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  • Leah Jewett

Where Outspoken stands on the government consultation on relationships and sex education (RSE)

Updated: Oct 15, 2019



Near midnight on 12 February 2018, the website for the Department for Education (DfE) seemed close to crashing. The deadline was imminent for contributing to the government’s consultation on updating relationships and sex education (RSE) and personal, social, health, economic education (PSHE).

The goal was to update guidelines that have not been revisited for 17 years in order to “make sure pupils are being taught the knowledge they need to thrive in the modern world”.

The call for evidence, entitled Changes to the Teaching of Sex & Relationship Education and PSHE, appealed to parents, children, young people, teachers – to anyone at all – to answer eight questions.

Here are the answers submitted by Outspoken Sex Ed and by Teaching Lifeskills – the educational consultancy run by Outspoken co-founder Yoan Reed…

1) How is your organisation involved with relationships and sex education (RSE) and/or personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE)?

OUTSPOKEN REPLY

Outspoken Sex Ed for Parents is out to empower parents to talk openly with their children about sex-education issues.

Outspoken panel discussions, group discussions and seminars for parents focus on such relationships and sex education (RSE) topics as porn, sexting, consent, pleasure, body image, puberty, unwanted touching, appropriate language and gender stereotyping. These events spark conversation among parents that is the catalyst for them to start an ongoing conversation at home.

Outspoken was co-founded by two professionals with a grounding in RSE: Leah Jewett – formerly of the Guardian/Observer but currently working-group lead on RSE for the Women’s Equality Party – and Yoan Reed, RSE facilitator/educator/consultant, founder of Teaching Lifeskills and author of an MA dissertation from King's College London about parents’ explicit and implicit RSE needs entitled What’s out there for us, putting us in a better position?’ Parental needs for engagement in children’s relationships and sex education.

Encouraging parental engagement around RSE issues is Outspoken’s remit, focus and driving force.

TEACHING LIFESKILLS REPLY

Teaching Lifeskills offers relevant, engaging and effective approaches to RSE based on needs rather than a prescriptive model of teaching.

Using experiential, interactive and age-appropriate teaching methods, we facilitate individuals, groups and educational establishments where there is a need to know more about RSE or how to teach it effectively. Assessment for and of learning is based on continuous evaluation and monitoring through self- and peer assessment.

Teaching Lifeskills offers the following services:

  • RSE Provision and Policy review in consultation with key stakeholders

  • RSE Needs Assessment and Analysis of year groups

  • Development and delivery of scheme of work informed by the above

  • Training and support to staff delivering RSE

  • Evaluation report following completion of a programme or workshop to account for learning in RSE

  • Information sessions to inform parents about schools’ RSE vision and provision

  • Delivery of RSE sessions and workshops

  • Key Stage 1 & 2: Learning about the body and how to stay safe

  • Key Stage 2: Prepare for Puberty

  • Key Stage 3: Puberty, Leavers’ Programme

  • Key stage 3 & 4: Contraception and STIs, Leavers’ Programme

Teaching Lifeskills offers the following parent seminars:

  • Bodies, Staying Safe and Friendships Skills

  • Let’s Talk About Puberty

  • Guiding Teens in a Sexualised World

As the autonomous practitioner who runs Teaching Lifeskills, I consult current educational legislation and best practice. My work is informed by regular CPD and through my partnership with Sex Education Forum (NCB), among other organisations.

2) 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?

OUTSPOKEN REPLY

To combat, early on, the increase of peer-on-peer sexual abuse; to raise awareness around unwanted touching, and to combat the internalisation of gender stereotyping it is vital that primary-school aged children are taught – in gender-neutral, LGBT-inclusive language – about:

  1. PERSONAL SPACE / BOUNDARIES Concepts around bodily autonomy and bodily integrity form the cornerstones for understanding respect and, later on, sexual consent. This is a key safeguarding issue: when taught anatomically correct names for body parts, young children have the vocabulary to accurately articulate anything negative that has happened to them and to understand the differences between safe and unsafe touch

  2. GENDER STEREOTYPING It’s vital for children to question, as early as possible, the narrow, limiting ways that society defines girls/women and boys/men which have damaging emotional/psychological repercussions and societal implications. Children as young as two years old, and by age three and four, have rigid socialised views of what females/males are capable of doing and becoming. This underpins not only their respect and empathy for others but also their self-respect, self-esteem and aspirations/ambitions

  3. BODY IMAGE This issue is affecting younger and younger children and often their self-esteem. They are exposed – via TV shows, films, ads, the media, online activity – to body shaming and negative representations of body types that don’t fit an idealised norm. They are already alert to the constant evaluation, policing and objectification of – predominantly girls’/women’s – physical appearances. It’s vital to embrace physical diversity, including disability, and to lay body-positive groundwork

TEACHING LIFESKILLS REPLY

A spiral curriculum to build on knowledge, skills and behaviour should include:

  1. Learning about diverse relationships and family units to promote tolerance and equality. In line with Equality Act 2010, learning needs to emphasise gender equality, challenge gender stereotyping and be inclusive of LGBT rights and how these may be reflected in family units and in society

  2. Learning about life cycles, including how babies are made, and prepare for the physical and emotional changes in puberty for both genders. This must include learning the correct vocabulary for sexual anatomy. The teaching approach should emphasise gender equality and topics such as masturbation and menstruation need to be addressed for both genders

  3. The above points lend themselves to learning about personal boundaries, unwanted touching, assertiveness and consent, helping to equip children with the language and skills to assert agency and bodily autonomy

Through reflecting on my practice teaching RSE, children who have learned about these basic RSE elements at primary level are much better equipped to move onto secondary school with confidence and skills to keep themselves safe and open to further learning.

Putting learning into the context of a loving and respectful relationship is an important aspect of the delivery.

All three topics are building blocks in a spiral RSE curriculum.

3) 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?

OUTSPOKEN REPLY

To combat the increase of peer-on-peer sexual abuse and unwanted sexual touching in schools and to raise awareness of #MeToo issues, for secondary-school aged children it is crucial that there is discussion – in gender-neutral, LGBT-inclusive language – of:

  1. PORNOGRAPHY Porn is the centrifugal issue around which so many relationships and sex education (RSE) subjects revolve: body image, self-esteem, harmful gender stereotypes, unrealistic expectations of sex, violence, the degradation of women, pleasure and consent. The epidemic accessibility of hardcore mainstream porn has detrimental effects on both girls and boys

  2. CONSENT News stories have driven heated debate around gradations of consent from enthusiastic mutual consent to non-verbal cues. Discussing these nuances unpacks the predatory social construction of sex being sought by men and relinquished by women. Consent is twinned with pleasure

  3. PLEASURE This is at the heart of talking about consent. Though closeness, communicativeness, fun and enjoyment are a natural part of sex, which is a natural part of life, they often go unmentioned in RSE. Culturally and educationally, sex is still seen through the filter of the male gaze and the objectification of the female body. Sex education primarily focuses on male anatomy, wet dreams and male masturbation. Girls’/women’s experiences are characterised by absence. Many anatomical diagrams do not include the clitoris; periods – along with the words vagina and vulva – are still taboo; female desire is rarely discussed. All of this leads to a disconnect in some girls’/women’s understanding of their bodies, their desire, their sexuality, themselves

TEACHING LIFESKILLS REPLY

Building on from learning in primary schools, children should continue the spiral curriculum:

  1. Relationships education to include learning about positive relationships and recognising unhealthy relationships. This includes all kinds of relationships in their lived experiences: physical, emotional and online

  2. Continued learning about the physical and emotional changes in sexual development that are inclusive of topics relating to sexual orientation and sexual identity and gives a positive view of human sexuality including equality, shared responsibility and pleasure

  3. Factual information relating to sexual health and rights and signposting to accessing support and help

4) We are particularly interested in understanding stakeholder views on relationships education and RSE which are specific to the digital context. Are there important aspects of ensuring safe online relationships that would not otherwise be covered in wider relationships education and RSE, or as part of the computing curriculum?

OUTSPOKEN REPLY

To counter the impact of porn and other detrimental online influences, it is vital to inspire children and young people to be questioning, self-policing, active consumers of both media and social media – and to become critical thinkers.

Digital skills already form the basis of the computing curriculum.

Digital life skills should be an integral part of the PSHE curriculum.

But most underlying issues around online safety fall within the remit of relationships and sex education (RSE) and the challenging topics it covers.

Today’s children, the so-called digital natives, are canaries down a very dark mine. They have engaged electronically – often from a young age – with friends and the wider world via the powerful portable computer that is their smartphone.

A focus on both prevention and protection is key, as is education around sharing content – particularly sexual material – online.

On a mental-health level, safeguarding children and young people online includes looking at…

  • digital pressures from within immediate family, school and friendship circles – including social media, sexting, peer-on-peer abuse, cyber-bullying

  • influences from the outside world – including the dangers of online grooming, live streaming, sexting, sextortion, child sexual abuse images CSAI and especially the impact of porn

On a both a physical- and mental-health level, safeguarding children and young people online includes looking at technology in terms of…

  • neuroscience / neuroplasticity

  • its addictiveness

  • its very real effects on sleep and concentration

An emphasis on digital awareness informs the panel discussions and parent-discussion groups run by Outspoken Sex Ed for Parents.

TEACHING LIFESKILLS REPLY

From my teaching experience, in a year 6 classroom, on average more than half of children will respond positively to the question: “Have you come across sex/pornography online, even if you did not look for it?”

Most primary schoolchildren I teach have the need to discuss their online experiences with a trusted adult, but they fear retribution through their inadvertent or curious exposure to inappropriate online content.

Without the opportunity to learn about sexual development from a trusted source, children will seek online information which risks leaving them ill-informed or too scared to discuss their worries.

In the context of RSE, the current format of teaching online safety focuses heavily on risk management of sexting, grooming and pornography without addressing sexual development, reliable sources of information, healthy sexual relationships, gender equality and LGBT rights in the wider RSE context.

5) We are interested in understanding more about how schools communicate with parents on relationships education and RSE and are able to make informed decisions that best meet the needs of their children. This includes a right to withdraw their child from sex education within the RSE subject but not from sex education in the national curriculum for science. 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?

OUTSPOKEN REPLY

Parents are the missing piece in the puzzle of their children’s relationships and sex education (RSE) learning.

Research shows that most parents both support RSE and actively want to talk openly with their children.

Disproportionate weight is given, however, to those who withdraw their children from RSE lessons – the vocal minority.

Parental engagement around RSE subjects shores up children’s confidence, wellbeing and resilience – it’s a source of untapped potential.

But because parents lack the knowledge, skills, language and confidence to talk openly with their children, they need education and encouragement from school in order to reinforce RSE-lesson topics at home.

Best-practice RSE involves ongoing dialogue with parents:

  • Before children begin an RSE programme, the teacher meets with parents

  • The school sends out resources about lesson topics and a timetable of when topics will be covered so parents can initiate conversation at home

  • In a meeting at the end of the programme, parents are shown artwork and other evidence demonstrating changes in the children’s factual knowledge, views and perceptions

Schools should also facilitate parental engagement by…

  • hosting panel discussions with professionals so parents can be part of the debate around difficult topics

  • holding small discussion groups so that parents can practise using awkward words with adult peers, exchange experiences, define their own values by learning from others’ perspectives

These events – such as those run by Outspoken Sex Ed for Parents – spark conversation among parents so they can begin an ongoing conversation at home.

TEACHING LIFESKILLS REPLY

I was recently awarded a distinction for my MA dissertation from King’s College London submission entitled What’s out there for us, putting us in a better position?’ Parental needs for engagement in children’s relationships and sex education.

Through focus-group discussions with parents, the study demonstrates the disjuncture between the afforded parental right to determine children’s RSE and the education parents are able to provide their children.

The key findings of explicit parental needs from the focus groups are:

  • Access to RSE resources

  • Improved home-school communication

  • Organised RSE for parents to understand the concept of holistic RSE and the themes within

  • Guidance and frameworks in the context of children's sexual development

The implicit parental needs from the focus groups are:

  • Exploring gender approach and responsibility

  • Challenging the heteronormative construction of childhood sexuality

  • Challenging the interpretation of religious doctrine on sexuality

The findings, therefore, suggest the explicit needs of parents to engage in children’s RSE, and the implicit need for parent education in the comprehensive nature of RSE that rests in children’s rights.

To address these needs, the study recommends the concerted efforts in politics, policies and practice to develop effective and constructive strategies to engage parents in their RSE role that meets the needs of children.

  • Relationships: RSE, friendships and other relationships, boundaries, respect and tolerance, understanding and appreciating different cultures/values.

  • Careers and economic wellbeing: the value of money, making informed choices.

6) Thinking about PSHE in primary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why?

OUTSPOKEN REPLY

PSHE should be made statutory for all primary school-aged children.

It should be timetabled and taught by effective, competent, trained teachers or facilitated by qualified specialist professionals.

The three most important subject areas that should be taught at primary-school level – always using gender-neutral/LGBT-inclusive language – are:

  1. UPCOMING CHANGES It’s vital to prepare young children in advance for the physical and emotional developments that are around the corner in puberty so they won’t be caught off guard. Topics should include periods, wet dreams, changing bodies and emerging sexuality

  2. MENTAL HEALTH / EMOTIONAL WELLBEING If young children are encouraged to understand their feelings and express emotion, they will strengthen their resilience, feel confident, build up self-esteem and learn to show empathy. They will also be able to identify when they need help coping with difficult or negative feelings. Mental health also has direct correlations with physical wellbeing

  3. IDENTITY / DIFFERENCES Discussing differences among people – along cultural, ideological, physical etc lines – promotes tolerance, diversity, inclusion and respect in young children. This extends to appreciating difference in terms of personality, sexuality, disability, special needs, learning issues etc. It also contributes to forming a strong sense of self, values and viewpoints in contradistinction to other people

TEACHING LIFESKILLS REPLY

The subject of PSHE is very broad and as such the excellent support on the subject from the PSHE Association distinguishes the topics within its Programme of Study as “health and wellbeing”, “relationships” and “living in the wider world”.

These core components of learning in PSHE are interrelated, overlap in content and form part of a broad, spiral curriculum.

It is therefore not possible to identify three important subjects, but rather attach a range of topics to the three overarching areas within a programme of study.

  1. Physical and mental health RSE, staying safe online and offline, healthy eating, mental health, children's rights/human rights

  2. Relationships RSE, friendships and other relationships, boundaries, respect and tolerance, understanding and appreciating different cultures/values

  3. Careers and economic wellbeing the value of money, making informed choices

7) Thinking about PSHE in secondary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why?

OUTSPOKEN REPLY

PSHE should be made statutory for all secondary school-aged young people.

It should be timetabled and taught by effective, competent, trained teachers or facilitated by qualified specialist professionals.

At secondary-school level it is vital to tackle – always using gender-neutral/LGBT-inclusive language – the following issues that affect young people:

  1. HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS It is vital that young people gain confidence in their ability to make and maintain positive relationships, including being in control of and taking responsibility for their sexual behaviour, attitudes and decision-making. Discussion of the qualities Being aware of the qualities that constitute a healthy relationship – such as equality, kindness, supportiveness, trust, respect and empathy – is crucial

  2. GENDER STEREOTYPING With young people there is increasing recognition of the limitations of societal conditioning, sexist and heteronormative representations, gender bias and unconscious bias – and an increased willingness to smash gendered expectations. The goal is to have more girls feel empowered to be into sports and STEM (science technology engineering and maths) subjects and to speak up in class – and for more boys to feel able to express vulnerability and emotion and to show an interest in the so-called caring realms of teaching, nursing and becoming a good parent

  3. MEDIA AWARENESS The importance of young people becoming critical thinkers and active consumers of media and social media – and questioning gender-stereotyped representations – is unavoidable. There is a newfound awareness around how sexually explicit media presents, reinforces and normalises skewed messages around sexual behaviour

TEACHING LIFESKILLS REPLY

Please see the entirety of my reply to the previous question.

All of the points made there are equally valid here.

8) 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?

OUTSPOKEN REPLY

The life skills that children and young people learn at school have a long-lasting reach that extends far beyond the classroom and contributes to their becoming well-rounded people. The goal of both PSHE and RSE programmes is, at base, to support the development of positive mental-health outlooks and emotional wellbeing, confidence and resilience.

There are, however, still tensions between children’s needs versus the parental right to withdraw their children from RSE and the parental ability to opt their children out of PSHE. Children’s manifest need to be exposed – alongside their peers – to the life skills taught in PSHE and RSE should take precedence over their parents’ often fear-based agenda and often-uninformed fears.

Prohibiting children and young people from PSHE and RSE learning amounts to a blow to inclusion, to tolerance, to human rights.

It’s children and young people who are the victims of this tension.

Being sheltered can mean remaining vulnerable, staying in the dark.

Missing out on lessons holds children and young people back from taking indispensable steps towards making positive decisions, developing their identity and sexuality, forming healthy and fulfilling relationships, realising their professional potential and having real agency over their own lives.

No matter what background we come from, we are all of us living together in this accelerated, highly pressurised period of time. As measures that provide children and young people with coping mechanisms and inner strength, PSHE and RSE are the antidote to the contradictory, sometimes damaging culture we all have to confront.

TEACHING LIFESKILLS REPLY

PSHE is relevant to all children’s education, and therefore all children are entitled to accessing learning across the core components of PSHE.

It is important for schools to be able to offer a level of flexibility in their PSHE curriculum in order to respond to and reflect the needs of the children, their families and their community, including faiths and cultural heritage.

It is, however, important that faith or cultural preferences cannot exclude certain aspects of PSHE or RSE:

  • How parents can be empowered to become effective RSE educators who will develop RSE in the family and ultimately benefit children and young people’s development

  • Primarily challenge gender stereotyping and be inclusive of LGBT relationships, consent and respect heteronormative

  • Timetabled and spiral programme

#government #parents #children #youngpeople #relationshipsandsexeducationRSE #education #sexeducation

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