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Our response to 'call for evidence'

23 March 2018

Sex Education Forum response to the 'call for evidence' on RSE
 

The Governmnet 'call for evidence' on RSE consisted of a survey for adults (parents and professionals) and a survey for young people. The closing date was 12th February 2018. Further information about the call and the survey questions are available from the Government website. Our response to the 'call for evidence' is provided below. 

Question 1: Thinking about relationships education in primary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught for different age groups/key stages and why. Please include any considerations or evidence which informed your choices.

By end of primary phase pupils will be:

Relationship with self
- developing sense of identity (physical, social, emotional, moral), as they grow and develop, and able to show respect for the rights of all individuals regardless of their differences. Includes knowing that bodies vary and some parts are private; feeling prepared for the physical & emotional changes during puberty; recognising gender stereotypes and that everyone is unique and equal.

Safety and risk
- able to distinguish between positive and abusive relationships, including online, seek help and keep themselves and others safe. Includes knowing the difference between safe and unsafe touching and that everyone has legally protected ‘body rights’; who to go to for help and advice; having the confidence and vocabulary to report abuse including correct terms for genitalia; knowing the safety rules for social media and internet use.

Relationships with others
- able to value and make different kinds of relationships, recognise that relationships change over time, and able to exercise choice, recognise and give consent, and maintain boundaries in relationships. Includes sharing, helping others, empathising, appreciating that families vary but care-giving is central, knowing different ways to be a good friend, and recognising types of bullying and how to challenge it.

Build on current recommendation (SRE Guidance DfEE 2000) that all primary schools should ensure pupils know about puberty before its onset and how a baby is born.

Evidence:
UNESCO ‘International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education’ 2018,
Ofsted ‘PSHE - Not yet Good enough’ 2013

Question 2: Thinking about relationships and sex education in secondary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught for different age groups/key stages and why. Please include any considerations or evidence which informed your choices.

By the end of the secondary phase pupils will:

Positive relationships
Be confident in their ability to make and maintain positive relationships, both face-to-face and online, able to identify and articulate emotions and manage new or difficult situations positively, value differences between people in terms of their physical characteristics, health, ethnicity, faith, culture and values, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and agree that everyone has the right to respect and equal treatment not abuse or discrimination.

Safety and risk
Feel in control of their sexual behaviour and decisions; able to actively communicate and recognise consent from others, including sexual consent; be able to identify how inequality, including gender and LGBT inequality, can impact on personal and sexual freedom and wellbeing; have a realistic view of their appearance and be critically aware of how sexually explicit media present an unreal picture of sexual behaviour, and how gender stereotypes can normalise violent or non-consensual behaviour.

Sexual health
Be able to take responsibility for their own physical, and emotional sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing, able to weigh up the positive pleasures and attendant risks of a range of sexual behaviours, and use communication, negotiation and assertiveness skills to challenge and prevent behaviours that may limit safe choices or create unwanted sexual pressure; know how and where to access confidential sexual and reproductive health advice and treatment.

Evidence:
UNESCO ‘International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education’ 2018,
Ofsted ‘PSHE - Not yet Good enough’ 2013

Question 3: Are there important aspects of ensuring safe online relationships that would not otherwise be covered in wider Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education, or as part of the computing curriculum? What do we want to say about RSE that is specific to digital context?

The digital environment is relatively new as a:

  • context for relationships to take place
  • tool for publishing images of the human body that have often been manipulated
  • method of advertising products and services
  • means of broadcasting views about gender and other norms, values and beliefs
  • source of information about relationships and sex

It is therefore right that the digital context is reflected in the teaching of RSE, for example in the following ways:

  • Includes opportunities to develop critical thinking skills so that pupils can recognise advertising techniques, stereotypes and their impact, thus empowering children and young people to make independent choices and to challenge limiting and harmful stereotypes
  • Integrates a range of digital contexts within scenarios, examples, case-studies, and resources  used in RSE so that learning is relevant to real-life experiences
  • Helps pupils to differentiate between fact and opinion that they may encounter online and clearly signposts sources of reliable help and services, including sexual health services
  • Teaches pupil about their rights and responsibilities online including legal facts

It is vital that teaching relevant to relationships and sex is provided by educators trained in RSE and PSHE, and it is not appropriate for much of the above to be addressed in computing. In order for statutory RSE to have full impact and effectiveness it is essential that PSHE is made statutory too. In PSHE wider issues such as media literacy, identity, privacy and the impact of time spent online on other aspects of life would be covered.

Question 4: How should schools effectively consult parents so they can make informed decisions that meet the needs of their child, including on the right to withdraw? For example, how often, on what issues and by what means?

Young people prioritise school as their preferred main source of information about relationships and sex, but want their parents to take a greater role than they currently do (Tanton, 2015).

7 out of 10 parents would welcome help and support from their child's school about how they can talk to their child about growing up and related issues (Independent poll of 1000 parents commissioned by SEF, 2014).

School-home communication about RSE should start early and be continuous so that parents can anticipate topics covered at school and make their own timely input or follow up at home. RSE homework can support parent-child communication about relationships and sex.

In practice very few parents withdraw from RSE, schools usually put this down to effective communication and myth-busting about what RSE really involves, and the planned approach to their RSE programme, delivered by competent staff. 80% of parents think RSE teachers should be trained to teach it (SEF, 2014).

The outcomes of relationships education in primary make an essential contribution to prevention and a school’s duty to safeguard.  Parents must not be given the right to opt their children out of these topics, whether or not it involves information about sex.
Schools must feel empowered to provide evidence-based good practice RSE which meets the needs of pupils with the support of the majority of parents.

Nationally produced communication materials for parents, that explain what RSE is, what they can expect from school provision and how they can help at home would be useful. 


Question 5. Thinking about PSHE in primary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why? Please include your reasons for choosing each subject area or evidence to support your suggestions.


Relationships and sex education is an essential component of PSHE, and should be an identifiable part of planned, timetabled PSHE education. PSHE must be made statutory.  RSE is best delivered as part of a wider curriculum promoting health, resilience, confidence, respect, and personal safety, both online and offline. It also mitigates the risk that relationships education and RSE will be delivered by some schools purely through ‘drop-down’ or off-timetable days, which Ofsted has highlighted as problematic.

Updated guidance needs to be clear and bold about the requirement for timetabling of PSHE. There are some variations on models that are used which ensure adequate timetabling and these could be illustrated in the guidance.

The impact and effectiveness of statutory RSE and PSHE also depends heavily on the competence of teachers. Government must commit a quantifiable resource to training so that every primary and secondary school in England can access basic training in good practice RSE and PSHE. There is ample evidence to support this including from the Education Select Committee report (2015) and from Ofsted (2013). Models for development of specialist PSHE teams can be illustrated in guidance. A viable career pathway for specialist PSHE teachers will be best supported by both RSE and PSHE being statutory.

Updated guidance also needs to support a whole-school approach to RSE and PSHE, setting out the requirement that all school staff are involved in relevant training and information.

Question 6. Thinking about PSHE in secondary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why? Please also include your reasons for choosing each subject or evidence to support your suggestions.

Relationships and sex education is an essential component of PSHE, and should be an identifiable part of planned, timetabled PSHE education. PSHE must be made statutory.  RSE is best delivered as part of a wider curriculum promoting health, resilience, confidence, respect, and personal safety, both online and offline. It also mitigates the risk that relationships education and RSE will be delivered by some schools purely through ‘drop-down’ or off-timetable days, which Ofsted has highlighted as problematic.

Updated guidance needs to be clear and bold about the requirement for timetabling of PSHE. There are some variations on models that are used which ensure adequate timetabling and these could be illustrated in the guidance.

The impact and effectiveness of statutory RSE and PSHE also depends heavily on the competence of teachers. Government must commit a quantifiable resource to training so that every primary and secondary school in England can access basic training in good practice RSE and PSHE. There is ample evidence to support this including from the Education Select Committee report (2015) and from Ofsted (2013). Models for development of specialist PSHE teams can be illustrated in guidance. A viable career pathway for specialist PSHE teachers will be best supported by both RSE and PSHE being statutory.

Updated guidance also needs to support a whole-school approach to RSE and PSHE, setting out the requirement that all school staff are involved in relevant training and information.


Question 7: How much flexibility do you think schools should have to meet the needs of individual pupils and to reflect the diversity of local communities and wider society in the content of PSHE lessons in schools?

All children and young people have an entitlement to a comprehensive programme of RSE, as set out by UNESCO (2018), and is highlighted by the United Nations (2016) as a shortcoming in the current education system in England.

Guidance and regulations must make clear it is not appropriate for schools to exclude particular topics or information because of the faith of parents or religious status of the school. Instead, teaching should be responsive to the lived experiences of pupils, and so can reflect the religious and cultural background of pupils, for example in the choices of resources and tailoring the curriculum to meet pupil needs. The difference between fact and opinion must always be made clear to pupils and information about the law and legal rights included throughout RSE.  

RSE must meet the needs of all pupils with their diverse experiences - including those with special educational needs and disabilities. Schools must not discriminate against individual pupils. Investment in training and competent educators is essential to ensure inclusive RSE practice which fosters LGBT and gender equality and avoids making assumptions, e.g. in relation to intersex, HIV or pregnancy status of pupils.

Schools must make adaptations to meet the needs of individual pupils, e.g. making the curriculum accessible for pupils with disabilities and special educational needs, supported by a whole school approach to pupil wellbeing.

The updated RSE guidance should reference the Equality Act 2010 and Public Sector Equality Duty explaining how good quality RSE contributes to schools compliance with these.

 

Sources of evidence / references

House of Commons Education Committee (2015) Life lessons, PSHE and SRE in schools 
Ofsted (2013) Not yet good enough; PSHE education in schools  
Sex Education Forum (2014) Independent poll of 1000 parents  
Sex Education Forum (2015) SRE the evidence 
Tanton, C et al (2015) Patterns and trends in sources of information about sex among young people in Britain: evidence from three National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, BMJ Open; 5:e007834 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015- 007834
UNESCO (2018) International technical guidance on sexuality education; an evidence-informed approach (Revised edition) 
United Nations (2016) UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland /