Posted by John Rees on 16.03.20 in Guest Blogs

Independent Educational Consultant

Statutory R(S)HE within PSHE?

From September 2020, Relationships and Health Education become statutory in primary schools and secondary schools so now is the time for schools to be reviewing policy and parental engagement and be working out what, when and how are they going to teach.

Let’s start with a given: Children and young people have a right to know how to keep themselves physically and emotionally safe, support each other and, be prepared for the challenges and changes that many of them will face as they likely to live into the 22nd century.  It seems extraordinary that this has not previously been mandatory, but recent governments have, rather slowly, responded to worrying statistics around mental health; sexual harassment; drug-resistant STIs; ‘othering’ and a growing recognition of the impact of adverse childhood experiences.

As readers will know, from September 2020, Relationships and Health Education become statutory in primary schools (with an expectation to also teach sex education) and secondary schools will have to teach relationships and sex and health education.  In making R(S)HE statutory for all state-funded schools in England (in addition to a long-standing expectation that independent schools teach personal, social health and economic (PSHE) education) the DfE have proscribed long lists of things children should know.  Unsurprisingly, Wales and Scotland also have plans to make similar changes.

The DfE has reiterated the importance of locating this within a framework of PSHE and recognise that knowledge alone is insufficient; the curriculum must develop skills and values that enable pupils to enjoy the opportunities, responsibilities, and experiences of their current and later lives.  

So, now is the time for schools to be reviewing policy and parental engagement and be working out what, when and how are they going to teach; accessing public health data and more tacit knowledge about the needs of their children, to enable them to adapt provision to meet the needs of their communities and, how this data can generate social norms to influence perceptions and impact behaviour.  Schools should also be considering the relationships between a taught curriculum slot (of PSHE) and SMSC development and how the subject leader can work effectively with the designated lead for mental health.  Although schools may offer different curriculum models, secondary schools that rely exclusively on ‘off timetable’ events are unlikely to meet their statutory expectations or serve the entitlement of their students.

As with any other subject, schools should develop an iterative curriculum, that builds on prior learning.  Just as naming genitalia should start in KS1 or earlier, learning about consent needs to start in the early years and be reiterated in age (and stage) appropriate ways, as children mature.  Primary schools should enable children to manage their emotions and relationships and learn about ‘taking turns’ and although they are unlikely to teach about STIs, they should teach ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it’ and hand washing, to underpin more detailed learning in KS3 & 4.

Pedagogy and classroom practice should also be thoughtfully updated.  Within statutory learning about ‘families’, primary schools should consider teaching about attachment and basic neurology, as part of mental health and to help manage behavior.  Relationships education needs to include stages of intimacy that do not lead exclusively to heterosexual intimacy but also involve learning ‘soft skills’ that are essential to any customer-facing careers.

Students passively watching a ‘condom demo’ is probably a waste of time, if it doesn’t include developing a culture where it is acceptable not to have any physical contact, but that any sexual involvement needs to be protected physically and emotionally.

Statutory R(S)HE provides schools with opportunities to redress curriculum imbalance, enhance cultures of inclusivity, invest in CPD and promote staff wellbeing as well improving the learning and life chances for children and young people.  Anyone wanting help with this only has to ask …

John Rees

John is passionately committed to improving the learning and life chances of children and young people, through the professional development of individuals and organizations. Seconded from secondary school leadership, John lead the transformation of a 2-school research project into an evidence-based, behaviourally-effective, multi-agency wellbeing programme across the UK and overseas, with unique evidence of health benefit and educational improvement.

Since 2006 John has worked with Local Authorities, schools, charities and commercial groups across the UK and abroad to provide coaching and training, to support school improvement and ensure the wellbeing of learners and adults who work with, and for, them.



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