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Relationship Sex Health Education implementation during Covid and school closure

RSE definitions

19 April 2020

An integrated definition of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) coined by the Sex Education Forum, and widely quoted by others, has been used for many years. Now, in 2020, we are publishing sample definitions for relationships education and sex education separately. Why is this needed and is there anything we can learn from the process of untangling the two interrelated subjects?  

The impetus for separate definitions is that updated Government guidance on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) (2019) requires that all schools must have a policy on the subject and that for primary schools this should include definitions for statutory Relationships Education and any non-statutory sex education that they choose to teach, and that secondary schools should define statutory RSE. Crucially, schools need to be able to identify sex education in order to implement the parental right to request their child is excused from sex education.  Parents cannot withdraw their child from Relationships Education or Health Education. 

Government guidance does not provide these definitions. Instead it sets out ‘what pupils should know’ under Relationships Education for primary and the combined RSE for secondary. It also states that sex education at primary includes ‘how a baby is conceived and born’. For pupils to understand conception and birth they would need knowledge to underpin this; that a sperm and an egg is needed to make a baby, that the process of sexual intercourse or IVF brings the sperm and egg close enough together to fertilise, that babies develop in the uterus and are usually born through the vagina. These are the physical facts, no emotional or social context here. This could all be covered in science, and Government guidance acknowledges that this will sometimes be the case and that teaching should draw on knowledge of the human life cycle. 

In reality, human sexual reproduction has emotional and social dimensions. Parenting requires not just physical maturity but emotional maturity too. Legally there is an age of consent to sex. Reproduction is the domain of adults. This context to human sexual reproduction might not be covered in science, so where might these sort of messages be taught? In Relationships Education, sex education, Health Education?  

These are the quandaries that the Sex Education Forum’s new guide to RSE definitions deals with one topic at a time. The guide also establishes a set of 10 principles for schools to use in making their own definitions. Top of the list is transparency. For example, if a school expanded other curriculum subjects for the purpose of containing sex education and reducing sex education that would be subject to the parent right to request their child is excused, then the approach could be said to lack transparency. It helps to be clear about the overall aims which are to maximise parental understanding of school curriculum and parental participation in their child’s education, to maximise the quality of RSE that children receive and to minimise parental withdrawal from school sex education. Transparency around how schools approach sex education can support this. Once sex education is defined and specific lessons identified that contain sex education schools could discuss with parents that they could withdraw their child from part rather than all of sex education.

It is also important to go back to the real reason for providing RSE, which is to meet children and young people’s need for accurate, reliable information to support them growing up and in the future. To quote former Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Damian Hinds, “to give young people the knowledge that they need in every context to lead safe, happy and healthy lives". 

Children and young people are naturally curious and should feel they can ask questions that flow from any line of inquiry. Adults need to accept that there is naturally an element of overlap between subjects. Schools will want to manage this so that they can support parents wishing to withdraw from sex education, but must not feel they will have done wrong in allowing connections to be made between related content.

The Sex Education Forum’s timely new guide probes all the key components of sex education spanning conception, contraception, human sexual response and sexual feelings, STIs, the law on sex, human sexuality and sexual identity, choices relating to sex, pornography. Each stone is turned and then sample definitions provided for schools to adapt from.  

It is our hope that this guide will speed up the process of arriving at transparent and workable school policies on the interrelated subjects of Relationships Education, sex education and RSE ahead of statutory provision from September 2020. 

 6 April 2020

GHLL are still supporting schools during this uncertain time and have been very active preparing schools regarding the statutory requirements. We can be contacted at ghll@gloucestershire.gov.uk for any virtual help and support.

Keeping school communities connected, alive and well over the coming time of closure is saved by our ability to communicate online. So while the closure is restrictive there are also opportunities to work remotely and to progress on developing school policies and practices.

This blog from the Sex Education Forum  will give some ideas and thoughts on how schools can continue to develop your approach to RSHE and get yourselves as ready as possible to implement the statutory requirements by September 2020 despite school closures.

The three key elements to consider are parental consultation, policy development, and curriculum planning. They are equally important and interconnected and you may be at different levels of achieving what is required and perhaps have gone beyond to demonstrate best practice already. Of course, to embark on any of these steps, you need to have in place a team of staff responsible for leading RSHE with support and recognition from leadership as well as allocated resources and a plan for upskilling teacher competencies.

Parental consultation
This is one of the MUSTs from the DfE RSHE Guidance 2019. Parental consultation is not a one-off event but is a developing process with steps to inform your RSE policy. By creating several opportunities, you ensure a wider consultation and also reach parents who may not feel confident to come forward at the first invitation.

If you haven’t already, then now is the perfect time to send out a questionnaire to parents asking them vital information to help you understand their knowledge, views, concerns and needs regarding the changes to RSHE. Use your current virtual platform for communicating the questions with parents and if you haven’t got this in place then look at the different online apps to help you set this up. It is also a perfect opportunity for you to gauge how well you are doing regarding communicating with parents on PSHE subjects in general and measure the satisfaction levels. I have seen great examples of schools running an online survey, then analysing the the responses to help plan next steps in the parental consultation process. Some schools include space in the questionnaire to ask parents to come forward if they are interested in taking part in further parent consultation. These parents could form a virtual ‘working group’. Make sure you ask the right questions that will be useful as a consultation step and at the same time function as a parent RSHE needs assessment. See the Sex Education Forum parental engagement questions for example. 

A next step could be to plan a virtual coffee morning to inform parents about the changes to RSHE. Online platforms and virtual meeting places can help disseminate information to parents and also work as a forum where parents can ask questions and share views. Make sure you facilitate this forum well including setting the tone, basic ground rules, time management etc. It helps to tell parents that you are mimicking how you would facilitate a PSHE/RSE session with the children, giving parents a better understanding of how the subjects are taught at school and also helping parents in their skills to teach at home. Again, interested parents may come forward to engage in more activities.

Once normal school days have started again, you can invite parents to join a focus group where pertinent topics from the online questionnaire and the online coffee morning can be further discussed. It is important to have a manageable sized group representing a varied parent group and you can also consider inviting other key stakeholders to partake. Think about separating gender groups if faith or culture makes talking about RSE difficult in gender-mixed environments. Again, good facilitation is required. Think about your objectives and communicate these clearly from the outset and maintain a safe and conducive group environment where participants can share and learn from each other safely and courteously. In a good focus group participants can discuss topics, views and values despite not always agreeing.

Keep the discussion constructive and use a stimulus to get the discussion started such as ‘Introduce yourself and tell us three things you think are important for your child to learn in RSE’ (you can revisit this at the end of the focus group meeting and see if anyone has changed their mind because of the discussion with others). Make notes when you facilitate and draw out the common themes discussed.

Policy development and curriculum planning
Once your parental consultation is shaping up you can add developing themes and insights into your draft policy. First, you have to review your existing policies using some of the resources available from the Sex Education Forum, such as the whole-school RSE audit tool, then align policies across the school to link with statutory requirements such as Equality Act 2010 Advice for Schools and Keeping Children Safe in Education 2019SEND Code of Practice 2014. Think about how you are going to define RSHE paying attention to how you will differentiate between Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education. Consider referring to international standard-setting documents such as UNESCO technical guidance on sexuality education 2018 and WHO/BZgA Standards on Sexuality Education in Europe 2010 to inform your decisions on defining the different elements of RSHE. The policy must also be clear on parental rights to withdraw their child from any sex education element outside Relationships Education, Health Education and Science (and children’s right to opt-in once they approach their 16th birthday) so think about how your school will make provisions for both eventualities. 

Look at the learning outcomes for primary and secondary set out in the DfE RSHE Guidance and see how they align with your current provision in PSHE/RSE. Many schools are already providing above and beyond what is required in the new guidance – don’t reinvent the wheel but make sure you identify areas within curricula where RSHE needs to change or develop. Pay particular attention to the fact that RSHE should be delivered in a building block fashion, starting early and be incremental throughout key stages. Start to think about some of the RSE elements that have been topical and often a source of anxiety for some parent groups such as LGBT, Human Reproduction, and FGM prevention. How and when are you introducing the themes in RSHE? What are the needs of your children and their families? Look at the different resources for curriculum planning such as the Curriculum design tool from the Sex Education Forum and PSHE Association Programme of Study to help you plan a curriculum fit for purpose.

Most important of all is consulting with the children at your school! Conducting RSE needs assessments within year groups and asking the children what they already know and what they would like to learn more about is crucial in developing all aspects of RSHE. Consider conducting a simple RSHE needs assessment as part of online learning asking the children pertinent questions and suggestions for their learning. You can find inspiration here.

Final thought…
Lastly, rights come with responsibilities. By giving parents the right to withdraw their child from sex education we must also ask that they take responsibility to be their child’s RSE educator. Most parents will need guidance, knowledge and skills in educating their child on RSE topics as they may not feel confident in starting and maintaining conversations at home. School closures could have a silver lining, creating opportunity for get parents talking to their children about all things RSE.  Have a look at Outspoken Education for free resources for parents to engage with their children in quick and fun RSE activities and try FPA resources for a selection of books and leaflets for parents and carers, and to read with children.

RSE Day on 25 June 2020 will also be a timely opportunity to celebrate and share our joint efforts for high quality RSE.

 

Relationships and  Sex Education and social distancing

27 March 2020

School may be out, but Relationships and Sex Education is in. How can RSE support learners during school closures and social distancing? 

Who could possibly have predicted our current situation? This wasn’t on any of our long-term plans! Playgrounds lie empty, bells silenced, and school ties lie forgotten in the bottom of laundry hampers. Worksheets and online resources are being emailed home, displays are appearing in windows and social media is buzzing with parents and teachers wondering how to make meaningful learning happen when our children are confined to their homes.

Families are experimenting with how to plan the day and manage household relationships, children’s energy and interests. We must not expect too much of our children, or of their parents in terms of high output learning. Covering some literacy and numeracy each day might be a focus for younger children, supporting exam subjects more of a priority for teenagers. So will RSE feature at all?

At this unsettling and critical time, RSE is paramount. RSE is social skills, understanding relationships, wellbeing and talking about feelings. RSE is families, friendships, love and emotions. RSE is skills to cope with situations, ways to explain and opportunities to ask. RSE is invaluable at this time. Skimming through the ‘by the end of…’ sections of the Government RSHE guidance, actually there is a huge amount that we can do, for our younger and older learners.

For primary:

  • Ways that we can support our family members even though we may not be able to visit them
  • Showing commitment to our friends and family by supporting and protecting each other
  • Talking about how they feel as the style of our interactions with friends and families have had to change so drastically and so swiftly
  • Keeping in touch, by sending pictures and letters, decorating our windows, and finding ways to engage at safe distances
  • Learning how to use social technology safely, and using it to maintain strong bonds with grandparents and isolated family and friends
  • Being generous in our actions for others, offering help, sharing resources and extending kind gestures
  • Being respectful of others with whom we are sharing a confined space, including sharing our toys, taking turns to choose activities and TV shows, and respecting each other’s privacy and space
  • Knowing to, and knowing how to tell their grown-ups if they are finding this time difficult, and that this is ok, and finding ways to feel better together.
  • Knowing how to access support outside the home if they need to e.g. childline
  • Understanding what is happening, and why social distancing is so important

Older learners might also benefit from:

  • Finding new and safe ways to continue their friendships and personal relationships remotely, including online but also by post, phone, and other distanced interaction
  • Developing their skills to use social media and online platforms safely, including how to protect your confidentiality, how to identify safe and unsafe online activities, and understanding their responsibilities in online forums
  • Being able to recognise people’s needs and boundaries when family groups are spending a lot of time together in confined spaces, and knowing how to support one another
  • Opportunities to discuss social themes that they encounter on TV and in film, as they may be exposed to more of these media, and may need to unpack the situations they see portrayed
  • Considering how to maintain good health during social isolation, including healthy diet, exercise, and emotional health, as well as embedding messages about the risks associated with alcohol and drugs
  • Ensuring learners are equipped with skills to identify and report negative situations including domestic violence, cyber bullying or abusive relationships
  • Older learners may need guidance on how to access contraception services when many youth centres and health centres are operating differently
  • Giving detailed information about why social distancing is so important, to support the learner to value the measures, and encourage full compliance                                           

 Learners with additional needs may need:

  • More support to understand what is happening and why
  • Creative ways to keep in touch if literacy or verbal communication is challenging
  • Sensory activities
  • Visual timetables and cues to support them through long days at home
  • Opportunity to ask questions, and to talk if they are lonely and upset
  • Activities that they can do independently to allow parents some rest and respite

Stonewall update on new RSHE guidance

As you will know, Relationships, Sex and Health Education is becoming statutory in England’s schools from this academic year. 

 

The statutory guidance for teaching these subjects – the first in nearly twenty years, and the first update since Section 28 was repealed – can be found here.  

 

This week, the Department for Education published additional, non-statutory guidance and training modules for schools.  

 

After reading through this material, you might have some questions about what this means for how best to teach about LGBT people in the schools you support. While we’re pleased these materials reiterate the importance of embedding LGBT inclusion throughout this teaching, we’re concerned at the lack of detail about how schools can do this well, particularly in the confusingly worded guidance about gender identity. We’re here to help with that and answer any of your questions. 

 

We’ve been supporting schools, colleges and local authority children’s services for years to create inclusive learning environments, and we’ve always been clear in our guidance and training that teachers shouldn’t make assumptions about a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity for any reason, including whether or not they conform to gender stereotypes. You can find resources to help schools include LGBT people in their wider environment here, and we’ll be adding to these to support this work in due course.