Andi Cope
RSE Lead for Spectrum

Was your sex education good enough?

I sometimes find that teachers who feel uncomfortable about RSE are often the teachers who had little or no sex education themselves or hold a negative association to it due to the content that was taught or teacher that delivered it.

At the start of Spectrum’s teacher training sessions, we start with a discussion question: “what sex education did you receive?” We then asked our teachers – was it enough? Did it provide you will the information you have needed?

It’s always funny to hear the feedback. Participants share unbelievable stories about condom lessons, embarrassed teachers and separate sessions for girls and boys that were surrounded with secrecy. My experience of sex education was watching ‘the labour video’ in the hall with the girls in my year group. The following week we dissected a frog. No further conversation was had. Very confusing!

Making RSE inclusive and values-based

Coming from a religious background, I was left with many unanswered questions as a teenager. Discussions with my peers gave me very little cultural anchorage to navigate what I was being told – a film of the horrors of childbirth conveyed the “don’t have sex” message, but I knew that my religion valued marriage, children and sex.

RSE is undoubtably a values-based subject and the way to include all children in the development of autonomy is to create a learning environment that is inclusive. The curriculum requires you to teach English laws around consent, alcohol and sexualised images, but it also requires you to teach human rights, equality and diversity and the best way to do this is by remaining without bias and representing all young people.

To do this as an educator, you have to understand your own feelings towards the subject and reflect on the nature of the impact your bias could have on the development of the young person’s autonomy and self-efficacy. Teaching and encouraging autonomy is facilitating the young person to gather the facts and knowledge required to make informed decision that relate to their world view – not yours. Challenge inaccuracies or harmful language or behaviours of course, but your role is to provide information that keeps each child safe – not present one single view of sex according to your positionality.

If your task is for them to consider healthy and unhealthy behaviours, for example – ssk the students to create a design of an ideal partner. How would they treat you, what kind of personality or interests might they have? Explain the word partner to ensure heteronormative cultures are not embedded, and also ask students to represent themselves or others within the task. Pitfalls could be saying ‘design for me your ideal boyfriend or girlfriend’ as this for a young person has heterosexual connotations, even though you might not intend it that way.

Ultimately, I want to encourage you to not worry about teaching RSE. Young people are looking to you for factual, accurate information that they can relate to. If you feel uncomfortable, know that they do too and that’s ok. Arm yourself with good resources, data and behaviour change techniques that challenge and inform in safe way.

  1. Use techniques such as distanced questions or discussions
  2. Reflect on your own worries and try and understand where they come from. Look up these reflective preparation task from Do; https://www.dosreforschools.com/media/1175/reflective-preparation.pdf#page=7
  3. If you fear Q&A don’t offer that as an activity. Instead ask young people to consider their questions and write them down for you to address next week.

About the author

Andi Cope leads Spectrum’s RSE provision and has been working in Relationships and Sex Education since 2008. She is passionate about the personal, social and health education of young people, and creating innovative resources that address sensitive topics in an interactive and inclusive way.

Andi has a background in creative arts and youth and community work, and is also a doctoral student focusing on RSE policy and practice. Materials developed by Andi for a prison-based RSE programme were awarded the Pamela Sheridan Sex and Relationship Award in 2015, and in 2016 her resources for the Learning Disability RSE Programme were shortlisted for the HSJ Patient Safety Award. Andi works closely with young people as the co-producers of the RSE materials and supports schools and youth services to deliver RSE in line with Government guidance. To find out more, email PR@spectrum-cic.nhs.uk.

Andi Cope
RSE Lead for Spectrum