While strong relationships and sex education (RSE) teaching is a key element in preparing young people for adult life, positive role models are at least as important.
That is one of the findings from a Survation poll for the sustainable relationships charity, Fastn, and the National Youth Agency.
Eighty-five percent of respondents said that learning from immediate family was one of the most important things to prepare them for the types of relationships they wanted.
Seventy-seven percent said RSE lessons in school were also important preparation, with a gender split of 80% young women/74% young men.
“RSE, now a statutory part of the curriculum, should not be confined to timetabled classes alone,” said Julie Nash, a Fastn trustee, former Ofsted Inspector and retired headteacher.
“Research shows conclusively that we learn about relationships through role modelling and experience, whether this is intentional or not. School leaders making a meaningful commitment to relationships education will be taking a systemic approach in all areas of school life.”
Our service users tell us that boys and young men feel current statutory RSE is not aimed at them – Owen Thomas, Future Men
From young people’s perspective, the most important aspects of RSE in lessons were found to be:
- Knowledgeable and confident teaching staff
- Help in recognising unhealthy relationships
- Learning about the feelings and needs that motivate our behaviour
The data is extrapolated from the answers of 1,012 young people aged 16-25.
Trustworthiness was ranked as the most important attribute of positive relationship role models by respondents. Teachers, youth workers, parents and grandparents were widely rated as “highly trustworthy”.
“I know that I’m influenced by all sorts of different people around me, and as a young person I need to see them modelling good relationships,” said one young person from Birmingham, who has been involved in Fastn’s youth work. “It means that I think it could be possible for my relationships too.”
Again, there is a small but noteworthy gender divide in answers to the survey.
Young men were both more likely to cite youth workers as positive role models for relationships and more likely to have interacted with youth workers who helped their development (36% of men, compared to 28% of women).
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In a significant number of cases, concludes Fastn, structured youth work with responsible adults – either within or beyond school communities – may provide the best opportunity to equip young men with the aspirations and skills for healthy and nurturing relationships.
“We know from research and what our service users tell us that boys and young men feel current statutory RSE is not aimed at them, and is focused instead on female reproductive issues, and the practicalities of sex and biology,” said Owen Thomas, head of progammes at Future Men, a charity working with marginalised young men.
“They feel they are being told what not to do, rather than being educated and empowered about what is acceptable and desirable and good for them as men and boys. We think there should be an emphasis on relationships, respect and what will make boys and men happy both emotionally and sexually.”
Forty percent of the young people surveyed said they had not interacted with a youth worker, further underlining the central role schools and family play in relationships education.