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Have you asked your pupils about RSE? 

28 January 2021

Asking pupils for their views on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) may feel like a bit of a luxury in lockdown, yet it could provide a vital stepping stone in moving forwards with your school RSE policy development. It may even be quicker and easier than you think. 

Consulting parents about RSE is a requirement for all schools in England under the new statutory Relationships, RSE and Health Education (RSHE) guidance (2019), but there is also strong encouragement to involve pupils. The guidance states that: ‘The policy should also reflect the views of teachers and pupils. Listening and responding to the views of young people will strengthen the policy, ensuring that it meets the needs of all pupils.’  Because parental consultation is a legal requirement, and something that many schools express worries about undertaking, it’s hardly surprising that pupil consultation is not a top priority. 

Flip this round for a minute and imagine making pupil consultation your starting point. Asking pupils for their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the RSE they have received so far will produce varied insights; finding out which topics a particular year group feels are most important to them at this moment in time will give a very current picture. The material gathered from pupil consultation is a rich collection of evidence about the needs of your pupils and this makes it extremely valuable data to share with parents as part of the consultation process with them. 

Carrying out consultation with pupils can be done quite rapidly, or at more length. Here are some ideas which can be used as stand-alone activities or combined: 

-    Prepare card sets made up of diamonds either in sets of 4, 9 or 16 with different topics from the RSHE curriculum written or depicted on each card. Ask pupils to rank the cards or arrange them in a diamond with the most important card at the top. The results may be surprising. Ask pupils if they can explain what they want to learn about the card at the top or why it’s so important. 

-    Ask pupils to reflect on the RSE they have received so far. What was good about it? Was anything missing? What would they like to be different? Collect responses anonymously into a jar or container. Review the contents of the jar and document pupils’ views.

-    Invite pupils to join a focus group. Discuss the aim of RSHE being to help children be healthy, happy and safe now and in the future. Ask what they have learnt about so far in RSHE? What else should be covered in order that  RSHE achieves the aim of helping children be healthy, happy and safe. Explore what attitudes and behaviour are helpful and unhelpful from different people we may learn from. This could include teachers, teaching assistants and support staff, parents, carers, siblings, friends. 

-    Share some examples of values, such as honesty, kindness and courage. Invite pupils to list values that they think are important for teaching RSE. Responses could be recorded electronically and presented as a ‘word cloud’ using software.  

-    Look back at questions that pupils have asked using anonymous question boxes. What are the typical questions for a particular year group? Does the curriculum address these? 

-    Carry out an online survey with a whole year group. This can work well as a ‘benchmark’ to track progress year by year. Consider using similar questions to the Sex Education Forum Young People’s RSE Poll and comparing the school data with national data. Tools like ‘Mentimeter’, ‘Poll everywhere’ or zoom’s polling function can be useful because pupils can see the data they have contributed with immediacy and this can get discussion flowing. 

-    Ask open questions too, for example ‘was there anything that could have been done differently, that would have made you feel more included?’

Alice Hoyle, author of ‘Great RSE’ recommends a creative approach. “Invite young people to write a postcard to their past self about what they wish they had been taught, and another to their future self about what they hope they will be taught. Plan the activity as a creative response piece using the space on the front of the postcard for collage as well as writing on the back. Consider ways of collating the cards and sharing, while taking care that contributions are anonymous”. 

Pupil consultation about RSE never fails to generate useful insights and some surprises. Presenting aspects of this data to parents can completely change the dynamic of parental consultation activities. There is also an urgency to understanding what pupils prioritise because of the impact of the pandemic on their lives. Pupils may draw attention to topics that feel like an uneasy fit for remote learning, but this can knowledge of what pupils need can inform the use of precious face-to-face teaching when it resumes and may signal an opportunity for some quick signposting to help and support services.    

Finally, a reminder from the Government guidance that pupil voice has a crucial role in curriculum development: ‘The curriculum should proactively address issues in a timely way in line with current evidence on children’s physical, emotional and sexual development. This should be in line with pupil need, informed by pupil voice and participation in curriculum development and in response to issues as they arise in the school and wider community.’

Asking pupils for their views at the outset of your policy and curriculum development can give the process momentum and a means of bringing parents into the conversation. Select a simple activity to get started and signal to your pupils that their views matter. 

Lucy Emmerson
Director, Sex Education Forum