Relationships, Sex and Health Education: five things to watch out for in 2019 – Words by Hayley Sherwood

2018 has seen some major developments around Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education – the biggest being that it was not awarded statutory status on the back of the Department for Education (DfE) consultation on Relationships, Sex and Health Education.

We now know that Relationships Education will be compulsory for all pupils receiving primary education; that Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) will be mandatory within secondary schools; and that Health Education will be compulsory in all schools. And I am thrilled that the decision makes most of the topics covered within PSHE compulsory for all pupils, in all schools, from 2020.

As we prepare for these changes, here are five things we should watch out for in 2019:

1. Early engagement on relationships
We need children to identify with unhealthy relationships and behaviour as early as possible in their young lives so that we can switch the focus to forming positive relationships. By doing this we can ensure children have the knowledge and skills to manage the language used when communicating with others, better understand issues around appropriate touch, and who to speak to if they are worried about a particular relationship they might find themselves in. By providing children with the vocabulary, skills and knowledge as early as possible we can give them the confidence to manage situations they may face now and in the future. There must also be an equal focus on relationships which children may form online, as this is now more common than ever before.

2. Better sex education guidance for primary
Whilst the DfE has provided information about what should be covered within sex education at primary level, schools would benefit from even more information on delivering sex education lessons effectively. At secondary level, the guidance is better developed. We cannot provide children with too much information to ensure that they are ready for adult life in our society. Although many children will not be affected by some topics, such as female genital mutilation, they need to understand these areas and different cultural trends. This can only help inform them of any decisions they may have to make in the future, or anyone close to them who they may need to support. Of course, sex education teaching must be age-appropriate at all stages of learning.

3. Primary to secondary building blocks
The building blocks to making sure children can thrive in society must first be visited during the primary years and secondary schools should then build on this set of skills and knowledge. This is not a one-size-fits-all. Unlike any other subject, children will all have a very different experience of these topics which are covered. Teachers need to not only find relevant and age-appropriate resources but to understand that within a particular age group the range of needs will differ. More importantly, teachers need to manage difficult questions and answers to provide a suitable, safe setting and to engage all children with a range of resources for different learning styles. I also think that more is required on financial education for post-16 students to help them manage money effectively.

4. Access to high-quality resources
Schools should be provided with the funding to access high-quality resources to reach the expectations outlined within the DfE guidance. The guidance sets out the key areas in which children should become more knowledgeable within, but schools would benefit from being signposted to organisations that have been producing resources for this area for several years. As these new statutory changes come in there will be many organisations attempting to provide schools with resources to support the new changes. Ideally, schools should be able to access a portal which hosts links to relevant programmes that have been kitemarked against the new guidance.

5. Investment in teacher training
To enable schools to take this guidance and build age-appropriate content for students they must have the skills and knowledge to deliver effectively. It is of high importance that before teachers design their curriculum content they receive the correct training to allow them to do so. Teachers should be able to access high-quality training to ensure that they can deliver these statutory changes to the best of their ability. For other statutory subject areas there is high-quality training available. The subjects which are covered within Relationship, RSE, and Health Education can positively affect children now and in the future. Training is essential to reach the expected outcomes for all children. Schools should also be signposted on how to access local statistics to enable them to build resources to suit their local area – they should not be left to tackle this agenda on their own.

Hayley Sherwood is creator of 1decision, part of Headway learning resources