Let’s talk about sex: getting comfortable with RSE in the classroom
With new curriculum changes to PHSE and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) coming in 2020, many teachers will find themselves teaching RSE as a regular subject. As you may know by now, RSE is to become mandatory from (the revised date of) September 2020 in England. Now is a great time to get comfortable talking about healthy relationships and safe sex.
We’ve teamed up with sexual health charity, FPA and FPA’s Project and Training Manager with 16 years of experience in sexual health, Mel Gadd, to provide teachers with some advice on how to start this important conversation.
I have been a sex and relationships educator for most of my working life now and the topic is an absolute gift. I love teaching RSE. Every single bit of it is interesting and useful, not just to children and young peoples’ current lives, but for their entire lifetime. Recent evidence also strongly suggests that high quality PHSE learning, including RSE, has a positive impact on wider academic attainment. It’s a no-brainer really as RSE supports effective communication, positive relationships, risk analysis and the promotion of healthy lifestyles, all of which will support young people - especially disadvantaged young people - to engage better with their education.
You can pretty much start wherever you like with a topic as far-reaching as RSE, however the single most important aspect has to be consent. Consent is key. If a young person fully understands what consent means for themselves and others, it lays the foundations for so many other core values such as respect, good communication, self-esteem and resilience. It can mean that they strive to do no harm to other people and, in turn, know how to seek help if they are harmed. I often hear young people say how confusing they think consent is. I have to disagree. Consent is easy. Consent just means that your partner is old enough and has the capacity and enthusiastic willingness to agree to engage in sexual activities with you – and vice versa. We need to equip young people with both the knowledge and tools to recognise what does and does not constitute consent, how to check for it, and how to confidently have conversations around it – including how to say no.
There are many excellent activities and resources you can use to teach consent and other RSE topics. When embarking on the adventure of teaching RSE, it’s a good idea to start with resources, qualifications and lesson plans that have been tried by others. This will give you the chance to gain confidence and knowledge within the topic area before trying more creative activities. Young people have so much to contribute that often RSE lessons practically run themselves. As sex educators we just steer the boat, and young people generally get to the destination under their own steam!
Top tips for successful RSE include:
- Less is more – don’t plan too much into any one lesson
- Get young people involved in their own lesson planning where possible
- Don’t assume that young people will know the ‘basics’ already – even what sex actually is. If they haven’t had RSE already you will need to go over these basics.
- They will giggle. A lot. This is a good sign, if they are laughing, they are enjoying the lesson.
- Always signpost them to where they can get further information or help. There will be at least one person who needs this information.
- Always assume you have someone who is LGBT in your lesson (even if they themselves don’t know it yet) and make sure your lesson is inclusive to them.
- Consider structuring the sessions around a qualification so that their learning is evidenced and so that as the teacher, you have a structure to follow.
Start the conversation in your classroom with resources from FPA or you could choose to deliver the NCFE CACHE Level 1 Award in Sexual Health Awareness and your learners will receive a certificate as proof of their knowledge gained. NCFE also offers a range of PSHE resources which you might find helpful for tutorial time and when delivering this kind of awareness raising qualification.
Mel Gadd is FPA’s project and training manager and has been working in sexual health for 16 years. She delivers needs-led sex and relationships education to vulnerable young people in North Wales. She is also co-author of a sex and relationship workbook and delivers SRE training to other professionals.
The sexual health charity FPA gives straightforward information and support on sexual health, sex and relationships to everyone in the UK. FPA educates, informs and supports people through specialist sexual health programmes and counselling service, websites and publications, training for professionals and public awareness campaigns.