Statutory RSE – a role for all teaching staff

Written by: Lucy Emmerson | Published:
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Statutory RSE is not just a list of topics to tick off a list, it should be relevant to children’s everyday lives and reach across the curriculum. Indeed, in many ways, all teachers are teachers of RSE. Lucy Emmerson explains

With the advent of statutory relationships, sex and health education (RSHE), many schools have created or refreshed the role of RSHE or PSHE education lead.

Quality provision rests heavily on having a specialist with subject leadership responsibility, but there is an important role for all school staff to understand the school’s approach to the subject and contribute to the success of RSHE provision.

As a starting point, all staff should know the basics of the statutory RSHE guidance and be aware of the wide-ranging curriculum content specified, which includes, friendships, stereotypes, menstrual wellbeing, fertility, sexual harassment, pornography, online harms, healthy relationships, accessing sexual and reproductive health services and more. Obviously, the statutory content is broken down by phase – primary and secondary – and staff need to understand this as well (see DfE, 2019).

Appreciating the extent of the mandatory content helps explain why RSHE needs dedicated curriculum time. Equipped with enough detail about the RSHE curriculum, teaching staff will start to see possible connections with other subjects such as English, biology, drama, languages, sport. Teaching staff can be invited to map and explore the cross-curricular opportunities.

RSHE is not just a list of topics to tick off a list, it should be relevant to children and young people’s lives and address issues that have an impact on everyday life and help them prepare for the future.

RSHE can link to all areas of school life too – break times, school trips, clubs, the bus to school, parent meetings.

For some staff it may be a relief not to be tasked with teaching RSE; and for those that are, there may be residual concerns about tensions with personal values.

A useful exercise is to ask all staff to consider the core values that they think are relevant to RSE. Values such as respect, honesty and kindness are often listed as both core to RSE and core to the school ethos.

Teachers practise values everyday through their interactions with pupils, for example by encouraging speaking up and taking turns, ensuring inclusion, and challenging stereotypes – all of which can happen in a maths class just as much as it can happen in the PSHE classroom.

There are numerous interactions in school life which can become opportunities to model healthy relationships and two-way communication and to practise “everyday consent”. Try asking staff for their ideas about how they already contribute to teaching about consent and how they could develop this, be it boundaries around belongings, personal space in the dinner queue, or seeking permission before cleaning a cut when giving first aid.

All staff should be fully aware that RSE is part of the safeguarding prevention curriculum. RSE lessons can be a prompt for safeguarding disclosures, so it is useful for staff, and especially those with pastoral roles, to be aware of the timing of lessons that might be triggering so that they can be alert for pupils’ welfare. All staff should know what support services are available.

The statutory RSHE guidance states that pupils’ views should inform provision at their school. Headline findings from pupil consultation activities can be shared with all school staff so that valuable information about pupils’ needs is distributed.

Similarly, it is helpful to give all staff a flavour of the findings from the schools’ parent consultation about RSE, which is mandatory for all schools to carry out to inform their RSE policy.

RSE has long suffered from lack of status and underinvestment in staff training and specialist resource. Mandatory RSHE goes some way to addressing this, yet the role of PSHE education lead can remain a lonely job.

Senior leaders need to lay the foundations for high quality RSHE by ensuring adequate resourcing and timetabling but can go further than this and invite all staff to conceptualise RSE as fundamental to the schools’ vision for safe, healthy and happy pupils.

Staff can support each other by playing an active role in boosting the status and integration of RSHE in school life. Success can be celebrated visually through displays of pupils’ work.

The efforts of those that teach the subject need to be noticed too. To that end, nominations are open for the annual Sex Education Forum RSE Awards 2022 and the search is on for educator of the year for inclusive, innovative, and most improved RSE provision. If you know a brilliant RSHE or PSHE education lead, show your support and nominate them.

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