Relationships and sex education (RSE) is important to all children and young people everywhere, yet all too often children report that there are gaps in what they are taught and silence on the issues that are really important to them.
The recent Stonewall School Report (2017) found that 40% of LGBT pupils were not taught about LGBT issues at school. This gap doesn’t just mean that they didn’t get the crucial information they needed to build their sense of identity. It means that they were not included in the education they receive.
There is also research that suggests that disabled children are at greater risk of abuse (including sexual abuse) than non-disabled children and there is inequality in sexual health statistics too; one example being that there are higher rates of unplanned pregnancy and STIs amongst deaf young people and adults.
Evidence shows that good quality RSE education reduces teenage pregnancy rates, increases condom use, and decreases the incidence of non-consensual sex. We need to ensure therefore that children with disabilities and special educational needs receive comprehensive RSE that meets their needs.
In their 2018 report “International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education”, UNESCO have given their definition of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), which includes their human rights-based approach:
“CSE builds on and promotes an understanding of universal human rights – including the rights of children and young people – and the rights of all persons to health, education, information equality and non-discrimination.
Using a human rights-based approach within CSE also involves raising awareness among young people, encouraging them to recognize their own rights, acknowledge and respect the rights of others, and advocate for those whose rights are violated.
Providing young people with equal access to CSE respects their right to the highest attainable standard of health, including safe, responsible and respectful sexual choices free of coercion and violence, as well as their right to access the information that young people need for effective self-care”.
This definition, and the accompanying report, comes at the right time to help inform the design of inclusive relationships and sex education curricula to ensure that all children have access to comprehensive, high quality learning that meets their needs.
With the advent of statutory RSE in England, the Sex Education Forum has developed a statement of 12 evidence-based principles which will help all schools and educators to develop inclusive and high quality RSE programmes. These principles are available as a poster that schools can display and demonstrate their own commitment to meet the needs of all pupils.
Principles 10 and 11 from our statement of commitment underline the importance of equality and inclusion in RSE:
- Fostering gender equality and LGBT+ (lesbian gay, bisexual, trans) equality and challenges all forms of discrimination in RSE lessons and in every-day school life.
- Meeting the needs of all pupils with diverse experiences – including those with special educational needs and disabilities.
When trying to ensure that your school’s RSE is comprehensive and inclusive these are just some the questions you should ask yourself:
- Does the curriculum create safe visibility for LGBT identities?
- Would a child in your school know who to talk to if they had experienced unwanted touching?
- Are assumptions made that students have never experienced pregnancy? Or a sexually transmitted infection?
- Do you have a robust plan for communicating about RSE to parents, conveying the message that a comprehensive programme, that tackles discrimination will benefit all pupils?
Learning about relationships and sex cannot be limited only to the classroom, because children will be talking in the playground about things they have seen on their phones, or in the corridor about what they have heard rumours about, and may be repeating misinformation to their friends on the way to and from school.
It is also the case that children and young people will usually talk about difficult or sensitive issues to people they are comfortable with, and at a time which suits them, so that they may disclose that they have been inappropriately touched, or that they feel unsafe at home, to any member of the school’s staff, and not just their dedicated RSE teacher.
This underlines the fact that good RSE will only be possible if it is embedded throughout the school, with both classroom provision and pastoral support, and in such a way that all teachers and staff know what to do if and when a student makes a disclosure.
The Sex Education Forum is committed to improving the quality of RSE, and recognises that the competence of school staff is pivotal to success. We offer a range of bespoke training courses, so as to meet the unique challenges of each school. Our courses are rights-led, underpinned by the expressed needs of children and young people, informed by up-to-date research and compliant with Government education and equalities legislation.
We have developed several courses which specifically address some of the more neglected aspects of RSE, such as our LGBT-inclusive primary and secondary training and our “Gender Matters” training. We also offer a two-day facilitator course “Outside the Box”, which trains educators to deliver an early intervention RSE programme to small groups of young people who are at higher risk of child sexual exploitation.
If you would like to book any training courses with Sex Education Forum, you can find more information on our website.
I will be speaking at the Delivering Outstanding PSHE Teaching in Schools conference on the 19th May 2020, where I will be outlining the ways in which schools can work towards designing and delivering a truly inclusive RSE curriculum, and ensuring that all children and young people are supported to navigate puberty and young adulthood in a safe, healthy and responsible way.
Dr Eleanor Draeger
Senior RSE Trainer, Sex Education Forum