Talks vs Workshops in RSE

When I get asked to work in schools we usually have a conversation about whether I will be delivering a workshop or a talk. Generally speaking, RSE workshops are better than talks.

When RSE talks are useful

Sometimes a talk might be the appropriate thing to deliver. There are times when young people need the information about the topic, before they can talk to each other about it. For example: an interesting and engaging talk about sex and the law (good luck with that). Or a talk about local sexual health services, what confidentiality is, and how people are supported around their reproductive choices. Or what the school are doing to stop bullying and (sexual) violence. What processes, resources, and support services you have in place.

When RSE workshops are better

However if we rely on talks for RSE then we run the risk of making lessons more about what we think. Any RSE we deliver should be giving students resources to help their own critical thinking. Talks also runs the risk of creating more ‘should stories’ or discourse.

When someone is able to stand in front of a group of people and tell them something then that person has a lot of power. Even if they are saying ‘the right thing’ just creating discourse is not the best way of teaching RSE. Good RSE is about understanding discourse and developing tools in order to understand what might be useful for us. Foucault called these ‘technologies of the self’.

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Even if you were organising a talk which was based around what we might think of as ‘good discourse’, they might still go very wrong. Getting these kinds of talks right is very difficult. The speaker needs to really know their stuff and be confident and authoritative. But it also needs to be engaging. They need to be a good performer, take the topic seriously, and have a degree of levity. Finding good talkers is hard and good talkers (should) command a high fee for what they do.

Being talked at is not great RSE

Crucially, young people are turned off from how RSE is delivered. They are bored of powerpoints, demonstrations and being talked at. It’s boring and unhelpful being told what the problem is without being given the chance to learn solutions. They are tired of being told what to think and are tired of the simplistic messages of ‘just say no’ or ‘always protect yourself’ or ‘it’s fine to be gay.’

Think back to your own RSE. Did you get talked at? Even if you had a good talk, did you also get any opportunity to discuss it? Or learn to practice any skills as a result? Did you get to talk about your values with others? How did it affect you?

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As RSE is about skills, values, emotions and information, it is best taught using participatory and interactive learning methods. It’s not about the chalk and talk but asking great questions and facilitating fascinating discussions. This also means that we can make it about them and not us. You can only really get that from an RSE workshop.

talks v workshops in RSE

My approach to RSE Workshops

So at best, a blend of talks and interactive workshops is the key here. Teachers are often best placed to deliver the latter, and can rely on people like me, and local outreach workers, to deliver the former. But even then I always veer towards delivering interactive workshops.

This might reassure people who think that I go into schools and give talks to kids about what is on my website. I don’t actually do that because BISH isn’t a teaching resource and (as I’ve said above) it’s boring to show people a website. The only time I use BISH is just to signpost in case there are any questions that I can’t answer in class (or would be inappropriate to answer in class) or if I’m finding an illustration to help answer a question. Other than that I am delivering workshops, where young people work together in small groups and co-create the learning. They are learning crucial skills about communication, co-operation and consent, whilst also being given opportunities to reflect on their values with others compassionately.

© 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.