Keeping school communities connected, alive and well over the coming time of closure is saved by our ability to communicate online. So while the closure is restrictive there are also opportunities to work remotely and to progress on developing school policies and practices.
This blog will give some ideas and thoughts on how schools can continue to develop your approach to RSHE and get yourselves as ready as possible to implement the statutory requirements by September 2020 despite school closures.
The three key elements to consider are parental consultation, policy development, and curriculum planning. They are equally important and interconnected and you may be at different levels of achieving what is required and perhaps have gone beyond to demonstrate best practice already. Of course, to embark on any of these steps, you need to have in place a team of staff responsible for leading RSHE with support and recognition from leadership as well as allocated resources and a plan for upskilling teacher competencies.
This is one of the MUSTs from the DfE RSHE Guidance 2019. Parental consultation is not a one-off event but is a developing process with steps to inform your RSE policy. By creating several opportunities, you ensure a wider consultation and also reach parents who may not feel confident to come forward at the first invitation.
If you haven’t already, then now is the perfect time to send out a questionnaire to parents asking them vital information to help you understand their knowledge, views, concerns and needs regarding the changes to RSHE. Use your current virtual platform for communicating the questions with parents and if you haven’t got this in place then look at the different online apps to help you set this up. It is also a perfect opportunity for you to gauge how well you are doing regarding communicating with parents on PSHE subjects in general and measure the satisfaction levels. I have seen great examples of schools running an online survey, then analysing the the responses to help plan next steps in the parental consultation process. Some schools include space in the questionnaire to ask parents to come forward if they are interested in taking part in further parent consultation. These parents could form a virtual ‘working group’. Make sure you ask the right questions that will be useful as a consultation step and at the same time function as a parent RSHE needs assessment. See the Sex Education Forum parental engagement questions for example.
A next step could be to plan a virtual coffee morning to inform parents about the changes to RSHE. Online platforms and virtual meeting places can help disseminate information to parents and also work as a forum where parents can ask questions and share views. Make sure you facilitate this forum well including setting the tone, basic ground rules, time management etc. It helps to tell parents that you are mimicking how you would facilitate a PSHE/RSE session with the children, giving parents a better understanding of how the subjects are taught at school and also helping parents in their skills to teach at home. Again, interested parents may come forward to engage in more activities.
Once normal school days have started again, you can invite parents to join a focus group where pertinent topics from the online questionnaire and the online coffee morning can be further discussed. It is important to have a manageable sized group representing a varied parent group and you can also consider inviting other key stakeholders to partake. Think about separating gender groups if faith or culture makes talking about RSE difficult in gender-mixed environments. Again, good facilitation is required. Think about your objectives and communicate these clearly from the outset and maintain a safe and conducive group environment where participants can share and learn from each other safely and courteously. In a good focus group participants can discuss topics, views and values despite not always agreeing.
Keep the discussion constructive and use a stimulus to get the discussion started such as ‘Introduce yourself and tell us three things you think are important for your child to learn in RSE’ (you can revisit this at the end of the focus group meeting and see if anyone has changed their mind because of the discussion with others). Make notes when you facilitate and draw out the common themes discussed.
Policy development and curriculum planning
Once your parental consultation is shaping up you can add developing themes and insights into your draft policy. First, you have to review your existing policies using some of the resources available from the Sex Education Forum, such as the Roadmap to statutory RSE and whole-school RSE audit tool, then align policies across the school to link with statutory requirements such as Equality Act 2010 Advice for Schools and Keeping Children Safe in Education 2019, SEND Code of Practice 2014. Think about how you are going to define RSHE paying attention to how you will differentiate between Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education. Consider referring to international standard-setting documents such as UNESCO technical guidance on sexuality education 2018 and WHO/BZgA Standards on Sexuality Education in Europe 2010 to inform your decisions on defining the different elements of RSHE. The policy must also be clear on parental rights to withdraw their child from any sex education element outside Relationships Education, Health Education and Science (and children’s right to opt-in once they approach their 16th birthday) so think about how your school will make provisions for both eventualities.
Look at the learning outcomes for primary and secondary set out in the DfE RSHE Guidance and see how they align with your current provision in PSHE/RSE. Many schools are already providing above and beyond what is required in the new guidance – don’t reinvent the wheel but make sure you identify areas within curricula where RSHE needs to change or develop. Pay particular attention to the fact that RSHE should be delivered in a building block fashion, starting early and be incremental throughout key stages. Start to think about some of the RSE elements that have been topical and often a source of anxiety for some parent groups such as LGBT, Human Reproduction, and FGM prevention. How and when are you introducing the themes in RSHE? What are the needs of your children and their families? Look at the different resources for curriculum planning such as the Curriculum design tool from the Sex Education Forum and PSHE Association Programme of Study to help you plan a curriculum fit for purpose.
Most important of all is consulting with the children at your school! Conducting RSE needs assessments within year groups and asking the children what they already know and what they would like to learn more about is crucial in developing all aspects of RSHE. Consider conducting a simple RSHE needs assessment as part of online learning asking the children pertinent questions and suggestions for their learning. You can find inspiration here.
Lastly, rights come with responsibilities. By giving parents the right to withdraw their child from sex education we must also ask that they take responsibility to be their child’s RSE educator. Most parents will need guidance, knowledge and skills in educating their child on RSE topics as they may not feel confident in starting and maintaining conversations at home. School closures could have a silver lining, creating opportunity for get parents talking to their children about all things RSE. Have a look at Outspoken Education for free resources for parents to engage with their children in quick and fun RSE activities and try FPA resources for a selection of books and leaflets for parents and carers, and to read with children.
RSE Day on 25 June 2020 will also be a timely opportunity to celebrate and share our joint efforts for high quality RSE.
06 April 2020
Yoan is the founder of Teaching LifeSkills, providing RSE for schools, and co-founder of OUTSPOKEN Sex Ed, a CIC promoting parental engagement in RSE. Yoan is a member of the Sex Education Forum Advisory Group.