Updating Your RSE and PSHE Policy
School leaders have an awful lot to think about before the start of term, with year group bubbles and questions about face masks dominating education news. It is critical that the Senior Team in every school makes sure to put in place all the requirements of the new government statutory guidance, Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education. The updating of the RSE/PSHE policy is very likely to involve the senior Safeguarding Lead given the content of this policy.
In broad terms, the government have said that from the start of this academic year ‘we have made Relationships Education compulsory in all primary schools in England and Relationships and Sex Education compulsory in all secondary schools, as well as making Health Education compulsory in all state-funded schools.’
For almost all schools these lessons are already happening, but there are some particular details of this government guidance that are important to remember:
Compulsory RSE: The Right to Withdraw
At the start of the new academic year, perhaps the most important thing for schools to act on in this new government statutory guidance, is the right to withdraw. It is a legal requirement that all parents are given the right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons, a central part of RSE (there is no right to withdraw from any other elements of PSHE or RSE).
It is crucial that parents are informed of this right well in advance of any such lessons, so schools may want to do this as soon as the school year begins. In addition, schools are required to document that this has happened and record students who are withdrawn from sex education lessons. This last point is important from the perspective of a DSL. While there is no intrinsic problem with a parent not wanting their child to have sex education lessons in school, it may be linked either then or later with a pastoral issue for that student and family.
The government guidance suggests that ‘good practice’ would be for the head to talk with parents about the benefits of having sex education lessons when this request is made. It is stated that if parents still want to withdraw their children this should happen ‘except in exceptional circumstances’. This is rather vague guidance, and schools would have to be extremely sure of themselves to insist that circumstances were so exceptional as to ignore parental wishes.
Finally, schools must remember that if someone is withdrawn from sex education lessons, they must ‘ensure that the pupil receives appropriate, purposeful education during the period of withdrawal.’ Failing to factor this into planning could lead to potential complaints from parents.
RSE Consultation with Parents, Teachers and Students
The other key element of the new RSE guidance that needs to be incorporated into schools’ policy is the principle of consultation. The government guidance makes clear that schools should consult with teachers, parents and students in planning and delivering their PSHE and RSE lessons. There is a suggestion that parents could be invited into school ‘to discuss what will be taught’ and ‘address any concerns.’ This needs to be incorporated into every school’s PSHE/RSE policy.
It is also important that schools have wide consultation on this in an effective way. It is inevitable that there will be a wide range of opinions and many different suggestions about what they would like to cover.
A few principles that might be useful when thinking about how to consult effectively are:
- Make it clear which elements of the course are legal requirements. There can be discussion about the way in which these subjects are taught, but it is important for everyone involved to understand which elements of the course cannot be altered in terms of content.
- When consulting with students, make sure that you frame your questions in a way that will give you useful and constructive answers. This follows the principle that it is easy to say if there is a problem but rather more useful to suggest a solution as well. For instance, rather than just asking, ‘do you think PSHE teaches online safety effectively’ you could ask ‘what additional things do you think PSHE should be teaching about online safety.’ It is very easy to just write down yes or no as an answer without much thought, but if a student has taken the time to think actively about what they would like to see in the course it suggests it is a point worth considering.
- Make sure to remember to ask your staff about the content of the course. They are the ones responsible for delivering the course and will have very useful views, not only on the content of the course but which ways of delivering it are most effective.
Confidentiality and Safeguarding
Finally, it is very positive that this year KCSIE 2020 makes it clear that ‘all schools should ensure children are taught about safeguarding’ and this is reiterated onp. 42 of the RSE statutory guidance. If this has not been part of your school’s PSHE programme already, then there must be elements of the course explaining the basics of safeguarding to all the children including ‘how to raise their concerns or make a report and how any report will be handled’ as well as ‘how to stay safe online.’
This is critical for younger children at school, even a small amount of training like this can give them the confidence to speak to a member of staff about a problem they are facing. For older children, being aware of how safeguarding works can also help them in looking out for problems in younger children in their school, particularly if they are school prefects or similar.
Very sensibly the government guidance reminds teachers that even in RSE lessons where discussions can be about very sensitive topics, staff should never promise confidentiality if a safeguarding issue is raised.
Contemporary RSE Themes
Above and beyond the government guidance regarding RSE, it is important that there is thought put into contemporary themes that are of great importance to society. Try to ensure that your PSHE/RSE course each year reflects those themes. For instance, while it is a requirement of the RSE course for ‘all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum’ (p.15 of the guidance) schools might wish to reflect the ongoing debate about transgender identification, perhaps most notably added to by the controversy surrounding J. K. Rowling during the summer.
Similarly, all schools should be looking to take on board the implications of the Black Lives Matter movement that saw widespread protests in London a few months ago. Reflecting contemporary events and experiences of the community will help to ensure that PSHE/RSE is as relevant as possible for your students.
Written by Luke Ramsden (Safeguarding Lead and Deputy Headteacher for St Benedict's School, Ealing)