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Trying to Shoehorn a One-Off Lesson about Sex into the Summer Term is Ludicrous – RSE is About So Much More

How exactly can we improve teacher confidence in RSE, and what should we be teaching?

  • Trying to Shoehorn a One-Off Lesson about Sex into the Summer Term is Ludicrous – RSE is About So Much More

Imagine the scene: a class of 30 giggling Y5/6 pupils sat waiting in anticipation for a pale-faced, trembling teacher at the front of the class to press play on the DVD player for the eagerly anticipated sex education programme, which registers somewhere between pornography and weird cartoon ‘birds and bees’ sex.

You desperately hope it is appropriate for your class, but genuinely have no idea.

Yes, it’s that time of year again – the dreaded sex lesson. The one reserved for upper-KS2 teachers. The one which makes KS1 teachers smile smugly in the staffroom and vow never to move to KS2.

That was me, a terrified NQT with no idea of how to teach sex education, no training and no support. It would seem I wasn’t alone.

Having spoken to many colleagues about sex education over the past ten years (sorry, colleagues!) I’m all too aware of the struggles surrounding RSE: the content, resources, school policy, lack of training and, last but not least, parents – including the parent who complained that I would corrupt their child by teaching RSE.

This idea of a solitary one-off lesson shoehorned into the Y6 summer term is ludicrous.

In essence, we teach them about sex, mention the words ‘penis’, ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ for an hour, match the statements to pictures in the step-by-step account of sexual intercourse, but don’t talk about personal choice, the influences of social media, advertising, homosexuality and transgender.

I have come to the conclusion that although great resources are a bonus, it actually all boils down to teacher confidence.

But how exactly can we improve this, and what should we be teaching?

The current statutory guidance for teaching relationships and sex education (RSE) was introduced in 2000, but given that our pupils are experiencing very different issues in 2018, a change to the curriculum was well overdue.

Thankfully, following changes to the Children and Social Work Bill last year by former education secretary Justine Greening, it is hoped that by September 2019, the focus in primary school will be on building healthy relationships and staying safe, with the introduction of compulsory relationship education in primary schools.

Ian Bauckham CBE is currently advising the DfE on the future of RSE and teachers are being given the opportunity to put forward their own views, ready to inform a guidance document planned for summer 2018.

But what do we need to teach to meet the relationship needs of a 21st century learner?

In my opinion, in a world immersed in social media, sexting and a rise in mental health issues, relationship education should encompass a range of relationships – a pupil’s relationship with themselves, with friends, with family, as well as with romantic or sexual partners.

This can include mental health training, mindfulness, anti- bullying, charity work, influences of social media, social media resilience, body image and bereavement, as well as the series of sex education lessons necessary to fully prepare our pupils for real life.

Of course, cramming this dream curriculum into an already ripping-at-the-seams school day may seem impossible, but with a few sneaky tweaks it can be done.

Using The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams as a whole-class reading book, or utilising it during a persuasive argument writing unit, can inspire a relationship education discussion surrounding gender identity.

Using Wonder by RJ Palacio can start a debate about the merits of homeschooling for pupils who look ‘different’.

I’m hoping that with the introduction and raised awareness of relationship education in schools, teachers and support staff will have access to training in order to teach the necessary content with confidence, but I’m not that naive.

Until governors and headteachers realise the importance of relationship education with regard to pupil safety, happiness and progress within the classroom, and provide a CPD budget for staff training, it is, as usual, all down to teachers to research and muddle through.

Universities also have a responsibility to ensure that their teacher trainees begin their NQT year with the necessary subject knowledge and confidence to embed high quality RSE into their own classrooms.

Allowing our pupils to have an opinion, explore their own feelings and share experiences important to them may seem like a hippie notion, but in theory it could help them to develop safer relationships with themselves, their peers, their families and, in the future, their significant others.

Victoria Pugh is an SLE for PSHE and a primary lecturer in PSHE and RSE at Worcester University.

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