No matter how good a school’s RSHE provision might be, there is always challenging content that can cause anxieties. Here Andrew Hammond, Senior Director of Learning at Discovery Education (formerly a Head Teacher) and Lucy Marcovitch, education writer and consultant at Lucy Education share some tips and ideas to get you started.
Use others' experience and expertise
Start by using the knowledge, expertise and experience that exists within your school: the PSHE lead will probably be your first port of call, but using or adapting a more experienced colleague's planning can give you confidence with a tricky topic. Observe or support a lesson if you can – many schools use a school nurse or RSE consultant to deliver topics such as puberty or sex education, so use their expertise to help guide your own delivery.
Be sensitive and aware
You cannot know the personal circumstances of every child in your classroom, but you will know children very well, and be aware of pupils who are vulnerable for a range of reasons. Considering vulnerabilities and potential lived experiences is crucial when teaching about aspects such as family relationships or unhealthy lifestyle habits. Avoid asking pupils to share negative personal experiences, or to single out individuals: e.g. “Put your hand up if you’ve ever been bullied.”
In choosing resources, avoid images which might be upsetting, represent certain groups in a stereotypical or negative way, or do not accurately reflect pupils’ circumstances. It is also important to model a non-judgmental attitude when teaching about topics such as family relationships or lifestyle choices.
Explain how some cultures and faiths have different beliefs that deserve respect
It is pleasing to see a focus in the curriculum on how families of many forms provide a nurturing environment for children. ‘Families can include for example, single parent families, LGBT parents, families headed by grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents/carers, amongst other structures.’ Removing all stigmatisation of children who come from different home circumstances is vitally important, and this is a key theme within the new curriculum.
Few schools would not include tolerance and respect of others’ faiths and beliefs in their core values. Schools already promote equality, of course. You have a duty to explain how some cultures and faiths have different beliefs that deserve respect, and this is encouraged within the new curriculum too.
Be open with your communication
Many primary schools teach sex education in Year 5 or Year 6 and have been doing so for some time, in very close partnership with parents. Open communication is key, preferably delivered in face-to-face meetings with parents and carers after school, with accompanying handouts and FAQs that provide the reassurance that content is always matched to children’s levels of maturity.
Create a safe learning environment
Creating a safe teaching and learning environment enables pupils to discuss and share their ideas and feelings without judgement, and teachers to feel more confident in delivering discussion of sensitive areas. Establishing ground rules, using 'distancing' techniques and encouraging questioning are all essential, but as awkwardness is often a first hurdle to overcome, being honest and open is the best way to instil confidence.
Being upfront that everyone, including adults, finding the 'S' of RSHE awkward and embarrassing, and allowing pupils to have a giggle over particular words or aspects, can help everyone relax and feel more comfortable, and get those words out in the open.
Inevitably, many aspects of RSHE lessons will prompt questions, and it is important that pupils know their questions are encouraged and valued. Consider reactions to a question: there should be no implication that any question is ‘stupid’, and all questions should be responded to. Being evasive, dismissing or not answering a question because it causes discomfort can lead to a child creating their own response, or looking elsewhere for the information, possibly from inappropriate sources.
There will also be questions that pupils feel shy about asking, and others that teachers will themselves feel self-conscious about or unprepared for. To help with these types of questions, have a question box, ‘ask-it basket’ or post-its available at all times so that pupils can ask questions anonymously. It is essential to be honest and open – even if the question is unexpected or the answer uncertain. Being honest about not knowing will instil more respect than being dismissive or unclear.
Take up the offer of guidance for parents and carers
The guidance that surrounds this subject is as important as the curriculum itself – not only the guidance for teachers, but there must be guidance for parents and carers at home too. Here at Discovery Education, our Health and Relationships programme (free to use until Oct 2021) provides not only a suite of videos and reading materials for the RSHE curriculum, but also offers detailed guidance for school leaders and teachers, helping them to get the messaging around this subject right.