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Sex Education Forum response to the 'call for evidence' on RSE
 

The Governmnet 'call for evidence' on RSE consisted of a survey for adults (parents and professionals) and a survey for young people. The closing date was 12th February 2018. Further information about the call and the survey questions are available from the Government website. Our response to the 'call for evidence' is provided below. 

Question 1: Thinking about relationships education in primary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught for different age groups/key stages and why. Please include any considerations or evidence which informed your choices.

By end of primary phase pupils will be:

Relationship with self
- developing sense of identity (physical, social, emotional, moral), as they grow and develop, and able to show respect for the rights of all individuals regardless of their differences. Includes knowing that bodies vary and some parts are private; feeling prepared for the physical & emotional changes during puberty; recognising gender stereotypes and that everyone is unique and equal.

Safety and risk
- able to distinguish between positive and abusive relationships, including online, seek help and keep themselves and others safe. Includes knowing the difference between safe and unsafe touching and that everyone has legally protected ‘body rights’; who to go to for help and advice; having the confidence and vocabulary to report abuse including correct terms for genitalia; knowing the safety rules for social media and internet use.

Relationships with others
- able to value and make different kinds of relationships, recognise that relationships change over time, and able to exercise choice, recognise and give consent, and maintain boundaries in relationships. Includes sharing, helping others, empathising, appreciating that families vary but care-giving is central, knowing different ways to be a good friend, and recognising types of bullying and how to challenge it.

Build on current recommendation (SRE Guidance DfEE 2000) that all primary schools should ensure pupils know about puberty before its onset and how a baby is born.

Evidence:
UNESCO ‘International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education’ 2018,
Ofsted ‘PSHE - Not yet Good enough’ 2013

Question 2: Thinking about relationships and sex education in secondary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught for different age groups/key stages and why. Please include any considerations or evidence which informed your choices.

By the end of the secondary phase pupils will:

Positive relationships
Be confident in their ability to make and maintain positive relationships, both face-to-face and online, able to identify and articulate emotions and manage new or difficult situations positively, value differences between people in terms of their physical characteristics, health, ethnicity, faith, culture and values, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and agree that everyone has the right to respect and equal treatment not abuse or discrimination.

Safety and risk
Feel in control of their sexual behaviour and decisions; able to actively communicate and recognise consent from others, including sexual consent; be able to identify how inequality, including gender and LGBT inequality, can impact on personal and sexual freedom and wellbeing; have a realistic view of their appearance and be critically aware of how sexually explicit media present an unreal picture of sexual behaviour, and how gender stereotypes can normalise violent or non-consensual behaviour.

Sexual health
Be able to take responsibility for their own physical, and emotional sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing, able to weigh up the positive pleasures and attendant risks of a range of sexual behaviours, and use communication, negotiation and assertiveness skills to challenge and prevent behaviours that may limit safe choices or create unwanted sexual pressure; know how and where to access confidential sexual and reproductive health advice and treatment.

Evidence:
UNESCO ‘International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education’ 2018,
Ofsted ‘PSHE - Not yet Good enough’ 2013

Question 3: Are there important aspects of ensuring safe online relationships that would not otherwise be covered in wider Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education, or as part of the computing curriculum? What do we want to say about RSE that is specific to digital context?

The digital environment is relatively new as a:

  • context for relationships to take place
  • tool for publishing images of the human body that have often been manipulated
  • method of advertising products and services
  • means of broadcasting views about gender and other norms, values and beliefs
  • source of information about relationships and sex

It is therefore right that the digital context is reflected in the teaching of RSE, for example in the following ways:

  • Includes opportunities to develop critical thinking skills so that pupils can recognise advertising techniques, stereotypes and their impact, thus empowering children and young people to make independent choices and to challenge limiting and harmful stereotypes
  • Integrates a range of digital contexts within scenarios, examples, case-studies, and resources  used in RSE so that learning is relevant to real-life experiences
  • Helps pupils to differentiate between fact and opinion that they may encounter online and clearly signposts sources of reliable help and services, including sexual health services
  • Teaches pupil about their rights and responsibilities online including legal facts

It is vital that teaching relevant to relationships and sex is provided by educators trained in RSE and PSHE, and it is not appropriate for much of the above to be addressed in computing. In order for statutory RSE to have full impact and effectiveness it is essential that PSHE is made statutory too. In PSHE wider issues such as media literacy, identity, privacy and the impact of time spent online on other aspects of life would be covered.

Question 4: How should schools effectively consult parents so they can make informed decisions that meet the needs of their child, including on the right to withdraw? For example, how often, on what issues and by what means?

Young people prioritise school as their preferred main source of information about relationships and sex, but want their parents to take a greater role than they currently do (Tanton, 2015).

7 out of 10 parents would welcome help and support from their child's school about how they can talk to their child about growing up and related issues (Independent poll of 1000 parents commissioned by SEF, 2014).

School-home communication about RSE should start early and be continuous so that parents can anticipate topics covered at school and make their own timely input or follow up at home. RSE homework can support parent-child communication about relationships and sex.

In practice very few parents withdraw from RSE, schools usually put this down to effective communication and myth-busting about what RSE really involves, and the planned approach to their RSE programme, delivered by competent staff. 80% of parents think RSE teachers should be trained to teach it (SEF, 2014).

The outcomes of relationships education in primary make an essential contribution to prevention and a school’s duty to safeguard.  Parents must not be given the right to opt their children out of these topics, whether or not it involves information about sex.
Schools must feel empowered to provide evidence-based good practice RSE which meets the needs of pupils with the support of the majority of parents.

Nationally produced communication materials for parents, that explain what RSE is, what they can expect from school provision and how they can help at home would be useful. 


Question 5. Thinking about PSHE in primary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why? Please include your reasons for choosing each subject area or evidence to support your suggestions.


Relationships and sex education is an essential component of PSHE, and should be an identifiable part of planned, timetabled PSHE education. PSHE must be made statutory.  RSE is best delivered as part of a wider curriculum promoting health, resilience, confidence, respect, and personal safety, both online and offline. It also mitigates the risk that relationships education and RSE will be delivered by some schools purely through ‘drop-down’ or off-timetable days, which Ofsted has highlighted as problematic.

Updated guidance needs to be clear and bold about the requirement for timetabling of PSHE. There are some variations on models that are used which ensure adequate timetabling and these could be illustrated in the guidance.

The impact and effectiveness of statutory RSE and PSHE also depends heavily on the competence of teachers. Government must commit a quantifiable resource to training so that every primary and secondary school in England can access basic training in good practice RSE and PSHE. There is ample evidence to support this including from the Education Select Committee report (2015) and from Ofsted (2013). Models for development of specialist PSHE teams can be illustrated in guidance. A viable career pathway for specialist PSHE teachers will be best supported by both RSE and PSHE being statutory.

Updated guidance also needs to support a whole-school approach to RSE and PSHE, setting out the requirement that all school staff are involved in relevant training and information.

Question 6. Thinking about PSHE in secondary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why? Please also include your reasons for choosing each subject or evidence to support your suggestions.

Relationships and sex education is an essential component of PSHE, and should be an identifiable part of planned, timetabled PSHE education. PSHE must be made statutory.  RSE is best delivered as part of a wider curriculum promoting health, resilience, confidence, respect, and personal safety, both online and offline. It also mitigates the risk that relationships education and RSE will be delivered by some schools purely through ‘drop-down’ or off-timetable days, which Ofsted has highlighted as problematic.

Updated guidance needs to be clear and bold about the requirement for timetabling of PSHE. There are some variations on models that are used which ensure adequate timetabling and these could be illustrated in the guidance.

The impact and effectiveness of statutory RSE and PSHE also depends heavily on the competence of teachers. Government must commit a quantifiable resource to training so that every primary and secondary school in England can access basic training in good practice RSE and PSHE. There is ample evidence to support this including from the Education Select Committee report (2015) and from Ofsted (2013). Models for development of specialist PSHE teams can be illustrated in guidance. A viable career pathway for specialist PSHE teachers will be best supported by both RSE and PSHE being statutory.

Updated guidance also needs to support a whole-school approach to RSE and PSHE, setting out the requirement that all school staff are involved in relevant training and information.


Question 7: How much flexibility do you think schools should have to meet the needs of individual pupils and to reflect the diversity of local communities and wider society in the content of PSHE lessons in schools?

All children and young people have an entitlement to a comprehensive programme of RSE, as set out by UNESCO (2018), and is highlighted by the United Nations (2016) as a shortcoming in the current education system in England.

Guidance and regulations must make clear it is not appropriate for schools to exclude particular topics or information because of the faith of parents or religious status of the school. Instead, teaching should be responsive to the lived experiences of pupils, and so can reflect the religious and cultural background of pupils, for example in the choices of resources and tailoring the curriculum to meet pupil needs. The difference between fact and opinion must always be made clear to pupils and information about the law and legal rights included throughout RSE.  

RSE must meet the needs of all pupils with their diverse experiences - including those with special educational needs and disabilities. Schools must not discriminate against individual pupils. Investment in training and competent educators is essential to ensure inclusive RSE practice which fosters LGBT and gender equality and avoids making assumptions, e.g. in relation to intersex, HIV or pregnancy status of pupils.

Schools must make adaptations to meet the needs of individual pupils, e.g. making the curriculum accessible for pupils with disabilities and special educational needs, supported by a whole school approach to pupil wellbeing.

The updated RSE guidance should reference the Equality Act 2010 and Public Sector Equality Duty explaining how good quality RSE contributes to schools compliance with these.

 

Sources of evidence / references

House of Commons Education Committee (2015) Life lessons, PSHE and SRE in schools 
Ofsted (2013) Not yet good enough; PSHE education in schools  
Sex Education Forum (2014) Independent poll of 1000 parents  
Sex Education Forum (2015) SRE the evidence 
Tanton, C et al (2015) Patterns and trends in sources of information about sex among young people in Britain: evidence from three National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, BMJ Open; 5:e007834 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015- 007834
UNESCO (2018) International technical guidance on sexuality education; an evidence-informed approach (Revised edition) 
United Nations (2016) UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland /

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Teaching unions have sent a clear message that when relationships and sex education (RSE) becomes a statutory part of all schools’ teaching in 2019, it must be based on facts rather than opinions, delivered by properly trained staff and meet the needs of all pupils.

The unions, including the National Education Union, NAHT, Voice and others, have endorsed a set of 12 guiding principles created by the Sex Education Forum to guide teachers and policymakers as the Government consultation on RSE draws to a close.

The principles require that RSE gives a positive view of human sexuality, delivered by properly trained staff, working in partnership with parents. The subject must present reliable, medically-correct information relevant to all pupils, including those with disabilities, special educational needs and must foster LGBT+ equality and gender equality.


Lucy Emmerson, Coordinator of the Sex Education Forum said:

‘We only have a relatively short time to prepare for statutory RSE. These principles are based on research evidence and explain clearly what schools need to do to offer high-quality RSE.

‘We hope that Government pays careful attention to the evidence as it considers what schools will be required to teach. Learning about a wide range of topics, from puberty to consent, is something that every child is entitled to, and the new guidance is an opportunity to spell this out.’


Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union said:

‘High quality, inclusive RSE is an essential safeguarding tool that can help students stay safe. RSE can only be effective if the content is reflective of and relevant to all students. For it to be high quality it must be LGBT+ inclusive, accessible to all learners and respond to students’ needs.

‘Education professionals must feel confident and equipped to deliver the curriculum. Statutory guidance must be accompanied by a comprehensive and well-funded package of support for schools. This includes ensuring staff have access to the relevant professional development as well as a range of high quality resources. Crucially, RSE must be given space in the curriculum and must not be crowded out by a testing and target culture driven by the high stakes accountability system. The Government must work closely with the profession to seriously address these concerns if the RSE reform is to be a success.’


Deborah Lawson, General Secretary of Voice, said:

‘We welcome the 12 Principles for bringing relevance, clarity and value to RSE.

‘Education should prepare children for adult life, and RSE is a fundamental part of a healthy journey to becoming an adult.

‘High-profile issues such as mental health, body image and identity are all interconnected. Much of the associated uncertainty and angst happens in adolescence, or even before, and many life choices are made during this period of development. Sound RSE should support young people with the process of making those choices.

‘These Principles place RSE in the wider context of children’s spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development.’
 

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said:

‘It’s so important for all pupils in all schools to be taught about appropriate relationships and for that teaching to be effective. So we endorse this set of 12 principles as they provide a clear aspiration for schools and government on what makes high quality RSE. Schools will need support to achieve these. The government must be prepared to invest in what is needed for the potentially positive impact of RSE to be a reality for pupils. Funding must be made available for training and quality assured resources to support teaching and learning must be made accessible and available to all schools.’

 

The Department for Education (DfE) is considering how to update the existing Sex and Relationship Education guidance which, was last updated in 2000, and is therefore now out of date. The updated guidance will support schools in delivering the new subjects of Relationships Education at primary and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) at secondary, as well as, potentially, Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE).  

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I’m delighted to be here this evening to celebrate the Sex Education Forum’s 30th birthday.  As an old campaigner, in more senses than one, it’s lovely to see many former colleagues I’ve worked with over the years but also wonderful to meet so many new people who are carrying on the fight we started all those years ago. 

I know you all feel as passionately I do that all children and young people are entitled to learn about sex and relationships at school.  It was that passion that led me to set up the Sex Education Forum in 1987 and I would like to tell you about how it all started.

In May 1986 I began working at the National Children’s Bureau as Company Secretary and Director of Finance and Administration.  Shortly afterwards, a copy of Jenny lives with Eric and Martin, probably the first children's book in English to discuss homosexuality, was discovered in a school library in London.  Hysterical outbursts in the press against school sex education and teaching about homosexuality followed and led to legislation that year to restrict school sex education and later in 1988 to the infamous Section 28.

Horrified by the 1986 furore, I was deeply concerned that FPA and Brook were the only voices of reason heard in the debate.  They were often dismissed with ‘well they would say that wouldn’t they’.   But I knew they were not lone voices. So I decided to explore setting up a broad alliance of organisations to support children’s right to sex education in schools.  I spoke to Alastair Service who was the Director of FPA who told me he had had the same idea but agreed it would be much better for such a body it to be based at the National Children’s Bureau.

My list of organisations to invite to a meeting to discuss this idea comprised Relate, SPOD, an organisation campaigning for the sexual health rights of people with disabilities, Health Education Authority, Family Planning Association and Brook, plus NCB of course.  One of my NCB colleagues recommended that I also ask the Church of England Marriage Education Panel and the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (Marriage Care).  With some trepidation because I had no idea what it would be like to work with them, I followed her advice.  At the beginning of the first meeting in November 1986, there was definitely some tension in the air and the discussion began cautiously.   And then Margaret Vincent from Marriage Care said that she used some of Brook’s publications and thought them excellent.  You could almost hear the sigh of relief that went round the room as everybody relaxed and a positive trusting relationship began to develop. 

Over the next year the eight of us worked together to produce the first statement of aims for the Sex Education Forum, to arrange the Forum’s public launch and to organise a conference for professionals who taught sex education in schools. 

We definitely weren’t just the usual suspects promoting sex education.

For me it was always important that we weren’t just eight individuals sitting in a room together but eight organisations that were fully committed to what we were doing.  Therefore, it was integral to our work that all our organisations adopted the Statement of Aims, which they did.

In November 1987 the Sex Education Forum was launched with these eight members including the two religious organisations.  We definitely weren’t just the usual suspects promoting sex education.  Nonetheless journalists were sceptical that we could agree about much, and certainly not about teaching about topics such as homosexuality and abortion.  How wrong they were.

Teachers responded enthusiastically.  The launch conference was a sell-out and everybody who had booked a place came on the day, a rare occurrence in my experience.  Participants talked movingly about their feelings of isolation and frustration at the lack of support for their work.  By the end of the day, it was clear that this new body was sorely needed and that it must both influence public policy and provide practical advice and resources for professionals.

In the days after the conference I received many requests for advice and support but I already had a busy job and also lacked the knowledge and skills to respond.  As a first step though I asked the NCB’s information service to put together a list of resources available to teachers, which sold like hot cakes.

But what we really needed was a dedicated member of staff with the appropriate skills to take the Forum forward.  With help from Doreen Massey at FPA, I applied to the Department of Education for a grant.  Civil servants were very keen to help but time went by and I kept phoning but nothing happened. 

Then one day I got a phone call to say that the Conservative Minister responsible, for Sex Education, Alan Howarth, wanted to see me.  I was astonished. I had never been summoned by a Conservative Minister before. I decided I needed backup.   So I asked Dilys Went from Brook and Margaret Vincent from Marriage Care to accompany me to bring gravitas and respectability to promote our cause.   Alan Howarth had been a teacher and was very sympathetic and the meeting went well.  We left feeling hopeful about the outcome.  We soon received confirmation of the grant.  

I learnt a long time afterwards, though, that our funding was discussed by the whole ministerial team before it was agreed.

Thus in the summer of 1990 with our funding from the Department of Education and work could really begin. We advertised for a Development Officer. There were only six applicants for the job but five of them were excellent candidates.  From them we appointed the wonderful Rachel Thomson, who is now a Professor at the University of Sussex.  Her first action was to initiate a study of secondary school sex education policies.  She discovered that schools had a very hazy concept of what such policy should look like.  As a result, she developed the Forum’s next very popular publication: Developing and Reviewing a Sex Education Policy. 

Back in 1987, I could have never imagined the SEF as the large and influential body it is today

Many teachers were concerned that they knew little about the attitudes to sex education of the families of many of the children in their classes.  Rachel responded to this need through a project which asked individuals from different religious backgrounds to answer a series of questions including their attitude to marriage, sex and contraception.  Included in this group, was an FPA trainer who had always considered her training to be ‘value free’ and who found the exercise very challenging.  The resulting publication was also widely used. 

Rachel was also a great campaigner and builder of alliances. Together we expanded the membership of the Forum and established it as a powerful voice for Sex and Relationships education in Parliament and with the media. And when she decided to become an academic, Gill Frances took over and further strengthened the Forum and its impact.  And since then the Forum has continued to be successful in attracting brilliant staff and has had great leadership from its chairs, mostly recently Jane Lees, and the Advisory Group members. 

Back in 1987, I could have never imagined the SEF as the large and influential body it is today. It has achieved so much in improving the provision of sex and relationship education and support for teachers and other professionals providing it.

And now as we celebrate the Sex Education Forum’s 30th birthday, we are at the beginning of a new era with statutory relationship and sex education soon to be compulsory in all schools in England.  A goal we have long fought for.  But we have yet to see the guidance, parents still have the right to withdraw their children from sex education and sadly, the forces of darkness and ignorance are still doing all they can to deny children and young people the education they are entitled to and that they desperately want. 

So the Sex Education Forum and the work you all do is as necessary today as it was in 1987.  I know you will keep up the fight and look forward to celebrating your future achievements with you.

 

Anne Weyman

President, Sex Education Forum

15 November 2017

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The Local Government Association (LGA), RSE Hub, Public Health England and Sex Education Forum have produced an updated briefing for local authorities on the role councillors can play in supporting RSE (February 2018). 

The briefing aims to support the transition stage to statutory status for RSE in September 2019. It supports leaders in local councils to better understand the importance of quality RSE in the context of contributing to the safeguarding, sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing of children and young people and to take proactive steps to influence good quality local provision.

Councillor Izzi Seccombe OBE, Chair of the LGA Community Wellbeing Board said:

"It is vital that local authorities work with all schools in their area to influence and commission consistent good quality RSE as part of their responsibilities to improve public health outcomes for children, young people and families".

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Relationships and Sex Education will be statutory in all secondary schools from September 2019. This course is the first step in planning for an effective, compliant and inclusive programme in your school.

This course is for PSHE leads, teaching staff and members of the senior leadership team. Participants will work individually and in groups to explore the implications of statutory status and identify realistic, achievable goals for their school. The session will be interactive, with opportunities to trial resources and learn from colleagues. This course is supported by a suite of tools and resources.

Participants will be able to:

  • Review and update existing provision in line with new legislation
  • Brief colleagues on new legislation, guidance and Ofsted requirements, including safeguarding
  • Identify good practice and understand how to assess, monitor and evaluate teaching and learning
  • Facilitate consultation with staff, pupils and parents
  • Apply a range of resources and approaches to ensure Relationships Education is inclusive and needs-led

What participants say:

“Excellent training - very engaging, thought provoking and fun, from a very competent, knowledgeable trainer”

“Everything was practical and relaxed with plenty of hands-on activities and the chances to share expertise were great”

“It has opened my eyes to the importance of having a holistic, whole school approach”

“I have improved knowledge and now need to inform all my staff about statutory SRE!”

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