Thirty years ago, the National Children’s Bureau founded the Sex Education Forum. Its primary purpose being to show the unity of support present across a diverse group of organisations who wanted to ensure that children and young people received RSE informed by their expressed needs and based on evidence.
With continued persistence our campaigning gathered momentum and earlier this year legislation was enacted making relationships and sex education (RSE) mandatory in all schools in England.
To coincide with our 30th anniversary we have produced a set of 12 principles, which explain the key requirements for good quality RSE in a school setting. In the spirit in which we were created, we have brought together a raft of organisations to express their commitment to these principles. These include NSPCC, The Children’s Society, Barnardo’s and NCB, and the education unions: NEU, NASUWT, UNISON, ASCL and NAHT.
Good quality RSE requires commitment at an individual level too, particularly from Head teachers. Senior school leaders need to make RSE an identifiable part of PSHE education, which has planned, timetabled lessons across all the Key Stages.
The Sex Education Forum curriculum design tool shows how key concepts in RSE develop with a child’s age and maturity. For example, a topic like keeping safe and looking after myself begins in the Early Years with questions like ‘Which parts of my body are private?’, ‘When is it OK to let someone touch me?’ and ‘Who should I tell if someone wants to touch my private parts?’. This is a message that needs to be repeated in future years, with new topics of discussion added in, like: ‘When is it good or bad to keep secrets?’ and ‘What are good habits for looking after my growing body’. So a spiral curriculum spanning all the Key Stages is essential.
The second of the 12 principles is to ensure that RSE is taught by staff regularly trained in RSE and PSHE. This is vital to ensure that staff are confident and secure to lead discussion about issues which are sometimes challenging, with content that ricochets through personal experience and opinions. Good quality training gives educators the opportunity to reflect on their views and to prepare for managing classroom RSE to ensure it is safe and enjoyable for pupils. RSE teaches children to recognise abusive behaviour, so when schools begin upgrading their RSE provision they need to be prepared for the likelihood that there will be disclosures from pupils and cross reference the RSE and safeguarding policies.
The rights of the child to information that protects their health and keeps them safe have been paramount in the campaign for statutory RSE. Indeed, the new legislation specifies that parents will not have the right to withdraw their child from relationships education at primary school.
It is important that there is sufficient breadth and balance in RSE so that children learn about their rights and responsibilities, how to recognise abuse and violence and about the law. Children must not be viewed only as potential victims. Good quality RSE takes a positive view of human sexuality and teaches about bodily autonomy and body changes. For example, the current advice from Government is that all children must learn about puberty before they experience it.
The evidence about effective RSE is well established and is reflected in our 12 principles. Putting good quality RSE into practice in a school does require commitment. We invite all schools to download and use our poster to make your own commitment to good quality RSE. Whether your RSE is already well established, or needs some further development you can display this statement, share it with parents, discuss it with pupils, staff and governors and use it as a springboard to develop the quality RSE provision that you aspire to.
Good quality RSE won’t fix the past, but it can help nurture a whole generation to be safe, healthy and happy as they grow up and in their future lives. Let’s do something new.