Skip Discover Education Main Navigation

Communication, research and planning are key!

No matter how good a school’s RSE provision might be, there is always challenging content that can cause anxieties, even in those teachers who have been delivering it for years.

How can teachers develop confidence in delivering their RSE programmes, especially when the subject touches on such personal and potentially sensitive parts of pupil's lives? Lucy Marcovitch, writer and educator, shares her suggestions:

1. Use others' experience and expertise

Whether you are an NQT or have been teaching for years, somebody out there has done this before you. Start by using the knowledge, expertise and experience that exists within your school: the PSHE lead will probably be your first port of call, but using or adapting a more experienced colleague's planning can give you confidence with a tricky topic. Observe or support a lesson if you can – many schools use a school nurse or RSE consultant to deliver topics such as puberty or sex education, so use their expertise to help guide your own delivery. Joining social media networks and groups where teachers swap ideas and give advice, can also help you to feel more confident in your own abilities.

If possible, attend some high-quality training: this could be whole-school or rolled out to the rest of the staff by the subject lead. As well as benefiting from others' expertise, training can also give the opportunity to share experiences, ideas and planning with teachers from other parts of the country, and set up networks. If nothing else, it can give you the confidence to know that you are already doing the right thing!

2. Be clear about what you are teaching, and why

It is essential that everyone involved in teaching RSE is clear of two things: what is to be taught and when, and the benefits of this to both school and pupils. Ensure you are aware of the content of the guidelines, and are clear of which is statutory and which non-statutory (and therefore from which aspects parents can withdraw their children).

Creating a school policy for RSE including both content and justification for that content (e.g. its importance to safeguarding), will enable you to articulate these to yourselves as professionals, and thus communicate them clearly to parents. A policy provides teachers with confidence in their provision, guidance when uncertain, and support if challenged. Content clarity can also offer a useful response to pupil questions: "That's a great question! You'll look at that when you cover this topic in secondary school."

3. Be well-resourced

Investing in a scheme of work can boost teacher confidence and improve delivery, especially if that scheme includes guidance and training materials as well as lesson plans. As well as providing actual lesson content, it also gives schools a common language, providing a level of expectation for teaching, learning and behaviour for teachers and pupils across all year groups. Use a scheme that works alongside your school's ethos and values, and don't think you have to reinvent the wheel – a good resource can be used and adapted to suit your pupils' needs.

In addition, don't be afraid to supplement a scheme of work with other resources, especially those provided by charities or specialist organisations which focus on specific areas of the curriculum such as mental health (many of which are free). Using your scheme of work to introduce a topic, then additional resources to explore it further, can extend and strengthen both your pupils' and your own understanding.

4. Communicate with colleagues, parents and pupils

As mentioned above, communication is essential in enabling you to articulate and justify your reasons for teaching RSE, both to yourself and colleagues as professionals and to parents. However, it's also really important to inform parents what you are teaching and when, so you can feel confident that everyone is speaking the same language – parents will appreciate being forewarned of some of the words and topics their children will be taught!

Keeping channels of communication open with parents also means that they are more likely to support a school's provision of non-statutory content, and less likely to withdraw their children from those lessons. Often, parents who are considering or request withdrawal of their children from RSE change their minds after discussing content and provision with teachers, thus endorsing their faith and trust in you to give their children that knowledge.

5. Create a safe learning environment

Creating a safe teaching and learning environment enables pupils to discuss and share their ideas and feelings without judgement, and teachers to feel more confident in delivering and managing discussion of sensitive areas. In a nutshell, this means creating an environment for learning where everyone feels relaxed and secure. Establishing ground rules, using 'distancing' techniques and encouraging questioning are all essential, but as awkwardness is often a first hurdle to overcome, being honest and open is the best way to instil confidence.

Being upfront that everyone, including adults, finding the 'S' of RSE awkward and embarrassing, and allowing pupils to have a giggle over particular words or aspects, can help everyone relax and feel more comfortable, and get those words out in the open.

Most teachers prefer to teach the trickier aspects of RSE in the final term when they know their class well and feel confident in their relationships, as well as having more awareness of pupils' home life and background so they can gauge potential sensitivities and vulnerabilities. In year 6, pupils will also appreciate that a teacher considers them mature enough for these conversations, and are more likely to respond well to them, increasing your confidence in handling them.

There will be questions you just can't answer!

Finally, remember that it's ok to not have all the answers – for all the questions that pupils always ask, there will always be new ones that you aren't prepared for. Children now are growing up in all sorts of different family set-ups and will have a myriad of experiences of relationships. Some of these teachers may never have experienced or considered themselves, so there will be questions you just can't answer. In the words of an experienced year 6 teacher who still "dreads it", teaching RSE is always a lot better than you think it will be – "When it comes to it, I end up loving it. It is always good."

Find out more about our new Health and Relationships programme which will assist you in teaching RSE with confidence this September.

Recommended for you...

Confidently deliver the new curriculum requirements 

Discovery Education Health and Relationships covers the statutory requirements for teaching primary Health Education and Relationships Education from September 2020. It contains lessons for teaching all aspects of the guidelines, including the non-statutory aspects. View the programme progression.