Our response to the government's call for evidence on effective Relationships Education and PSHE

Ann Shallcross Feb 14, 2018

Below are responses given on behalf of Coram Life Education by Harriet Gill, Managing Director of Coram Life Education to the Department for Education's Call for Evidence on Changes to the teaching of Sex and Relationships Education and PSHE which closed on 12 February.

Relationships and Sex Education

Question:
Thinking about relationships education in primary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught for different age groups/key stages and why. Please include any considerations or evidence which informed your choices.

 

Our response:

As the largest provider of PSHE education in 1 in 8 English Primary Schools, Coram Life Education has 30 years' expertise, as well as invaluable insight and feedback from teachers, into Relationships Education. School leaders and teachers are best placed to judge important subject areas, and CLE collected evidence in June 2017 from 85 head teachers across England into this question. They told us that Keeping Safe, Body Changes, and Reproduction & Relationships are very important. The big issues they tell us schools are facing are friendship issues (83%), self-esteem (72%) and body image (49%). Evidence also shows that the teaching of private parts of the body, distinguishing types of touch and types of secrets helps to protect children and may increase the likelihood of disclosure of abuse (Cochrane Review 2014). This teaching should begin at an early age, ideally from Nursery and Reception, to empower children as they develop cognitive function and understanding.

 

Question:

Thinking about relationships and sex education in secondary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught for different age groups/key stages and why. Please include any considerations or evidence which informed your choices.

 

Our response:

Coram Life Education supports the submissions of evidence from Brook, the Sex Education Forum and PSHE Association, who have expertise in the secondary school sector. We believe it is important to build on the learning in primary schools and we would stress the importance of the transitionary stage between primary and secondary school, a time of great change in personal experiences, puberty and exposure to new challenges. Much can be done to connect primary and secondary approaches to Relationships Education and RSE to build young people's resilience and confidence. Teaching should be age and stage appropriate, for example Keeping Safe should include real life examples to make it relevant to the lived experiences of young people; Relationships must ensure inclusivity; support for LGBT young people and cover online and offline relationships and communication skills and Reproductive health should include contraception, sexual health, pregnancy choices and information about services.

 

Question:

We are particularly interested in understanding stakeholder views on Relationships Education and RSE which are specific to the digital context. Are there important aspects of ensuring safe online relationships that would not otherwise be covered in wider Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education, or as part of the computing curriculum?

 

Our response:

Coram Life Education fully endorses the submissions of evidence from the Sex Education Forum in regard to the digital context. RSE should not sit within the Computing curriculum, and must include development and exploration of attitudes and values alongside gaining knowledge and understanding. Critical thinking skills at an early age is crucial, given that according to a uswitch survey, the average age that a child starts using the Internet unsupervised has dropped from 11.5 yrs to 4.5 yrs.

 

Question:

We are also interested in understanding more about how schools communicate with parents on Relationships Education and RSE and are able to make informed decisions that best meet the needs of their children. This includes a right to withdraw their child from sex education within the RSE subject but not from sex education in the national curriculum for science. How should schools effectively consult parents so they can make informed decisions that meet the needs of their child, including on the right to withdraw? For example, how often, on what issues and by what means?

 

Our response:

In our experience, schools consider the involvement of parents as crucial for building a community approach to children and young people's safety and healthy relationships. In our survey of 85 primary school head teachers across England, three quarters said that they need advice on consulting with parents about RSE. CLE finds that where parents can be reticent and anxious about the possible content of relationships education, inviting them to meet with our expert educators and to understand how valuable equipping and empowering children and young people is is almost always a guarantee that parents will not withdraw their child, and will support the school in the development of RSE programmes. Our most successful schools are those that proactively engage, write to parents and break down all components of the subject so as to de-mystify what can be a deeply misunderstood topic. If this is done with sufficient time, and includes an opportunity for parents to speak with expert educators/teachers, contribute their ideas and find out more this is very successful. Two thirds of those schools have said that they want the guidance to be comprehensive to support them in maintaining a positive relationships with parents.


Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE)
Question:

Thinking about PSHE in primary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why? Please include your reasons for choosing each subject area or evidence to support your suggestions.

 

Our response:

Coram Life Education believes that PSHE education topics - focused on wellbeing across the school - are most effective when delivered as a cross curricular subject so as to convey the value of PSHE to teachers and pupils. Subject areas in primary schools should reflect the PSHE Association's three themes of Health & Wellbeing, Relationships, and Living in the Wider World. These are interdependent and they overlap. Wellbeing influences education and health outcomes, as supported by the Public Health England 2014 Wellbeing and Attainment briefing, DfE PSHE Review of Impact and Effective Practice 2015, and the ESC Life Lessons Report 2015.Subject areas should be taught by confident practitioners, focused on the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to build healthy friendships and relationships, understand how the body works and risk taking such as drugs and alcohol, building resilience and emotional/mental wellbeing so that children can develop positive social behaviour norms, and be assertive and resilient to peer influence and bulling. There is evidence from our own Coram Life Education schools, such as Frizinghall Primary School in Bradford who would be willing to give evidence if requested, that implementing a comprehensive PSHE programme such as the online programme offered by CLE, is closely linked to improvements in pupil behaviour and engagement with school. PHE reiterate in their whole school and college approach to promoting pupil wellbeing briefing 2015 that strong leadership is crucial in ensuring the key subject areas are given adequate curriculum time.

 

Question:

Thinking about PSHE in secondary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why? Please also include your reasons for choosing each subject area or evidence to support your suggestions.

 

Our response:

CLE would fully endorse the evidence submitted by the PSHE Association, SEF and Brook on this area. We believe that topics should include healthy relationships, mental wellbeing and resilience, to de-stigmatise and normalise these topics. In light of recent debates on negative attitudes to girls and young women, as well as the high risk of suicide and mental ill health of young men, challenging gender stereotypes and norms is crucial at secondary school. Most young people want to have meaningful and respectful relationships with each other but are heavily influenced by the perceived norms that support violent and disrespectful attitudes, particularly towards girls and young women, but also between boys and young men.The evidence supporting sustained messages promoting positive social norms, including perceptions of knife and violent crime can be found within Professor Wesley Perkins Research into social norms and behaviour. Plan UK, Girl guiding and Brook also have evidence of effective approaches.

 

Question:

How much flexibility do you think schools should have to meet the needs of individual pupils and to reflect the diversity of local communities and wider society in the content of PSHE lessons in schools?

 

Our response:

PSHE education works best when it is designed in conjunction with young people, as evidenced by the PSHE Association and broader guidance regarding effective wellbeing approaches as cited above. Pupil voices provide the insight and ensure the topic is relevant and engaging. If it is not, it will not work, students won't learn and teachers will feel demoralised. Schools know their communities well, and flexible approaches will build a rich and dynamic programme of study that is a positive experience for pupils and teachers.

 

Flexibility is needed to ensure that the needs of pupils, for example their age and their stage of maturity, is taken into account. Some young people are more confident than others to speak out and be heard, so having a range of methods and approaches to help include the voices of all is vital. A needs assessment with pupils, held anonymously to understand their needs would be valuable. Flexibility also enables schools to respond to unforeseen events that impact on young people and their anxiety levels, such as the Manchester NEC bombing and Grenfell Tower. But flexibility must remain objective and impartial so as not to stigmatise, must be evidence based and medically accurate.

 

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