Making relationships and sex education constructive and appropriate

Rachel Coathup, former educator and learning adviser at ClickView, provides teachers with advice on delivering RSE effectively

While the new relationships and sex education (RSE) curriculum doesn’t apply to independent schools, a report by the BBC highlighted the stark fact made by the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child protection that, “there’s an erosion of an understanding of what normal sexual relationships look like”.

As Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman adds: “Schools have a crucial role to play in teaching young people about sexual consent and respect for women and girls.”

So, despite the RSE curriculum only being compulsory in English state schools, there is no escaping the disturbing issues that apply to all schools and children.

While schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, teachers need the guidance and support to deliver an effective RSE based curriculum. Regardless of the curriculum used in a school, educating young people about respectful relationships is one of the most significant tasks a school community can undertake to reduce the number of safeguarding incidences.

Feedback from the schools I work with shows that teachers have mixed feelings about teaching RSE. Those who have many years’ teaching experience are often more comfortable delivering the learning than those who are new to the classroom. All have agreed that having learning content that is already created and standardised across the school makes it easier and more effective.

Parents

As with all aspects of a child’s education, having parental support is vital. Some schools send home a summary of what will be taught in class so that parents feel involved, are prepared for questions at home or can speak to the teacher in advance if they have any cause for concern.

Recent research carried out on our behalf by YouGov revealed that while 85% of British parents are confident about supporting their children with the facts around the realities of sexual relationships, less than half (43%) said that they receive support from their children’s schools.

Nearly one third of parents (30%) said that signposting to resources and services that they can use and general support from their child/children’s school would be helpful to them when discussing relationships and/or sex at home.

So not only do parents want and need help with educating their children on this issue, but schools also need to recognise that parents are the primary care givers for their children and, ultimately, there needs to be a partnership between home and school to keep the communication open and ongoing.

Anonymity

Rebecca Jennings, an RSE consultant who worked with ClickView to develop our learning resources, also suggests offering a level of anonymity. This is particularly important for those students who may have questions that they are not comfortable asking in front of their peers.

We suggest setting up an enclosed box in the hall, back of the class or even the changing rooms, so students can write down their question and put this in the box anonymously for the teacher to introduce as a ‘nameless’ question in class.

Structure lesson

Because of the potential variety of past experiences and backgrounds of the students and teachers, we recommend that even if the school has created learning content for each class to use, the teacher should review the lesson in advance.

Our RSE videos all come with transcripts so the teachers can read what will be included and can always stop the video before it gets to something that either they or a student may not be comfortable with.

It’s also important to have a list of prepared questions associated with the lesson content so that teachers won’t be put on the spot by having to think of the best way of beginning a dialogue with the students. We also include questions that can be used during or after the videos to start a class discussion to support with this.

Contract

Before a lesson starts, Rebecca recommends beginning the lesson with a ‘contract’ with the students of what is acceptable and what isn’t.

For example, you may agree with them that personal questions can’t be asked. This avoids the inevitable question that a student may ask about the teacher’s sexual experiences. If they do this, the teacher can simply remind them of the contract agreement and move on.

Language

Another piece of advice from Rebecca is to start the lesson by talking through the related vocabulary include slang words and the correct terms. This part of the lesson will invite a lot of laughter, but the class can agree which terms they are going to use which gets this part of the lesson out the way.

Videos

Certainly, videos that ‘play out’ related story lines are proving to be particularly effective in terms of learning and developing students’ understanding. The students feel comfortable with the format because the learning is delivered in a style that is familiar and meets the needs of the ‘YouTube generation’.

Research shows that students who visualise (or internalise) information are far more likely to retain it and be able to apply it in a meaningful and relevant way.

The videos in our two Respectful and Intimate Relationships series are designed for Years 10–12 students. They encourage teachers and parents to introduce and explore the challenging and important issues surrounding respectful relationships, including consent, sexual harassment, domestic violence, misogyny in pornography and the sharing of intimate images.

Whatever content you use, it is important to get the right balance between being light-hearted but also delivering a very important message. When selecting videos on YouTube it’s important that they are appropriate for the student’s age and not too graphic.

Our videos are set in Victorian times, with a dialogue and ‘real life’ conversations between the actors. While the videos are deliberately light-hearted, they also deliver an extremely impactful message. This is important to ensure students realise this isn’t something funny; they are designed to ensure they are suitably concerned and absorbed by the message.

Your chosen learning content should also give the students an insight into the different levels and stages of each RSE topic. Taking sexual harassment as an example, the content should range from ‘just a joke’ banter that constitutes harassment, through to more overt examples of catcalling and physically invading personal space.

If a student is ever confronted with a related issue, are supporting a friend or even if they may have considered being a perpetrator, they will now have a strong foundation for a deeper level of understanding; it’s about giving them the confidence to ‘see’ the issues from a broader perspective, develop a respect for how others may feel and acquire the tools necessary to address issues in their future lives.


ClickView’s two original series, Respectful Relationships and Respectful Intimate Relationships, have been specifically designed to give you the tools and resources you need to teach these topics with confidence. Both series are free for educators and parents to access.

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