After 18 years of waiting the new draft guidance for RSE is here… but was it worth the wait?

Thursday 19th July finally saw the release of the draft guidance and the opening of a 12 week consultation.36808125_307704133106228_8560364571095728128_n

The introduction by Damian Hinds begins… 

“Today’s children and young people are growing up in an increasingly complex world and living their lives seamlessly on and offline. This presents many positive and exciting opportunities, but also challenges and risks.” 

It would lead you believe that the guidance would be much less risk focused and actually highlight some of the very positive influences that new technologies have had on young people and their sexual relationships – as was highlighted in Brooks new research publication this week: “Digital Romance”digitalromance_aa4e6a90ba043d42f9b5d8a8b7cee576. However, when you review the learning objective for both primary and secondary, disappointingly there is no specific mention of the positive aspects of the internet or mobile technology or how it can help keep young people safe, help them to negotiate sexual boundaries, provide a new platform for difficult conversations or provide needed lifelines to vulnerable children who can seek help anonymously.

Indeed, there is still a massive lack of ‘sex positive’  messages in the new guidance – perhaps that was too much to hope for, despite the growing evidence of the benefits of a positive rather than a risk centred approach to RSE, and the calls by young people for information about pleasure and enjoying sex. The worry being that if we are not the ones to talk to young people about how to make sex a positive experience that is pleasurable for both parties – then they will continue to seek information from other sources, including online pornography as to how to have pleasurable sex. 

Indeed, the guidance seems to be a mix of very positive messages and evidence based practice, that is simply not supported by the compulsory aspects of the curriculum. Instead it is left up to schools to decide what is age appropriate and is relevant to their pupils.

This is no more apparent than in the policy decision to remove the ‘sex’ from RSE in primary. The guidance states:

The Department continues to recommend therefore that all primary schools should have a sex education programme tailored to the age and the physical and emotional maturity of the pupils […] Meeting these objectives will require a graduated, age-appropriate programme of sex education“

So despite the fact that the department recognises the importance of the inclusion of Sex education in primary – they are still not prepared to make it a compulsory part of the curriculum.

Indeed, there does feel like there is much in the guidance that is designed to appease those who fear we might take away children’s innocence if we answer their questions. Rather than making the argument for the evidence base, that shows by introducing these topics earlier, removes the stigma and awkwardness of discussing sex, making it instead just another topic of conversation – plus enables children to grow-up safer and in more positive relationships. There is a massive difference between innocence and ignorance.

Instead they are leaving these conversations up to schools to have with parents without any official support behind them from the guidance.

Indeed, this contradiction continues into the secondary programme as again the Relationship education remains compulsory, and yet parents retain the right to opt their teens out of the ‘sex’ part of the programme. How this will work in practice as the guidance states:

“Schools should develop programmes of teaching which prioritise effective delivery of the content, and do not need artificially to separate sex education and Relationships Education.”

So, practically how will this work? Will some children have to continually leave the classroom as discussion naturally move from relationships to sex and back and forth in this integrated subject? It is baffling. Especially in light of the fact that earlier this year it was officially recognised as a basic human right that children should have access to RSE as it is evidenced to keep them safe, regardless of their parent’s wishes. 

This has been partially recognised as children will be able to overrule their parents request to be removed but only after:

“three terms before the child turns 16. After that point, if the child wishes to receive sex education rather than be withdrawn, the school should make arrangements to provide the child with sex education during one of those terms.” 

Again, this seems to conflict with the earlier recognition that sex education is best delivered incrementally, building on previous messages year by year, which was stated earlier in the guidance…

There is much emphasis still on religious beliefs and protections there of. And despite the fact that it states at a number of points that RSE needs to be inclusive of LGBT issues and young people – these are often omitted in place for religious protections. For example: 

In all schools, when teaching these subjects, the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching, so that sensitive topics that need to be taught are appropriately handled. Schools must ensure they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act (2010), under which religion or beliefs are protected characteristics. 

Gender and sexuality are also protected characteristics under the Equalities Act, and none are hierarchical in value, out scoring each other. How will this work in religious schools, whose values contradict with the law around LGBT marriage, relationships, gender identity, not to mention view around abortion and contraception. There is no support for schools as to how to manage this conundrum – other than to state that all schools need to make children aware of the law of the land…

Indeed, it is worrying that in appendix the only curriculum highlighted as good practice comes from Catholic Education – which instead highlights the role of God instead of including the words, consent, abortion, contraception, or same sex relationships.

Indeed, it is further worrying the continued emphasis on marriage – especially when this might not reflect young peoples families or their own life choices. There still seems to be the belief that a marriage provides a safer environment for children or for sex. This is not the case. Whilst abuse is mentioned in relationships, there still remains the emphasis on marriage regardless of how healthy the relationships may be.

In many regards the guidance is inclusive of LGBT and states that this should not be done in a one off lesson but should instead “that it is integral throughout the programmes of study”. Equally, the guidance seems to be inclusive of children in care or with alternative family structures, as the guidance states:

Families of many forms provide a nurturing environment for children. Care needs to be taken to ensure that there is no stigmatisation of children based on their home circumstances and needs, to reflect sensitively that some children may have a different structure of support around them, e.g. looked after children or young carers. 

This is a very positive move and yet again seems to contradict the aforementioned emphasis on Christian Marriage.

When it comes to the content of the Relationship Education in Primary, much of the content is very positive and include discussion around positive relationships, different types of families; importantly a really emphasis on emotional literacy and emotion health – which is very welcomed. There is also the inclusion of teaching consent and body autonomy. 

“that each person’s body belongs to them, and the differences between appropriate and inappropriate or unsafe physical, and other, contact.”

However, again there seems to be this reticence to specifically use the word consent which is omitted – even though this is clearly what we are talking about.

Equally, despite the fact that in Maintained schools they are required to teach the national curriculum for science. At key stages 1 and 2 this includes teaching about the main external body parts, there is still no mention of teaching children the correct names for their private parts under staying safe – despite the evidence that it helps to prevent sexual abuse and aids the disclosure of abuse. Indeed, we would like to see this included with the specific naming of vulva for girls (not vagina) to ensure we are giving children the correct names and not reducing female sexuality to merely reproduction which has been case for so long – which is the good practice we have here in Warwickshire.

When it comes to the Secondary guidance for RSE, much of the content is quite positive and certainly a step in the right direction. There is much emphasis on healthy relationships – in terms of both friendships and personal relationships, including same-sex relationships.

There seems to be a disproportionate reliance on the legal frameworks in regards to sex,  rather than exploring attitudes to sex. However, it will be interesting to see how this can be done when the law contradicts religious doctrines, especially regarding young people’s rights as stated in the guidance.

There is specific mention and inclusion of FGM in secondary programme, however this is omitted in the primary section – which is concerning as we know that many young girls that do experience FGM, do so during the transition between primary and secondary, in their prepubescent years. This should be included in both the primary and secondary curriculum. 

There is a similar state of affairs when it comes to menstruation, with much of the important emphasis on supporting young girls in high school, with little regard to those girls that might start early in primary school.

The onset of menstruation can be confusing or even alarming for girls if they are not prepared. As with education about puberty, programmes should include understanding of and preparation for menstruation, for all pupils. Schools should also make adequate and sensitive arrangements to help girls manage menstruation and with requests for sanitary protection.

On this point we would like to see a specific policy being required for school to sensitively manage young women’s menstruation – especially those who might be from poor or vulnerable families. Indeed, many schools lock toilets during lesson times, in an effort to manage behaviour, with little thought of how this may make it particularly difficult for young girls to change sanitary products if they need to during lessons.

As mentioned previously, there is no mention of pleasure in any aspect of the guidance or exploring attitudes or sexual values. There is no mention of preparing young people for a sexual relationship, including discussion of other types of sexual contact other than ‘reproductive sex’. Much of the focus on sex is again through the lens of risk rather than empowerment. Equally, there is again an omission of the positive aspects of the internet or social media to young peoples relationships or seeking help.

There is inclusion of discussion around pornography, even if it is implied rather stated specifically:

“sexually explicit material often presents a distorted picture of sexual behaviours, can damage the way people see themselves in relation to others and negatively affect how they behave towards sexual partners.”

However, it would be helpful if this widened to include discussion about the media as whole, such as reality TV shows such as Geordie Shore, Love Island and TOWIE, magazines such as HEAT magazine and the general press that promotes negative body images, fat and slut shaming and generally poor attitudes. It is easy to target pornography as the problem, however we are missing a trick if we do not talk about the media as a whole in shaping our attitudes to sex and relationships. 

Positively, there is a huge emphasis on young people’s emotional health and wellbeing. Encouraging young people to develop skill around emotional literacy and a positive body image. To explore how their emotional state might affect their behaviours and when to recognise that friends might need help and support. Much of this content is very welcome and we are pleased to see it included.

It is important that the guidance recognises that RSE should not be delivered in a tokenistic fashion, and instead require a whole school approach, where wider policies and practices reinforce the messages around inclusion, safeguarding, behaviour and respect for others. 

Whilst the guidance feels like a step in the right direction – it does ultimately feel a little safe by the Department of Education. I think many schools will feel vulnerable, trapped between knowing what they should do and what they feel supported to do. Many will feel isolated in dealing with difficult parents or religious groups. Many of the policies, are designed to appease more skeptical groups rather than following the evidence.

But it is definitely a start….

If you would like to read the guidance in full and have your say on the consultation… click here….

All About Me - Primary · Resources

Spring Fever, our primary school programme is set for a big change as it becomes All About Me…

You may be aware that we have been supporting schools to deliver the Spring Fever programme across the county for over 5 years and it has been well received by schools, parents, and most importantly the children. All about me

In September we are set to have over 100 schools running the programme across all year groups from reception to year 6. However, any programme that has been running for a length of time needs a spring clean… 

We are pleased to announce we have just updated the entire programme, which will be available for all existing schools to deliver from September.

The most obvious change will be the name.  We will be dropping the confusing title of Spring Fever and replacing it with All About Me.the gang

The new programme will still be based on the same ethos and evidence that supported the old Spring Fever material; however, we have the opportunity to incorporating much of the learning and evidence we have accumulated over the last five years.

Indeed, we have tied in much stronger links and reinforcement of the Key Messages from Warwickshire’s Protective Behaviours – Taking Care Programme and the NSPCC Pants rules.

The most exciting development will be a website especially designed to support parents and carers. Here they will find information about the programme, including information on every lesson delivered, samples of resources, as well as a section of FAQ to offer advice and to help answer their children’s questions, plus a list of helpful books.

Despite the fact the programme is a relationships and sex education programme, there is still very little ‘sex’ in the programme – and these lessons are surrounded by information around healthy relationships, self-esteem and emotional literacy. Indeed, one key change we have made is that all the lessons are pupil led, ensuring that children are only told the information they are ready for.

Finally, we know that by giving children this information, building on simple messages, year after year we can ensure that children grow up safe, with healthy relationships, better able to manage their emotions and most importantly to ask for help when they feel they need it.

To find out more click here

Youth conference

(Anti)Social Media? Youth Conference

Thank you to all of the schools that took part in this years Youth Conference (Anti)Social Media – especially all of the young people that threw themselves into the day whole heartedly. Hopefully you have received a feed back form asking you to let us know what you thought of the day – especially how we can make it better for next year.

However, I know a few schools have contacted us looking for this film clip showed at the event – so here it is….

Guidance · Uncategorized

It’s not only Banter Sexual Harassment in schools…

Following on from the review by the Women’s and Equality Committee, the Department for Education published guidance on best practice to help schools address the issue of sexual harassment.

The report highlight the fact that Schools still have a duty to act even if incidents happen outside school are reported. And that most importantly school sites should be safe and equal places for all genders.

The new advice stresses that educational establishments should be making it clear to all pupils that sexual touching such as groping and harassment should never be tolerated and are not to be expected as merely an inevitable part of growing up.

Importantly the advice also highlights the fact that often those who perpetrate inappropriate sexual behaviours need support too and may be victims of abuse and trauma themselves.

The guidance further highlights the potential impact of social media in facilitating the spread of rumours and furthering the harassment of the victim or of dangers of identifying victims and perpetrators when allegations are made.

The Government expresses the need for a ‘whole school approach’ to help change the culture in school…

To read the guidance click here…Sexual_Harassment_and_Sexual_Violence_-_Advice

However, we have known for sometime of the issues – which is why last year’s Youth Conference   “One Thing Always Leads to Another” was focused on the topic of sexual harassment in schools… as part of the conference we asked young people how they thought schools could be made safer places for everyone. All the ideas and contributions from the day have contributed  to the design of a new Sexual Equality Charter that will be launched at 2018s Youth Conference… which incidentally will focus on Social media…

We seem to be right on the money with our picks of relevant topics for young people!



New Training Dates…

We have booked some new dates for professional training… the last two courses have been fully booked so reserve your place quickly…

 Foundation: Talking to Young people about Relationships & Sex 

  • Thursday 9th January: Bulkington Village Community Centre

Talking to young people about sex and their relationships can be daunting – what do you say? Can you answer their questions honestly? How much is too much? Where do you draw the line…?

The truth is if you work with young people, the chances are you will have to engage them in conversations about sex and relationships – whether it is unpicking their attitudes to sex, their partners or sign posting them to access support or contraception.  Regardless if you like it or not it is inevitable. If they value you as a worker they will talk to you and ask you questions – whether you think you are the right person or not!

The foundation training is designed to give professionals who work young people a good understanding of RSE and their role in delivering quality sex positive interventions.

to find out more click here…

It’s Only Banter: exploring Issues of Peer to Peer Exploitation

  • Monday 19th February:  Pound lane Leamington

We are starting to understand that there is far more to comprehensive sex education than merely condom demos and a warning about STIs. Stories around consent, incidents of slut shaming and examples of rape culture are a permanent feature of social media and the tabloid press – but are they an issue or merely banter?

How do you balance flirting and innocent behaviours from sexual harassment and abuse? Where is the line and is there any grey areas when it comes to consent?

To find out more click here…

To book on to any of these courses or if you have any questions please contact Public Health admin:

Ethics/Attitudes · Resources

What are your Sexual Values…?

A few months ago I read a fantastic article by the wonderful Cindy Gallop  – it was part of a larger piece asking a variety of experts in their fields, what essential life lessons were missing from young people’s education, and what did they wish they had been taught in school.  Her answer was something that I had never really considered before – despite what I spend my days discussing…

“Young people should be taught about sexual values”.

In the article Cindy spoke of the fact our parent’s and teachers bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic, a sense of accountability – however this never extends to the bedroom… I wonder why this is…

“Empathy, sensitivity, respect, kindness, generosity and honesty are just as important values when it comes to sex as they are when it comes to an other area of our lives and work where we are actively taught to exercise those values”. This is a really interesting point of view, especially considering all the discussions these days around rape culture, sexual harassment and banter…

However, if we openly promote good sexual values, and good sexual behaviours as a matter of course – in the same way we encourage young people to hold open doors for others, to share, or to simply say please and thank you…  In no time at all, they can quickly become standards of behaviour and will undermine the negative attitudes that underpin rape culture.

Ever since reading this article this is a question I make a point of asking the young people I work with, and it opens up amazing conversations – once they get over the initial confusion about what you are talking about. I have had a number of conversations around pleasure, risk, responsibility, what sex means, and what they want or are looking for from the sex they are having.

(Below: whiteboard brainstorm of a groups sexual values…)


Unfortunately, when it comes to sex we are often very quick to take our clothes off without always thinking about what we want or what we need. Even if we have thought these ideas through by ourselves, we are rarely brave enough to talk them through with any potential partners. That would be far too embarrassing…?!?

But just think about the possible conversations it opens up:

Whose responsibility is your pleasure? Is it your’s or their’s?  Should they be held accountable if you don’t enjoy yourself, especially if you haven’t told them what you like…?

What about risk? If you catch an STI from a partner whose responsibility is that…?  What about pregnancy?

What does sex mean… do you have to be in love? Is it about fun & pleasure or is it an expectation of your relationship…?

What about respect? Can you treat someone equally respectfully if the encounter is a one night stand apposed to a long term relationship…? of course you can.

Thinking about what our sexual values are should be a key starting point in our conversations with young people… so start asking and encouraging young people to develop their bedroom manners, not just their table manners!

Resources · Training

Foundation Training Video

Thank you to all the professionals that attended Thursdays training course in Bulkington. We hope you all had fun and took a lot from the course.

You should receive an email in the next few days with a password to allow you access to the course material here on the site. In the meantime, here is the video of the teenage bedroom scene we watched as promised… it is called Screwball:


Don’t for get to book on to the next course “It’s only Banter” click here for more details…