It’s that time of year when many schools choose to teach their relationship and sex education scheme of work. For a teacher who has never delivered it before it can seem daunting to be charged with delivering RSE to a class for the first time. Even amongst professional adults with a wealth of experience behind them, it is a subject that can bring about nervous laughter. Yet professionals need to be able to draw upon a range of practical resources and tried and tested teaching styles to ensure that such an important area of education can be addressed with confidence.
And it is a really important area of education. It encompasses the teaching of what a healthy and positive relationship is (some students living with domestic violence won’t necessarily know); it teaches the correct names for body parts and about unwanted touch and the right to say no (in an age appropriate way, giving students a voice); it prepares students for physical and emotional changes that will happen to them in puberty (crucially before it happens to them); it teaches respect and tolerance of those who may not share the same lifestyle choices as you (this is not the same as “promoting” any particular lifestyle choice); it enables students to learn about love and relationships alongside the biology of reproduction so putting a more healthy, wider context to it than just the scientific facts.
Yet, in January this year The Sex Education Forum released a new report which shows that young people’s safety may be at risk due to gaps in relationships and sex education.
In summary, their report, based on a survey of over 2,000 young people aged 11-25, found that:
- 53% did not learn how to recognise grooming for sexual exploitation
- More than 40% had not learned about healthy or abusive relationships
- A third (34%) of young people said they learnt nothing about sexual consent at school
- Only a quarter (24%) of young people said they learnt about FGM, but the figure increased to 40% amongst 11-13 year-olds, suggesting things are starting to change.
- Half of those surveyed had not learnt from their primary school about how to get help if you experience unwanted touching or sexual abuse.
- 16% had not learnt the correct names for genitalia and 17% had not learnt that the genitals are private to you, all key to recognising and reporting abuse.
- Young people were more likely to have learnt about the difference between safe and unwanted touch from discussions at home than at school
- Less than half of young people (45%) said they had learnt about this with a parent or carer.
Even if you are a primary school these figures concern you as naming parts of the body comes up in KS1 Science and by shying away from teaching the correct names of genitalia you are potentially putting your children at a higher risk of ongoing sexual abuse as they don’t have the correct language to tell. There are shocking stories out there of children using “family terms” for genitalia, telling an adult they didn’t like someone touching them there, but the adult didn’t understand this was a disclosure of sexual abuse. Not giving our children the vocabulary and facts, alongside the skills and attitudes, can have serious consequences.
The non-statutory nature of RSE also means that secondary schools sometimes find themselves playing catch up. A secondary with many feeder schools may find some students have covered quite a lot of concepts, whereas others haven’t. No different to the situation other non-core subject teachers find themselves in you might say, but health and wellbeing are at stake.
Schools can choose not to deliver any RSE outside of the statutory science curriculum – but it would be fair to argue that that is inadequate for the reasons outlined above. We also cannot presume that our children are learning from parents at home. However it is wrong to think children have no knowledge or a correct knowledge– TV, Internet, gossip, elder siblings’ chatter, even animal behaviour at the zoo – their minds aren’t empty but are half full of myths and mistakes. We owe our children the right to a full, broad, balanced, tolerant and factual education. This is education in its widest sense.
If you feel on reflection that your school’s RSE policy could do with a refresh, or there isn’t really any policy existing, or your staff need support we do offer a variety of programmes of support.
- The PSHE modelling programme works by an adviser coming into school to meet with SLT/PSHE lead to discuss an area of focus. There is then a series of three lessons: lesson 1 is taught by the adviser with the class teacher observing, then lesson 2 is planned together. Lesson 2 is co-taught by the adviser and the class teacher, then there is feedback and lesson 3 is planned. Lesson 3 is taught by the class teacher and the adviser observes and feeds back. This has proved really successful in increasing staff confidence. It also then allows the class teacher to model this to other staff members to provide a sustainable project.
- We have a full RSE consultation programme (or a “lite” version for schools with some practice in place). This provides schools with intensive support from an adviser to audit what is in place, then there is a full pupil, staff and parental consultation package on the teaching of RSE. From this the policy is rewritten with support from the adviser.
- Finally, for those communities where parents have not traditionally supported the teaching of RSE in primary schools we have a bespoke parents consultation project where parents can be fully informed of the rationale behind, and teaching strategies used for, RSE.