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Is your school ready for the statutory curriculum change?

Andrew Hammond, Senior Director of Learning and Community at Discovery Education (and previous Head Teacher) shares his thoughts on the new RSE curriculum for primary schools and introduces Discovery Education Health and Relationships.

In a recent survey conducted by @TeacherTapp, sixty percent of the five thousand teachers surveyed said they felt unprepared for teaching the new RSE Curriculum. As teachers will know, the Department for Education has introduced a new curriculum for Relationship Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education, commonly shortened to RSE. It will be compulsory for all schools to teach this curriculum in September 2020.

Curriculum changes may ignite debate on social media

Acronyms are commonplace in schools (think PSHE, DT or STEM), but the shorthand way of referring to this entire curriculum as ‘RSE’ may be causing anxiety in many parents, and perhaps nervousness in some teachers too, because it implies that if all schools must teacher RSE, then primary children as young as 5 will be taught sex education. Such a prospect may yield attention-grabbing headlines and ignite some lively debates on social media, but the truth is quite different.

The guidance tells us, ‘The Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019, made under sections 34 and 35 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, make Relationships Education compulsory for all pupils receiving primary education and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) compulsory for all pupils receiving secondary education.’

So, the sex education element in this curriculum is to be taught in secondary schools, and parents have a right to request that their child be withdrawn from some or all of the sex education classes delivered as part of this curriculum until three terms before they reach 16.

Primary schools have been teaching sex education for years

There is another important truth that may have been overlooked in recent communications on this subject: primary schools have been teaching sex education for many years already, at various ages and stages. It is worth considering what the term ‘sex education’ actually means and in what context it is being taught.

For example, from as young as five years old, it is important for children to recognise the importance of personal privacy, of respecting others’ personal space, and that we are all custodians of our own bodies and we should look after them and protect them. There are inappropriate ways of touching others which should not be tolerated, and even appropriate and non-threatening physical contact still requires consent from the person being cuddled. Such lessons are being taught every day in Early Years classrooms up and down the land and they build important foundations for subsequent lessons in sex education when the children are ready.

Why it’s important to build confidence and a voice

Teaching the correct names of our external body parts is another important aspect of sex education, appropriate for young children, and it need not be done with stigma or embarrassment. One could argue that from a safeguarding point of view, it is vitally important for young children to know what their body parts are called so that, in the event of they themselves being touched inappropriately by another person, they are able to articulate accurately where they have been touched and able to feel confident that they will not be blamed or shamed. No one wants to introduce fear and worry for young children where it was not previously felt, but it is equally important to build confidence and ‘a voice’ so that all children can lead healthy and safe lives.

Many primary schools teach sex education in Year 5 or Year 6 and have been doing so for some time, in very close partnership with parents. Open communication is key, preferably delivered in face-to-face meetings with parents and carers after school, with accompanying handouts and FAQs that provide the reassurance that content is always matched to children’s levels of maturity.

The importance of guidance in RSE for parents and carers

The guidance that surrounds this subject is as important as the curriculum itself – not only the guidance for teachers, but there must be guidance for parents and carers at home too. Here at Discovery Education, our Health and Relationships programme provides not only a suite of videos and reading materials for the RSE curriculum, it also offers detailed guidance for school leaders and teachers, helping them to get the messaging around this subject right.

Remove stigmatisation from children who come from different home circumstances

It is pleasing to see a focus in the new curriculum on how families of many forms provide a nurturing environment for children. ‘Families can include for example, single parent families, LGBT parents, families headed by grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents/carers, amongst other structures.’ Removing all stigmatisation of children who come from different home circumstances is vitally important, and this is a key theme within the new curriculum.

Few schools would not include tolerance and respect of others’ faiths and beliefs in their core values. Schools already promote equality, of course. Teachers have a duty to explain how some cultures and faiths have different beliefs that deserve respect, and this is encouraged within the new curriculum too.

Kindness, consideration and respect: the universal fundamentals underpinning curriculum changes

There will be awkward moments and perhaps even difficult conversations with anxious parents; we all want what is best for our children, but we may have different views on what that is. But there are some universals: we all want to be treated as we would have others treat us – with kindness, consideration and respect; and we all value our personal privacy, as well as honesty, truthfulness and the seeking and giving of permission. These fundamentals are what the new curriculum is about.

If we focus on the ‘fundamental building blocks and characteristics of positive relationships, with particular reference to friendships, family relationships, and relationships with other children and with adults’, as the new curriculum requires us to do, then we are empowering young people and enabling them to lead healthy and fulfilling lives in adulthood.

Our new Health and Relationships programme provides an all-in-one digital programme that covers the complete set of Relationships and Health Education objectives for pupils in Years 1-6. Written by subject-expert teachers; including a PSHE expert, curriculum advisor, classroom teacher and government policy advisor – to ensure we have the materials to deliver upon the curriculum requirements in a sensitive, age-appropriate way.

The programme includes comprehensive support with communicating the new Health and Relationships requirements to parents - including communication templates and guides explaining the resources within the programme.

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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.