then in July, Patricia Allison and Tanya Reynolds confirmed in close succession that neither of them would be joining up for season 4. "I won't be joining the team for season 4," Allison explained during a radio interview on Capital Xtra Breakfast, before Reynolds told a week later: "I'm not [returning], actually, which is sad, very sad." The pair had played fan favourite characters Ola and Lily respectively, with their relationship having proved popular with viewers.

So far, no other cast members have said anything about leaving the show – but considering how thick and fast the previous announcements have come in recent weeks, we wouldn't be surprised if a couple more actors followed suit in the coming months.

Why are so many cast members leaving Sex Education?

The first thing to point out is that although the four cast members who are leaving have all proved popular in their own way, for the most part, they've been side characters, drifting in and out of the main storylines rather than necessarily being the central focus themselves.

The show's main cast – including Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa, Gillian Anderson, Connor Swindells and Aimee Lou Wood – all still appear to be in line for a return, and so the fundamental direction of the show seems unlikely to change all that much, even if there are fewer characters around them.

Sex Education Season 3. Connor Swindells as Adam Groff, Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong, Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn in Episode 6 of Sex Education Season 3. Cr. Sam Taylor/NETFLIX © 2020
Adam, Eric and Otis are all set to return for season 4 Sam Taylor/NETFLIX © 2020

In actual fact, trimming down the cast a little ahead of the next run could prove to be something of a refreshing creative decision. While season 3 still made for terrifically entertaining television, there were times during the run when it felt like the show was straining rather too hard to include storylines for every one of its mammoth ensemble, losing a bit of focus in the process.

It was only natural that as more and more characters joined the show, some popular faces from previous seasons would begin to feel a little sidelined, and some viewers began to express frustrations that too little time was being given to long-running character relationships – with that time instead spent on a number of less engaging side-plots.

If no series regulars were to leave the show, this strain seems likely to continue even further in season 4, especially when we consider that casting calls have already been put out for a couple of new cast members as well. And so, as disappointing as losing a few well-liked faces might be for fans, if the trade-off is giving the show a greater focus heading into its final stretch, then it seems like a price worth paying.

Perhaps a more pertinent question relates to how exactly the show is going to explain the sudden absence of several of Moordale's students. Miss Sands' departure seems easy enough to account for – she could have just left for a job at another school – but at first glance, it's less easy to imagine why Lily, Ola, and Olivia are no longer anywhere to be seen.

Jemima Kirke as Hope in Sex Education season 3
Jemima Kirke joined as Hope in season 3 Netflix

Only, the answer to this question might already have been provided. In July – shortly after Reynolds' departure was confirmed – The Hollywood Reporter claimed that the exits were part of a "creative reset" ahead of the fourth run. This reset has its roots in a major event at the end of season 3 – when it was revealed that Moordale was in danger of having to close its doors. Well, if rumours are to be believed, it seems that the school was unable to find the funding it needed to stay open, and as such, the fourth season will take place in a new setting.

According to the aforementioned report, "sources say season 3 will feature a mix of old and new faces as Sex Education moves on from the shuttered Moordale High to a new school". Although this is not yet confirmed, it would offer an easy explanation as to why some students are no longer present – presumably, the Moordale students are now spread out around various other schools in the area.

Interestingly, Rakhee Thakrar's comments that she "can't really talk about why" she was leaving add a little meat to this rumour – suggesting that the departures do indeed have their roots in the show's plot, with more details likely to be released in due course.

The long and short of it, then, is that any Sex Education fans overly concerned about this sudden glut of exits shouldn't be too worried just yet – even if there are a few changes, this really is just "the natural progression" of the show, as Tanya Reynolds put it herself.

Sex Education seasons 1-3 are streaming now on Netflix – visit our Drama hub for more news, interviews and features, or find something else to watch with our TV Guide.


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