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PSHE lessons and the teaching of consent – Teacher preparations and responsibilities

Thalia Wallis and Pete Wallis outline the approach schools should take when broaching the topics of relationships and consent with their students...

  • PSHE lessons and the teaching of consent – Teacher preparations and responsibilities

Every school or other youth setting will have a different arrangement for delivering workshops on consent.

It is important when designing a programme that staff involved are adequately prepared and willing, rather than simply being given the materials and directed to get on with it. If resources allow, workshops on consent are ideally co-facilitated by a male worker and a female worker.

They can be a challenging and potentially exhausting programme to manage. The group may become excitable, or a conversation might trigger a reaction which leads to someone becoming distressed.

Two adults will allow one to follow a child out of the room if they need time out or to manage a disclosure. Having another adult in the room, even if they aren’t involved in delivery, feels supportive and allows for reflection at the end of the session.

Be prepared

Launching into a workshop with a group of young people on sexuality, rape culture or pornography can feel daunting.

Conversations about consent raise delicate issues that can be challenging for us adults as well as for young people, and it is important to consider your knowledge and skills, resilience, resources and support. Ask yourself – am I prepared for this?

Before starting a topic, take time to understand the issues, your professional duties and the resources available. Have a copy of the legal definition of consent available and take time to explore what is known in this area, including in popular culture.

You need to feel comfortable and confident talking about sex and consent, consent and the law, same-sex relationships, healthy and unhealthy relationships, equality, positive sexuality, porn, abuse, sexting, gender identity, etc.

Involve colleagues in your planning and build in sufficient time for preparation, practice and reflection, drawing on them for support. This is not easy stuff to teach, and the material or reactions of the young people may trigger something in you.

Check to see what training is available – for example, through the PSHE Association (in one survey, 80% of parents thought that teachers should receive training in teaching RSE).

Right and wrong

Take account of your own wellbeing, ensuring that you have sufficient personal resources, support and supervision. In the context of your wider team, consider individual and collective responsibilities – who needs to be involved in doing what?

If you are a visitor, liaise in advance with staff who can tell you who are the more confident, louder children and which pupils are quieter and more passive. Aim high. An assembly, lesson or workshop that is relevant, active, creative, inspiring and engages everyone’s interest will be more enjoyable to teach and have a greater impact.

It is important to know, own and take into account your own core beliefs, opinions and values. Where do they come from? You may hold strong views about a particular topic – for example, pornography or gender double standards – and you are in a powerful position as the adult in the room.

However, you’re not there to impose your values on others, and should be cautious about expressing your own views. Your role is to facilitate conversations about consent, helping young people to develop their knowledge, understanding, skills and moral compass.

RSE is all about giving young people a voice, providing factual information and an understanding of consent, and giving them a sense of agency in their lives.

If a safe environment is created and you have a good grasp of the material, you won’t have to make pronouncements about what is right or wrong, or even challenge misconceptions, because the young people will be enabled and empowered to do this for each other.

Many schools and other youth settings are adopting restorative practice, which is an excellent and empowering approach for managing conversations and developing healthy relationships.

Thalia Wallis is a relational psychotherapist and Pete Wallis is a senior practitioner working in youth justice; this article is based on an edited extract of their book, Talking Consent: 16 Workshops on Relationship and Sex Education for Schools and Other Youth Settings (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, £26.99)

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