Helping schools deliver relationships and sex education

Kay Joel and Jenny Fox introduce new resources to help schools teach relationships and sex education (RSE)

Boy and girl teenager walking in the park From September 2019 relationships and sex education (RSE) will be mandatory in secondary schools and relationships education will be compulsory in primary schools in England.

This is part of wider discussions across the UK about the importance of teaching children how to build healthy relationships.

As part of the updated Keeping children safe in education statutory guidance, the Department for Education has included a chapter on tackling sexual violence and harassment in schools. This requires schools to foster healthy and respectful relationships between boys and girls - including through RSE and Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE).

The NSPCC and the PSHE Association have been working together to develop resources that will help teachers all over the UK to deliver relationships education effectively. In this blog we’ll be sharing what we’ve learnt along the way and offering advice for schools about delivering what can be a challenging subject.

Current challenges in delivering relationships and sex education

Although the PSHE Association have already provided resources to support schools in teaching relationships education and PSHE, we know teachers can struggle to find material which addresses their pupils’ needs and concerns, considering issues such as online safety in relationships. The Association carried out an audit which revealed a lack of recent, relevant resources for teachers working in secondary schools. And a survey of 500 PSHE members confirmed that many teachers lacked confidence in how to plan and deliver sensitive topics supported by high quality resources.

With new RSE guidance for England due to be released by the Department for Education this summer, we’ve taken the opportunity to provide teachers with much-needed updated relationships education resources to address their pupils’ needs. These will be particularly helpful for schools in England who need to meet the new mandatory requirements, but can be used by schools in any of the UK nations.

A new free resource

We’ve worked together to develop a new free resource for teachers: Making sense of relationships.

The resource includes lesson plans and guidance for teachers spanning Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 (age 10-16). These aim to reinforce and embed learning as children grow and develop, using a spiral approach to introduce and revisit topics in an age and stage appropriate way. Topics covered range from friendships and coping with change in KS2, to healthy relationships, consent and sexual exploitation in secondary school.

Other topics include:

  • relationship abuse;
  • gender identity;
  • online pornography; and
  • sharing explicit images (‘sexting’).

The lessons address issues realistically but are solution-focused. Issues are presented through scenarios and other interactive activities. They help pupils to:

  • develop skills;
  • explore dilemmas;
  • discuss the impact of behaviours (positive and negative); and
  • work collaboratively to solve problems.
  • The lessons challenge stereotypes and reflect social changes, promoting diversity and giving all young people the opportunity to feel represented and respected.

Most importantly, they promote the skills young people need to safeguard themselves and make sure pupils know how to seek help for themselves or others if they have any concerns.

Our recommendations for successfully delivering relationships education in schools

The curriculum should gradually introduce, revisit, extend and develop learning around core concepts, from recognising and maintaining healthy relationships to understanding consent in different contexts.

In order to be effective, relationships education should be a part of a wider PSHE education programme, so that teachers and children can explore essential related learning about topics such as self-esteem, mental health, and drug and alcohol education.

Students should be encouraged to explore and develop the skills they will need to manage their relationships, both now and in the future. This will include decision-making, risk assessment, communication skills and a sense of their own moral values.

Effective relationships education should focus on empowering students to keep themselves, and others, safe in relationships.

How can young people learn how to treat one another with respect if all we show them is what not to do? Relationships education must have a positive approach. When asked, young people said they want to be shown models of relationships that are healthy, happy and positive.  

Teaching resources need to be diverse and inclusive of all the young people in our classrooms. More young people now identify as LGBT+ and are exploring their sexual and gender identities, and teaching about relationships needs to acknowledge this.

Next steps

We’ve released this resource before relationships and sex education becomes statutory in England to give schools plenty of time to consider how to incorporate the lessons into their programme. However the 12 lessons that form Making sense of relationships are designed to fit into the wider PSHE education programme across the UK.

As well as supporting schools to meet the requirements of the RSE curriculum in England, the lessons that form Making sense of relationships can be used by schools across the UK to help children build healthy relationships, safeguard them against abuse and promote their wellbeing.

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