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Addressing concerns about the up-coming RSHE curriculum requirements.

Andrew Hammond, Senior Director of Learning and Community at Discovery Education (and previous Head Teacher) gives some clear guidance and answers to the worries we have all read about on social media and in the press.

Much of the learning that takes place in school happens incidentally, in the corridors and playgrounds outside the classroom. In these precincts, beyond formal instruction, there is a melting pot of popularity and peer pressure through which every child must swim, and as parents we hope that their character and self-image remain intact.

Here, outside the classroom, hard lessons are learned about relationships every day. This has always been the case, for as long as children are gathered together in large groups, misconceptions and half-truths will always be peddled whether we like it or not.

Jump to: Parents’ concerns and confusion

RSE, RSHE, RHE or Health/Relationships Education - what is correct?

In this article I will mainly be referring to Health Education and Relationships Education (RHE) rather than RSE or RSHE, as the DfE guidelines are for statutory Health Education and Relationships Education in primary schools and that is my focus here. The sex education element in primary teaching is non-statutory. If I am referring to the broader curriculum I will refer to it as RSHE.

Teachers are the cultural architects of their classrooms

A school’s culture – its ethos and values – is the greatest instrument it has to combat the negative side effects of learning and playing in a crowd. Positive behaviours and attitudes can be modelled by the teachers, acting as cultural architects of their classrooms and corridors, promoting those shared values and actively enforcing them when necessary. This is an essential function of a school.

RSHE requirements: a welcome addition?

And now we have another teaching tool with which we can promote equality and help children through the trials of growing up together: the new Relationships, Sex and Health Education Curriculum, statutory in schools from September. This welcome addition to formal teaching and learning provides pupils with the knowledge and skills they need to keep themselves safe, make healthy choices, develop respect for themselves and others, and form positive and healthy relationships.

As encouraging as this sounds, there will still be concerns from parents and carers, who are worried that such a syllabus will introduce new thoughts to children that weren’t there before, forcing them to hear and see content that cannot be unseen or unheard once it is shared.

The headlines that we may have read when the RSHE curriculum was first mooted didn’t help. The idea that five year olds were to be given compulsory lessons in sex education was an exaggeration at best and a pernicious myth at worst. (The sex education element is compulsory only in secondary schools, and in any case, most primary schools have been teaching sex education in Year 6 for many years, in full consultation and partnership with parents and carers).

Some answers to parents’ concerns and confusion

But some concerns remain, sometimes understandable and often due to a lack of the facts. Here are some worries I have heard and read about on social media, with some answers which I hope will help to address them:

1. My child will be taught sexually explicit language and shown pornographic images at far too young an age.

Pupils should have a common language in the formal classroom to describe genitals, not the colloquialisms of the playground or perhaps from home, but the precise, scientific terms, free of embarrassment. This helps to safeguard them as it enables staff to teach about safe and unsafe forms of touching and that certain parts of our body are private. This empowers pupils to explain unambiguously to a trusted adult if someone is touching them inappropriately.

The diagrams used in schools to teach sex education lessons, or lessons about the naming of body parts are never intended to stimulate sexual excitement but rather to teach pupils about their bodies and which parts are private. Real photographs are never used, but rather diagrams and factual terms.

2. My young child is going to be in a lesson where "gay relationships" are being actively promoted.

As with all school provision, RHE lessons must be delivered in line with the requirements of the Equality Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty. Most schools’ values, in line with British values, espouse mutual tolerance and respect, promoting good relations between people of different protected characteristics, including sexual orientation. ‘Families can include, for example, single parent families, LGBT parents, families headed by grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents/carers, amongst other structures.’ (DfE guidance). Removing all stigmatisation of children who come from different home circumstances is vitally important, and this is a key theme within the new curriculum.

3. My young child will be forced to attend sex education lessons in class and there is nothing I can do about that.

The statutory guidance is clear: ‘Parents have the right to request that their child be withdrawn from some or all of sex education delivered as part of the statutory RSHE...Headteachers will automatically grant a request to withdraw a pupil from any sex education delivered in primary schools.

The school’s content and delivery of all parts of the RSHE curriculum is designed to meet the needs of pupils at their age and stage in development. If a pupil is removed from sex education, there is always the risk that they may seek information from elsewhere, perhaps from friends in the playground, and that this advice may be incomplete or even misleading.

4. What is being taught to my child goes against my faith and the faith of my family.

Every school is advised to deliver the RHE content in a balanced and non-judgemental way, and in line with the school’s values, which are likely to include tolerance and mutual respect of other people’s beliefs, reflecting British values. The statutory guidance is clear: ‘The religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching, so that topics are appropriately handled.

5. My child is too young to know about puberty. My son doesn’t need to know about girls’ periods.

The DfE guidance states that teaching about puberty and menstruation should be covered before onset. As some pupils will begin puberty from as young as age seven, this means that puberty and menstruation education needs to start in Year 4, in a way that is age-appropriate.

The statutory guidance requires that: ‘male and female pupils are prepared for changes they and their peers will experience.

In September, when the new curriculum is rolled out in schools, parents and carers will be invited to put their trust in the skill and experience of their children’s teachers and in the quality of the resources which they use to teach these important issues, at the right time and in the right way.

Our new Health and Relationships programme is a comprehensive resource for teaching the new RHE curriculum in primary schools, with accompanying guidance for teachers, parents and carers - in which many of the concerns mentioned above are addressed in full.

As so often is the case in education, as in life, when half-truths lead to potential conflict and a lack of trust, there is nothing more reassuring than sound knowledge of the facts and effective communication.

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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.