What Good RSE Looks Like IMHO

Consultation is under way about relationships and sex education (RSE) but what does good RSE look like? Find out more about the DO… collaboration.

From September 2019 all schools will be under a statutory duty to deliver Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in England. The consultations for what this will look like are underway and parents, young people, teachers and stakeholders are encouraged to give their views on what should be in the updated Department for Education guidance. The current guidance dates back to 2000 and, clearly, this is due for an update.

Your Own RSE

So things are finally moving and we are starting to think about what good RSE might look like: but what does good look like? We are being asked to give our ideas about what would be good RSE with the probability that our own RSE was not very good. You might want to reflect on this for yourself.

Try to spend 5 or 10 minutes thinking about your own relationships and sex education. What were you taught about:

  • What is sex, who has sex, or why people have sex?
  • Your body and your relationship to it?
  • Different kinds of relationships? Who has relationships? Which relationships are most important?
  • Think about how you were taught about relationships and sex and how that made you feel.
  • How has your own RSE prepared you for relationships, sex, consent, gender, sexuality, and how you feel about yourself?

I’ve trained hundreds of educators who work with young people. When I’ve asked them to reflect on their own RSE like this, very few people report having received anything that was valuable, comprehensive or inclusive. Things may have moved on a little over the past few years but too many young people report that their RSE was similarly lacking.

If you’re already an RSE practitioner, you might want to come on my new Advanced RSE Training course.

What Good RSE Looks Like

This is something that we have tried to address in the DO… RSE for Schools project. DO… is a collaboration of some of the leading organisations in RSE and schools such as: Brook, FPA, National Aids Trust, The Mix, RSE Hub, NAHT, and myself and other leading experts, all brought together by Durex.

We wanted to really drill down to the fundamentals of good quality RSE for 14-16 year olds and what was missing. So we all got round a table to pool our wealth of knowledge from what young people and professionals have been telling us they need over our many many years of experience. Taking this valuable insight, Alice Hoyle and me (with some help from Dr Meg-John Barker) went away and wrote some resources on the following key areas:

  • How we feel about ourselves and self-care
  • How to navigate expectations placed on us and our identities
  • Love and different kinds of relationships (e.g. family, friends, romance, spiritual, self)
  • Consent, choices and communication
  • Reducing all of the risks of sex (including the emotional risks)

We made sure that this was real and relevant to every student in the class. This meant that the materials had to be inclusive from the outset — by unpacking what we mean by ‘relationships and sex’ in order that all students felt included. Also the diverse, interactive, and participatory learning methods meant that students got to grapple with these big concepts, such as love, gender and choice, rather than just be told what to think.

Of course there are many many topics that are important in relationships and sex education such as: porn; sexting; abortion; FGM; contraception; STIs; HIV; condom negotiation; contraception methods; the law, etc etc. However teaching these without the core fundamentals of good RSE in place will be much less effective. When these are treated as standalone topics many students excluded and talked at rather than included and involved.

So DO… is what I think good RSE looks like: IMHO. Making it about the essentials of what it is to have nurturing and respectful relationships with ourselves and others. And helping people to consider the kinds of relationships and sex that they may want to have, rather than what they feel they should have.

All the resources are freely available for you to look at now if you want to go and see. We think we did a really great job, so it would be great to hear what you think about it. Hopefully, If you do want to contribute to the RSE consultation, you might have found this article and DO… helpful. If you want some more direct guidance then FPA have created this handy guide for parents and Brook have created this handy guide for young people.

If you are a school leader or PSHE co-ordinator or subject teacher, we have everything you need to help you get started delivering really great RSE in your secondary school. Head over to DO… RSE for Schools and see what we can offer. It’s all free and available now — you don’t even need to sign up for anything. There is literally no catch. Just let me or any of us in DO… know if you like what we’re doing.

For support in delivering some of the more specialist topics get in touch with any of us in the DO… collaboration. Many of us have training, resources and outreach workers to help you deliver your RSE programmes. There are also other great organisations such as THT and Stonewall as well as support available to you in your local authorities.

Also stay tuned to this blog and my twitter account for more news coming in the next couple of weeks

© Justin Hancock, 2023

Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people and adults in person and millions online at his website for young people BISH. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here and stay up to day by signing up for the newsletter.