What’s your evidence?
There’s nothing like a radio phone-in to underline just how much passion the issue of relationships and sex education (RSE) can generate – and how easily the evidence, along with children’s best interests, can be lost among the clash of values and feelings.
As I took to the airwaves on Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ last month to explain what’s changing in RSE, I was glad to have an evidence-based approach to RSE as my guide, along with the knowledge that young people, teachers and parents had joined the Sex Education Forum’s call for every child to have a statutory right to high quality relationships and sex education.
RSE in the digital age
The strength of feeling from members of the public, including from young people (who are not so well represented in radio phone-ins) reflects the reasons why it was so important for RSE to become statutory – and for the guidance around it to be updated.
The Collins Dictionary ‘word of the year’ for 2017 was ‘fake news’. In this digital age children and young people are confronted with information from all kinds of sources – some credible, some false; some based on research evidence, some based on personal or institutional values. How do they know which to trust?
Gathering the information they need is a risky business, especially if adults are not prepared to be pro-active in talking to children and young people about relationships and sex. The last statutory guidance on RSE was issued in 2000 – so teachers have also been left without up-to-date advice.
This is why it is a triumph that all schools in England will now be required to provide RSE. And why that education must be carefully constructed to help children navigate their way through the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital age.
A call for evidence
It is welcome news that the Department for Education has opened a ‘call for evidence’, running until 12th February 2018 to help shape the new statutory guidance.
It’s a call for our personal and professional views on how this guidance should be updated, and includes questions about which subject areas should be prioritised and how schools should consult with parents about RSE.
While this latest ‘call for evidence’ can help shape the detail of the updated guidance it is useful to remember that there is sound research evidence showing the benefits of RSE for children and young people. The Government are now acting on this and designing RSE that “should equip children and young people to have safe, fulfilling and enjoyable relationships and learn to take responsibility for their sexual health and wellbeing”.
The Sex Education Forum has produced a set of 12 core principles which we believe should be at the heart of every school’s commitment to teaching good RSE. These are based on research evidence and supported by our host charity, the National Children’s Bureau, along with five education unions and other major children’s charities including NSPCC, Barnardo’s and The Children’s Society.
The principles are designed not just as an expert overview for you to consider as you submit your own evidence to shape the statutory guidance. They are also a tool to help schools take action right now to be ready for the changes starting in September 2019.
The Sex Education Forum invites schools to commit to relationships and sex education which:
- Is an identifiable part of a PSHE education curriculum, with planned, timetabled lessons across all the Key Stages
- Is taught by staff regularly trained in RSE and PSHE (with expert visitors where appropriate)
- Works in partnership with parents and carers, informing them about what their children will be learning and how they can contribute at home
- Delivers lessons where pupils feel safe, using a variety of teaching approaches to enable them to take part
- Is based on reliable sources of information, including about the law and legal rights, distinguishing between fact and opinion
- Promotes safe, equal, caring and enjoyable relationships and discusses real age-appropriate issues such as friendships, families, consent, relationship abuse, sexual exploitation and safe relationships online
- Gives a positive view of human sexuality, with honest and medically accurate information, so that pupils can learn about their bodies and sexual and reproductive health in ways that are appropriate to their age and maturity
- Gives pupils opportunities to reflect on values and influences that may shape their attitudes to relationships and sex, nurturing respect for different views
- Includes learning about how to get help, treatment and information from a range of reliable sources
- Fosters gender equality and LGBT+ equality and challenges all forms of discrimination in lessons and in every-day school life
- Meets the needs of all pupils with their diverse experiences - including those with special educational needs and disabilities
- Seeks pupils’ views about RSE so that teaching can be made relevant to their real lives and assessed and adapted as their needs change
We’ve turned these principles into a handy poster which you can use to develop conversations about RSE in your school, whether that’s discussing them at a Governor’s meeting, communicating with parents and carers, auditing existing RSE provision, reviewing school policies or considering appropriate staff models and professional development requirements.
The principles can also help you to map the relationship between RSE and whole-school approaches on areas such as bullying, safeguarding, pastoral support and the Equality Duty. This process will reveal just how multi-faceted the benefits of good quality RSE can be.
This article was originally posted on SecEd.