UK Safer Internet Centre Respond to Department for Education Consultation on Relationships Education, RSE and Health Education

09 Nov 2018 UK SIC

The Department for Education’s consultation on Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education has now closed. Looking for views on their draft statutory guidance, as well as some other aspects of how this will be implemented, the Department wanted contributions on how this guidance could be most useful for schools.

As the UK Safer Internet Centre, we welcome the statutory guidance to support schools to deliver Relationships Education, RSE and Health Education. Much has changed since 2000 when the statutory guidance was last updated. The world that young people exist in now is very different, with new technology and online services playing a huge role in this shift. For example, a service such as Facebook, which many young people may consider to be used by ‘older’ people, began in 2004.

We submitted our consultation response which you can read in full.

What does this guidance mean for schools?

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 placed a duty on the Secretary of State for Education to make the new subjects of Relationships Education in primary schools and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in secondary schools compulsory through regulations.

Now this consultation has closed, the Department for Education will assess the consultation responses and hopes to present the final draft guidance in 2019 to parliament. This will then be finalised once the regulations have been passed.

The guidance will provide information on what schools should do and sets out the legal duties with which schools must comply when teaching Relationships Education, RSE and Health Education. Unless otherwise specified, ‘school’ means all schools, whether maintained, non-maintained or independent schools, including academies and free schools, non-maintained special schools, maintained special schools and alternative provision, including pupil referral units.

Why is RSE Important?

As one 17 year old girl said in a Project deSHAME focus group, run by Childnet:

“[We need to learn what] “sexual harassment’ really is – in regard to being online. Everyone gets comments about being ‘hot’ and what would be classed as sexual comments, but no one really knows where the limit is; no one is aware of what classes as harassment – comments, photos – revolving around sexualising bodies. Then once we can identify it, we can then be taught how to deal with it.”

In our consultation response, we stated that it is important that schools are empowered to be able to deliver practical advice and guidance, and are given resources and training to be able to do so.

We want positive language throughout the guidance to encourage schools to look at the opportunities that such an education can deliver.

We also think it may be helpful to include guidance on why effective RSE is important and beneficial for the school community. This could include:

  • Early identification and possible intervention where there is a safeguarding or child protection concern.
  • Young people having healthier, more consensual relationships based on their informed consent and choice.
  • Supported by a majority of parents, strengthening the home-school partnership.
  • Ensuring that young people know about the law and how it applies to them so that they can take responsibility, recognise abuse and seek help if their own, or someone else’s, safety or wellbeing is threatened.

Support for staff to deliver high-quality RSE

Our recommendation was for the Department for Education to include a statement about the importance of school leadership to support teachers to deliver high-quality RSE. Highlighted in South West Grid for Learning’s latest Annual Assessment of School Online Safety Policy and Practice derived from 12,000 schools using 360 degree safe, the capability of staff is consistently one of the weakest aspects of schools’ wider online safety provision. If staff lack confidence in this area, the quality of education will be poor. It is key that all school leadership provides their staff with the space and time to discuss approaches, areas of concern or lack of knowledge.

To further inform our resource development, Childnet carried out a survey of teachers and school leaders to capture their views and good practice for the teaching of online safety within RSE, PSHE and healthy relationships. We had 103 responses, mostly from England, from both primary and secondary schools, and from SLT, Designated Safeguarding Leads, and teachers (including  PSHE/pastoral and computing teachers).

The responses also covered identified areas for improvement, the challenges teachers face when delivering and embedding online safety within RSE and PSHE, confidence levels in teaching particular topics, as well as what support they need. Teaching resources and teacher training, for example, are specifically highlighted as responses that would help, and online pornography was the topic teachers felt least confident teaching.

It’s important that teachers are given practical and easy-to use resources to deliver effective, high quality RSE education.

Involving young people

We are also very keen that the guidance encourages schools to consult and engage with their student body and not just parents. It is essential that schools are aware of the concerns, worries and issues young people are facing. They are also at the forefront of understanding the changes in technology and how this impacts their friendships and relationships. In order to address these issues effectively, their experiences should be taken into account.

A Barnardo’s and YouGov poll last year found that three-quarters of 11-15 year olds believed that they would be safer if they had age-appropriate RSE in school, with 26% saying they didn’t know where to get appropriate information about sex education and healthy relationships.

One 11 year old girl who we spoke to in a Childnet focus group said:

“Puberty kicks in and you start to look for things”

Resources teachers can use now

We have a range of resources that can help you start to incorporate the issues of RSE into education in your school, these include:

  • Safer Internet Day 2019 Education Packs: These packs look at the issues surrounding consent online, tailored for use with young people aged 3-18, with specific guidance to help educators talk about these issues and handle any disclosures made.
  • SID2018 Education Packs: These packs look at the issues surrounding the role of technology in young people’s relationships.
  • Crossing the line PSHE toolkit:  A practical online safety PSHE toolkit with films and lesson plans to explore online issues such as sexting, cyberbullying, peer pressure, and self-esteem, with pupils aged 11-14 years old.
  • So you got naked online: from South West Grid for Learning this resource offers children, young people and parents advice and strategies to support the issues resulting from sexting incidents.
  • Coming soon – Project deSHAME: This project will create practical resources which aim to increase reporting of online sexual harassment among minors and improve multi-sector cooperation in preventing and responding to this behaviour.
  • Coming soon – PSHE Toolkit: Our brand new PSHE toolkit will cover the topics of online pornography, healthy relationships online and body image online.
  • Professionals Online Safety Helpline: This helpline is for those working with children in the UK who have an online safety concern. 

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