Relationships, Sex and Health Education: what should schools do next?

15th October 2018

On Tuesday (16thOctober) myself and Headway Education Director Ken Pritchard are speaking and exhibiting at the Optimus Education conference on ‘Delivering Statutory Relationships and Sex Education: Ensuring your school is prepared and staff are confident in delivering age-appropriate RSE’.

The announcement that Relationships Education will be compulsory for all pupils receiving primary education, that Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) will be mandatory within secondary schools, and that Health Education will be compulsory in all schools except independent schools, left me with mixed views.

On the one hand, I was disappointed that Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education as a whole was not awarded mandatory status: a move the vast majority of Headteachers appeared to favour. On the other hand, I am excited that the decision makes most of the topics covered within PSHE compulsory for all pupils, in all schools, from 2020.

The latest Department for Education (DfE) consultation on Relationships, Sex and Health Education, running until 7 November following the publication in July of draft guidance on how education should prepare young people for life in the modern world, gives us an opportunity to make sure that this works for all pupils.

All schools will be required to have a written policy in place for Relationships Education or RSE, which is made available to parents and others. My expectation is that most schools will continue to cover Relationships, Sex and Health Education through a broader PSHE framework – and there is an opportunity to build on the excellent practice that many are taking to tackle the key societal issues facing young people today and preparing them for life.

I feel reassured that those schools which have struggled to find time in the timetable for these subjects, despite its proven benefits, will now be able to offer regular, high-quality PSHE as a central part of their curriculum.

My hope is that it will also encourage schools already prioritising PSHE and drive up standards in schools which perhaps have not engaged. We do, however, need to ensure that aspects of PSHE which fall outside of relationships, health and wellbeing continue to be taught well.

We also need to ensure that teachers have appropriate support to be able to deliver the new requirements for Relationships, Sex and Health Education. Not only will this create additional workload for teachers – and time they do not have available – these topics can be tricky to deal with. Specialist training and/or access to specialist resources, which are age and community appropriate, are therefore so important.

If you take our 1decision learning resources, for example, we are already working with primary schools to address the Relationships, Sex and Health Education requirements set out in the DfE guidance. We especially support this through our relationships, growing and changing, feelings and emotions, and keeping/staying healthy modules. We help teachers engage children in topics including friendship, bullying, appropriate touch, puberty and healthy eating. We also address a range of wider issues such as peer pressure, cyber bullying, image sharing, differences within religion and same sex marriage.

As well as teachers, schools need to think about children and how they learn, to ensure they are equipping young people with the vocabulary, understanding and confidence to be able to explore what are often highly sensitive issues.

One area of focus should be in utilising education technology and visually engaging content to give schools an opportunity to open up pupils to dangerous situations in a virtual world, enabling them to make choices in a safe environment and make mistakes along the way.

Statistics show that around 80% of children today are predominantly visual learners because of their significant exposure to technology. Therefore, we need to engage pupils through approaches to learning they are familiar with in their day-to-day lives, a strength of 1decision.

Many schools, teachers and parents are understandably nervous about teaching Relationships, Sex and Health Education and find aspects of these off-putting. My message is they do not have to tackle this agenda alone: 1decision is already helping primary schools in 31 counties with the delivery of Relationships, Sex and Health Education that addresses the specific issues and challenges in their setting.

Hayley Sherwood, creator of 1decision, part of Headway learning resources

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