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An interview with our new Chair

7 June 2018

Meet our new Chair, Lynnette Smith, MD and Founder of BigTalk Education, and read about what led her to working in RSE and how her career led her to becoming the Sex Education Forum's Chair.

What is your background, and how did you come to find yourself in the world of sex education?

I started my career in youth & community work back in the 80s, moving up through the ranks I worked as leader in charge across several youth clubs in what was then Humberside. In the 90s I was contracted to write the Sexual Health Education Policy and accompanying training & resources for Humberside Youth Service. After this secondment I went back to Youth Work in North Lincs in a diverse setting. However, having immersed myself into the world of sex education it was not something I could step away from, particularly during this time which was the middle of the ten-year national Teenage Pregnancy Strategy. So, at North Lincs I went on to lead a multidisciplinary team delivering sex education to all 13 secondary schools within the catchment.

What led you to leave your then current line of work?

My transition into sex education took place over many years, as my involvement in sex ed became a core part of my role for the North Lincs Youth Service. However, a big decision came for me in 2005, when my sex education role, in the youth service, was planned to broaden into other forms of health education. I strongly believe that sex education is a specialist discipline, which requires time and focus from professionals, to stay up to date and relevant. I also believed at this time there was so much more that needed to be done in the field. So, with my passion for sex ed driving me forward, I made the life-changing decision to go freelance and founded BigTalk Education.

What work do you do now, at BigTalk?

The company I founded back in 2005 is now a leading provider of Relationship & Sex Education in the UK, we are a partner of the Sex Education Forum and a registered Social Enterprise. In the early days BigTalk Education primarily provided Sex & Relationship Education in secondary schools. However, with the explosion of readily accessible internet, video games, mobile phones and tablets, we noticed that by the time we spoke to children in secondaries we were too late, they were already misinformed. They had sought information elsewhere and the sources of that information were not what we, as professionals or parents, would want.

I knew we had to do more to educate and protect our children. So in 2013, BigTalk Education made our first move into Primary School RSE. This has subsequently evolved into our ‘Growing Up Safe: Whole School Approach” programme, which operates a spiral curriculum from Foundation Early Years up to Key Stage 2.

I am immensely proud of the programme which was awarded the Family Planning Association’s Pamela Sheridan award in 2017. I describe the award to friends and family who don’t work in the industry as the ‘Oscar’s of Sex Ed’ to explain my excitement! BigTalk Education has grown to 14 staff members, delivering in about 135 schools nationwide. But it is our mission to keep growing, to ensure as many children and young people as possible receive high quality Relationship & Sex Education, to help keep them safe, healthy & happy.

How did you first hear about the Sex Education Forum and what led BigTalk to become a partner?

I think it is high praise to the Sex Education Forum that I cannot actually remember when I first came across them, they have seemingly always been there as a great resource for those delivering sex education. They offer support and encouragement to those in the field, combatting isolation in what can sometimes feel an overwhelming area for those working individually, as I was often in the early days.

As someone who has campaigned for statutory RSE you must have been delighted when the new legislation was announced. Is that the end of the campaign, or is there more to do?

The introduction of statutory RSE from September 2019, is only the end of the beginning. I truly believe this is when the real work starts. As a practitioner working with schools nationwide, I have seen first-hand that not all sex education is created equal. High quality, age appropriate, RSE is what every child and young person deserves. We need to work closely with the Department for Education and Ofsted, to ensure that good quality RSE is actually being delivered and it is not just a statutory box-ticking exercise. The Sex Education Forum’s twelve points for RSE is a great resource for anyone who wants to understand more about what represents good quality RSE.

What does it mean, to you, to be Chair of the Sex Education Forum?

I am truly honoured, to be the Chair of the Sex Education Forum’s elected Advisory Group. Along with winning the Pamela Sheridan award in November 2017 it has been a very exciting twelve months for me! In such an important time for sex education, in the run up to statutory RSE, it is imperative we galvanise the industry and move forward with a common agenda of keeping children and young people safe, healthy & happy. I see my role as Chair as a brilliant opportunity to give back to the organisation that supported me through my early years in the field.

Why did you apply to be Chair of the Sex Education Forum Advisory Group?

I have admired the work done by the Sex Education Forum under the guidance of Jane Lees, who did a fabulous job in her role as Chair, with the pinnacle being achieving statutory RSE legislation. I did not consider putting myself forward for the role initially, but a few people suggested I stand for Chair, and this helped tip the balance.  At BigTalk Education I work with children, young people and their parents daily. I believe this will be a benefit to the Sex Education Forum during the roll out of statutory RSE. Whilst the core content of RSE remains constant, social and technological changes have had a significant effect on what we need to teach children and when. This is only going to continue. As a practitioner I hear this reflected in my conversations with teaching staff, parents and children, and this understanding is essential to providing good quality and relevant RSE.

The guidance on Relationships and Sex Education is in the process of being updated by the Government. What are you hoping the guidance will have to say that was lacking in the old guidance?

I believe it is essential that the Government give due consideration to the 12 principles set out by the Sex Education Forum, which are very widely supported by education unions and children’s charities. I also believe that age-appropriate education, in a spiral curriculum with foundations in Early Years is imperative.