RSE Day 2020: Time to celebrate relationships & sex education

Written by: Lucy Emmerson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Thursday, June 25 is national RSE Day and takes place just 65 days before relationships education, along with health education, becomes statutory in primary schools across England. Lucy Emmerson offers some activity and parental engagement ideas for schools

In September, Relationships education, along with health education, becomes statutory in primary schools across England. Sex education continues to be recommended for all primary schools.

Schools may not feel as prepared as they would like to for the start of the new subjects, and may also be anxious about the wellbeing of their pupils and staff. This is the moment to convert those worries into simple activities that celebrate everyone’s role in relationships and sex education, and open up conversations that can inform future plans for RSE at your school.

The Department for Education (DfE) has recently clarified that relationships education and health education will still be statutory from September 1, but recognising the impact of Covid-19 and school closures, has encouraged schools to take a phased approach if they are not fully prepared in time.

It is 20 years since RSE has been updated, and the new government guidance, issued in July (DfE, 2019), provides detail about the breadth of subject content required and the rigorous approach expected, for example in relation to assessment of pupil progress and SEND accessibility.

Updating RSE to ensure it is relevant to children’s lives and that it is provided in a timely and inclusive way is long overdue. That was true before the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic changed our lives – creating raw emotional experiences ranging from strains on mental wellbeing to new dynamics in friendships and family. Playing catch-up with RSE is no longer an option, the challenge is to find a starting point and get going.

Parents and carers are finding they have a new role in their child’s education and this is shifting boundaries and presents an opportunity to open up conversations about RSE. Research shows that children have long wanted their parents to take a greater role in educating them about relationships, sex and growing up, but that many parents have failed to take this on. There is also evidence that RSE is more effective when home and school are involved (SEF, 2019).

This work, of course, can be done at any time, but RSE Day is a perfect opportunity to consider the role that we all have as educators and to celebrate those varied contributions.

Involve pupils on the day by running a virtual survey asking for feedback about their RSE to date. Use a five-point scale rating – very good, good, okay, bad, very bad – to benchmark current provision and repeat the survey in future years. Pupils attending school on RSE Day could hold discussion groups to identify areas that the school is doing well with RSE and what needs to be improved. Findings can be reported in a blog or vlog and shared with pupils online to prompt further contributions.

Pupil voice activities are recommended by government guidance as a means of informing RSE plans, and the data will also be illuminating to share with parents. Running an online survey for parents is a great way to begin a consultation process – and contributes to one of the new requirements, which is that all schools must consult parents about their RSE plans. Ask parents a handful of open questions, for example about which aspects of RSE they think are most important for their children at the moment, and if they want any further help to support them with aspects of RSE at home.

This year’s theme for RSE Day is “Books I love about love”, and this serves as a brilliant way to get the whole school community involved. Reading an extract from a book with a relationships story-line, or a poem that explores love is a means of sharing a bit of ourselves in a manageable and safe way, and of demonstrating how resources can be used to stimulate discussion, reflection and learning in RSE.

Pupils, staff, governors and parents could be asked to suggest books about love and relationships that could be added to your existing library titles. Teachers could video themselves reading a book for their class to access.

To involve parents, send home a list of books about love and relationships that they can read with their children. Ask families to share photos of themselves reading together.

RSE Day could also be an opportunity to look at friendship. Create storyboards using pictures and photographs reflecting on what it means to be a good friend especially in the context of attending school in smaller groups or being at home because of school closure and following social distancing rules. How can friendship flourish in this situation?

There will be similarities and differences in how pupils are experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic, but time stands still for no-one – as well as changes in relationships and friendships, children’s bodies change. Some may have started periods or experienced voice breaking in recent weeks.

Celebrating RSE Day gives out an important message to the whole school community that the school recognises the fundamental importance of healthy, equal and safe relationships and that while we may not be ready with all the answers we can ask questions and invite conversations.

  • Lucy Emmerson is director of the Sex Education Forum.

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