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RSE and social distancing

27 March 2020

School may be out, but Relationships and Sex Education is in. How can RSE support learners during school closures and social distancing? 

Who could possibly have predicted our current situation? This wasn’t on any of our long-term plans! Playgrounds lie empty, bells silenced, and school ties lie forgotten in the bottom of laundry hampers. Worksheets and online resources are being emailed home, displays are appearing in windows and social media is buzzing with parents and teachers wondering how to make meaningful learning happen when our children are confined to their homes.

Families are experimenting with how to plan the day and manage household relationships, children’s energy and interests. We must not expect too much of our children, or of their parents in terms of high output learning. Covering some literacy and numeracy each day might be a focus for younger children, supporting exam subjects more of a priority for teenagers. So will RSE feature at all?

At this unsettling and critical time, RSE is paramount. RSE is social skills, understanding relationships, wellbeing and talking about feelings. RSE is families, friendships, love and emotions. RSE is skills to cope with situations, ways to explain and opportunities to ask. RSE is invaluable at this time. Skimming through the ‘by the end of…’ sections of the Government RSHE guidance, actually there is a huge amount that we can do, for our younger and older learners.

For primary:

  • Ways that we can support our family members even though we may not be able to visit them
  • Showing commitment to our friends and family by supporting and protecting each other
  • Talking about how they feel as the style of our interactions with friends and families have had to change so drastically and so swiftly
  • Keeping in touch, by sending pictures and letters, decorating our windows, and finding ways to engage at safe distances
  • Learning how to use social technology safely, and using it to maintain strong bonds with grandparents and isolated family and friends
  • Being generous in our actions for others, offering help, sharing resources and extending kind gestures
  • Being respectful of others with whom we are sharing a confined space, including sharing our toys, taking turns to choose activities and TV shows, and respecting each other’s privacy and space
  • Knowing to, and knowing how to tell their grown-ups if they are finding this time difficult, and that this is ok, and finding ways to feel better together.
  • Knowing how to access support outside the home if they need to e.g. childline
  • Understanding what is happening, and why social distancing is so important

Older learners might also benefit from:

  • Finding new and safe ways to continue their friendships and personal relationships remotely, including online but also by post, phone, and other distanced interaction
  • Developing their skills to use social media and online platforms safely, including how to protect your confidentiality, how to identify safe and unsafe online activities, and understanding their responsibilities in online forums
  • Being able to recognise people’s needs and boundaries when family groups are spending a lot of time together in confined spaces, and knowing how to support one another
  • Opportunities to discuss social themes that they encounter on TV and in film, as they may be exposed to more of these media, and may need to unpack the situations they see portrayed
  • Considering how to maintain good health during social isolation, including healthy diet, exercise, and emotional health, as well as embedding messages about the risks associated with alcohol and drugs
  • Ensuring learners are equipped with skills to identify and report negative situations including domestic violence, cyber bullying or abusive relationships
  • Older learners may need guidance on how to access contraception services when many youth centres and health centres are operating differently
  • Giving detailed information about why social distancing is so important, to support the learner to value the measures, and encourage full compliance                                           

 Learners with additional needs may need:

  • More support to understand what is happening and why
  • Creative ways to keep in touch if literacy or verbal communication is challenging
  • Sensory activities
  • Visual timetables and cues to support them through long days at home
  • Opportunity to ask questions, and to talk if they are lonely and upset
  • Activities that they can do independently to allow parents some rest and respite

As a parent and teacher I hope these ideas prove helpful as you support your children in such new and different ways. Here at the Sex Education Forum we will continue to navigate the changing RSE landscape, share resources and find ways to celebrate excellence in RSE. Make sure to put 25 June in your calendar for RSE Day 2020, which invites everyone to consider their role in promoting healthy relationships and positive sexual health – parents, carers and educators included.

Rachael Baker
Senior RSE Specialist, Sex Education Forum
27 March 2020

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