The Department for Education (DfE) recently put out a call for evidence as it considers its guidance for Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), which will become mandatory for schools next year.
EqualiTeach responded, and our answers are listed below.
Question 1: Thinking about relationships education in primary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught for different age groups/key stages and why. Please include any considerations or evidence which informed your choices.
Relationships and Sex education needs to be proactive, rather than reactive.
Three key areas of learning should be:
- My body – From FS – to learn about the body, to learn that we are all different and be equipped with the correct terms to be able to talk about and look after our bodies. From KS2 – to learn about reproduction, how babies are born and know what to expect in puberty. Puberty happens well before Year 6 for many children, and yet many schools are still waiting for Year 6 to provide one session on puberty (Ofsted, 2013).
- Positive relationships, consent and respect – to learn that relationships should be healthy and wanted, that our behaviour affects the feelings and wellbeing of others and how to treat others with respect, that some parts of the body are private, and be equipped with the confidence and knowledge to be able to say yes and no and report abuse.
- Challenging gender norms and stereotypes – to know that everyone is different, and everyone is equal. To know that our sex doesn’t limit what we and others can do and that it is fine to express oneself and take part in activities that we enjoy. To know how to report gender-based bullying.
Throughout all key stages there needs to be inclusion of different families and relationships and education should be inclusive of differences in gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, culture, age, religion or belief.
Question 2: Thinking about relationships and sex education in secondary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught for different age groups/key stages and why. Please include any considerations or evidence which informed your choices.
Schools should take a positive approach to RSE which doesn’t attempt to induce shock or guilt but focuses on what pupils can do to keep themselves and others healthy and safe. The information should be medically and factually correct and treat sex and relationships as a normal and pleasurable part of life.
- Positive relationships – challenging gender norms and stereotypes and what it means to be transgender, learning about lesbian and gay relationships, how to treat each other with respect, how to deal with conflict, how to obtain and give consent, power in relationships, understanding what constitutes sexual harassment.
- Sexual activity and sexual health –contraception, STIs and health checks, how to access support services, including those which support LGBT and disabled young people, body image, exploring the mixed messages sent out about sex and sexuality by the media including pornography.
- Staying safe – the law around sex and consent, how drugs and alcohol can affect choices and behaviour, sexual exploitation and abuse, staying safe online and sexting
Young people don’t always recognise non-consensual sexual situations including rape (OCC, 2013). Most young people know basic legal facts about consent but are less sure about how to deal with real-life relationship situations and where to get help (Sex Education Forum, 2013)
Teaching should be aimed equally at boys and girls. 53% of LGB young people are never taught anything about LGB issues at school (PSHE Association, 2014). RSE needs to be inclusive of LGBT young people and those with SEND.
Question 3: Are there important aspects of ensuring safe online relationships that would not otherwise be covered in wider Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education, or as part of the computing curriculum? What do we want to say about RSE that is specific to digital context?
Sexting, grooming, cyberbullying and pornography are all areas which have a specific digital focus. RSE also needs to encompass issues facing LGBT young people online. Many LGBT young people have few adults they feel comfortable talking with about sexual health, so seek information online. Much this may be neither age-appropriate nor medically accurate.
RSE education is only truly effective when provided by trained educators, therefore it is not appropriate for these issues to be addressed solely in computing.
For statutory RSE to have full impact and effectiveness it is essential that PSHE is also made statutory. In PSHE wider issues of online behaviour and heath and wellbeing can be addressed.
Question 4: How should schools effectively consult parents so they can make informed decisions that meet the needs of their child, including on the right to withdraw? For example, how often, on what issues and by what means?
Good quality RSE should be a partnership between schools and home. Schools should develop ongoing consultative and information sharing relationships with parents and carers.
RSE should form part of the home-school agreement. Letters can be sent home before the work begins, lesson plans made available to show parents/carers and a senior leader available to respond to concerns that may be expressed. In addition, the school’s RSE policy should be clear and available to parents/carers before their child is admitted into the school. Schools can lend parents books and provide factsheets to increase parents’ confidence to aid discussion at home.
Some parents and carers of children with SEND may not see their children as potentially sexually active or may be worried about exploitation or pregnancy. Their concerns can be reduced if the child’s sexual development is addressed as a natural part of their schooling, rather than reactively when an issue has occurred (SEF, 2014).
Good relationships with parents/carers reduce the chances of pupils being removed from RSE. After viewing the materials, only around 4 in 10,000 parents choose to withdraw their children from RSE (Ofsted, 2002).
Question 5. Thinking about PSHE in primary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why? Please include your reasons for choosing each subject area or evidence to support your suggestions.
We believe that PSHE should be made statutory. Relationships and Sex education is a core part of PSHE and intersects with other issues. Schools maintain a statutory obligation under the Children’s Act (2004) to promote their pupils’ wellbeing; under the Education Act (1996) to prepare children and young people for the challenges, opportunities and responsibilities of adult life; through the Education Act (2002) to promote pupils Spiritual, Moral, Social, Mental and Physical development; and through the Equality Act (2010) to foster good relations between people who share a characteristic and those that do not. A strong, statutory PSHE programme would support schools to effectively meet these duties and ensure that this learning takes place throughout the year.
At primary level, we believe that alongside a commitment to positive RSE, three of the key things PSHE should cover are:
Health and wellbeing: nutrition, exercise, hygiene, feelings and emotions, stress, making choices, staying physically and emotionally safe off and online, where to get help
Relationships, identity and belonging: exploring identity, pressures of friendship, peer pressure, understanding difference, valuing themselves and others, treating people fairly, rejecting stereotypes and hate, bullying and abuse.
Global learning and human rights: Helping young people to understand their place in the world at a local, national and international level and building their skills, optimism and understanding of how they can make a positive contribution to the world
Question 6. Thinking about PSHE in secondary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why? Please also include your reasons for choosing each subject or evidence to support your suggestions.
All of the issues outlined above are relevant in a secondary context. In addition, at secondary level, PSHE should build further upon the following areas:
Controversial Issues: Schools should have time and be equipped with the skills to respond to topical issues and conduct regular work on controversial issues with young people, allowing young people the space to talk about the issues that are important to them and develop the skills to be able to listen to people who have different viewpoints, thinking critically about the information that they receive and ensuring that their opinions are based on evidence.
Careers and Economic Wellbeing: ensuring that young people are supported to manage money and given the opportunity to consider a wide variety of different options for their life after school, including challenging stereotypical ideas based around gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
Active Citizenship: Raising young people’s self-esteem and confidence and equip them to be active citizens, who feel able to participate in and contribute to society from the environment to politics and social justice
Question 7: How much flexibility do you think schools should have to meet the needs of individual pupils and to reflect the diversity of local communities and wider society in the content of PSHE lessons in schools?
Schools need to be able to adapt their provision to make it meaningful to the young people in their care. For example, some young people may wish to engage with some aspects of RSE in single-sex groups. Some groups of young people may have restricted access to the internet and phones and may need this to be borne in mind (Board of Deputies of British Jews, 2018). Schools must also adapt material to ensure that it is accessible for pupils with SEND.
Pupils in special schools and pupil referral units may not fit neatly into the primary and secondary categories, in the way in which they are currently laid out and that needs to be a consideration when stipulating what needs to be covered.
However, all schools have a responsibility to uphold children and young people’s rights to accurate information, safety, health and well-being and anti-discriminatory practice. It is important that RSE includes a range of perspectives and ensures that children and young people know about their legal rights.
Please provide a summary of how your organisation is currently involved with Sex and Relationships Education and/or Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education
EqualiTeach is a not-for-profit equality and diversity training and consultancy organisation. We provide workshops for young people, staff training and produce educational resources across all aspects of equality, including promoting SMSC and delivering effective RSE. There is more information on our website: www.equaliteach.co.uk
EqualiTeach offers training packages for schools, colleges and universities, on how to effectively and inclusively implement Relationships and Sex Education. To find out more or book some training please get in touch.