In this guest blog to mark RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) Day, Catherine Hine, CEO of FASTN (Family Stability Network), and Mary Taylor, Head of Programmes at Family Links: The Centre for Emotional Health and a school governor, share their thoughts on why Relationships Education matters and how governors can support it.
From September 2020, RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) will be compulsory in secondary schools and Relationship Education will be compulsory in all primary schools. Children will be taught about relationship skills from reception class onwards.
Research has shown that developing positive relationship skills during childhood can boost a host of outcomes, from academic performance and employment chances to physical and mental health. It improves the ability to manage stress and conflict and to have fulfilling relationships in later life. Relationship Education provides an exciting opportunity to help improve the lives of future generations.
How can governors support it?
There are specific guidelines when it comes to RSE. You are required to ensure that:
- All pupils make progress in achieving the expected educational outcomes.
- Relationship Education is well led, effectively managed and well planned.
- The quality of provision is subject to regular and effective self-evaluation.
- Teaching is delivered in ways that are accessible to all pupils with SEND.
- Clear information is provided for parents on the subject content and the right to request that their child is withdrawn.
- RSE is resourced, staffed and timetabled in a way that ensures that the school can fulfil its legal obligations.
- Foundation governors and trustees of faith academy trusts will also have wider responsibilities in relation to maintaining and developing the religious ethos of schools.
How can you get started?
Your school will be legally required to put in place a written policy for Relationships Education and RSE. Governors can reflect on and help to set the tone for this. If governors relate to the staff, teachers and parents in a supportive and respectful way, this filters down to behaviours throughout the school, with children and the wider parent and school community.
We’ve heard from a number of schools who are changing their policies to put relationships at the heart of their ethos. Conflict resolution features in behaviour policies, children have sessions where they talk about their issues and achievements, time is set aside for teachers to allow them to reflect.
One example of this is the Grace Academy, in the West Midlands, where school leadership has prioritised linking PSHE and RSE curricula with the school core values such as respect and integrity. What started as a pilot programme has become a comprehensive framework, championed by the chief executive and senior leadership.
Grace leadership make sure their values are embedded at all levels across the academy – from governors, teachers and cleaners to catering and support staff.
To get started, consider the wording behind the policies and ask yourself:
Do the policies support the culture you want to see?
Are your actions supporting that culture when you interact with school staff?
Are you giving teachers the support they need to do their jobs and to deliver RSE?
Communication is key.
Schools are required to consult and involve parents in developing RSE and Relationships Policies. They must also ensure that RSE meets the needs of pupils and reflects the community the school serves.
Schools who have taken the time to build strong relationships with parents and communities tell us that this really helps with RSE. If trusting relationships with parents and communities are established, their views are taken into account, any misinformation worked through with them and if RSE content is explained in detail, schools have usually managed to introduce RSE successfully.
We also hear about the importance of remaining relevant and adaptable. RSE has to reflect the community and the issues it faces. As governors, you know your communities and those issues. You can ensure they are being reflected when it comes to RSE. Issues could include things like bullying, consent or FGM. Early Relationships Education helps prepare children to deal with these issues. It helps them relate kindly to each other, to get a sense of self and to get help when a trusted adult becomes untrusted.
As governors, it’s important to ask the question, are you encouraging ongoing communication between parents and the school?
What do young people think about RSE?
In December 2017, FASTN surveyed over 1,100 teenagers to find out about their expectations from relationships and RSE.
77% said a lasting relationship is just as important to them as their career ambitions.
72% wanted relationship education to help them achieve their relationship goals.
56% said forming lasting relationships is harder now than it was for previous generations.
So, we know children want our help. The growing evidence from neuroscience tells us that the relationships we are surrounded by shape our behaviour, learning, health and future life chances. Our collective experience shows it’s important that school culture prioritises positive relationships in all areas and that adults lead by example and role model healthy relationship skills. Working together, we can help children to achieve academic and relationships goals.