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Have confidence as you plan your RSHE

15 October 2020

The release in September of a series of new Department for Education training modules serves as a useful fact-file for teachers as they prepare to implement the statutory guidance on Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE). Here is a quick tour of this new online resource.

Nine modules have been published to date, with each module organised around a core area of the mandatory curriculum including modules on changing adolescent body, online and media, respectful relationships, intimate and sexual relationships, mental health, first aid, health and prevention, drugs alcohol and tobacco. Each module is designed as a set of PowerPoint slides with template pages that can be adapted so that schools can cascade training internally to a staff group.

The content of each module is focused on underpinning facts and knowledge and each module ends with a short list of good practice tips. The modules provide some signposting to sources of further information and support, but do not include recommended teaching resources. 

The statutory guidance on RSHE (2019) is the main reference tool for schools as they plan compliant implementation. It establishes that ‘the curriculum should proactively address issues in a timely way in line with current evidence on children’s physical, emotional and sexual development’. It sets out what pupils should know by the end of primary and the end of secondary but leaves schools to decide on what will be taught when. The online training modules are useful supplementary material as they offer far more expansion on the relevant facts. Given that few teachers have trained as specialists in RSHE, some sort of grounding in subject knowledge is essential to drive up the quality of provision.  

Taking a look around the training module on ‘changing adolescent body’ there are some helpful features. The primary section starts by establishing that puberty is part of the human life cycle: ‘It is the process of growing into an adult and becoming able to reproduce’. Details are provided of hormones that affect both sexes, and normal bodily functions such as menstruation and erections are described.  The training module will boost the confidence of teachers because it provides, and essentially role-models, the sort of words and phrases that can be used to provide accurate information to pupils about their bodies. The secondary section of the module covers interesting content about the brain during puberty and the diversity of developing bodies. The module includes some cross-phase good practice guidance including the recommendations to ‘use medically correct language to accurately describe human anatomy, including genitalia (e.g. vulva, vagina, penis, testicles, foreskin)’; to avoid the use of product brand names; and to give pupils opportunities to ask questions in small groups, but not to segregate by gender unless there is a clear rationale for doing so to meet pupil needs.

Each module follows a similar style, offering up a plethora of facts on each topic and demonstrating the range of developmentally appropriate material that can be covered in RSHE.

The modules are not intended to serve as a curriculum plan in themselves, rather to address teacher knowledge and confidence and to support planning. Over time, as teachers gain confidence with the subject matter so the quality of curriculum and lesson planning is bound to improve – which is why investing in continuing professional development for staff involved in delivering RSHE is so important.  

Schools will also be looking for teaching resources to provide stimulus and variety within their planning. Additional guidance from DfE recommends that schools consider whether resources would support pupils in applying their knowledge in different contexts and settings, if they are evidence-based and contain robust facts and statistics and if they are from a credible source. The onus is on teachers making judgements about which resources to use – using these prompts as a guide. The usefulness of any particular resource also rests on the skill of teachers in how they use it and in their ability to create a safe and inclusive classroom.  Research evidence about the characteristics of effective Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) show that the use of participatory approaches is important. Skilfulness in the practicalities of teaching effective RSE is just as important as knowledge of the subject matter.  

As well as developing teacher knowledge in RSHE, guidance from DfE recognises that teachers may benefit from support ‘to reflect on their own values around the subject and consider ways to present an unbiased and evidence-based curriculum to pupils’. Being clear about values and seeing how these connect with the school ethos is a really important step in planning RSE. For the Sex Education Forum, having a set of values and principles has been the bond that joins our group of partners and members together – all agree with our values and principles for evidence-based RSE. 

The Sex Education Forum, hosted at the National Children’s Bureau is one of the subject experts that contributed to the development of the DfE’s new online training modules, and we are pleased to see a body of knowledge that supports evidence-based teaching in RSHE take shape. We also welcome the recognition from DfE that teachers need opportunities to consider their values. Exploring the interplay of values with knowledge will help teachers grow in confidence to apply their existing skills to create high quality teaching and learning in RSHE.  

Lucy Emmerson
Director, Sex Education Forum
October 2020

Links to training, guidance and support