The new Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and health curriculum is important for all students for many personal and academic reasons, yet it is not mandatory for Further Education (FE) colleges, sixth-form colleges or 16-19 academies.
In this article, Rachel Coathup, former educator and now learning adviser at ClickView, explains why it is vital to deliver empowering RSE to all FE students. She encourages all education institutions to embrace the new curriculum, whether policy mandates this or not.
What is the new RSE curriculum?
Justine Greening MP worked for years to refresh and modernise the RSE curriculum, which had not previously been reviewed since 2000. She believed RSE had to evolve from a clinical exploration of anatomy, sex and menstruation for which boys and girls are separated, into a politically charged, empowering and crucial dissection of foundational topics. Such topics include consent, equality, sexism, healthy relationships, trolling and personal safety, which all students discuss together.
By the end of secondary school, students should have engaged with and understood a plethora of important discussions regarding six key topics. These include families, respectful relationships (including friendships), online and media, being safe and intimate and sexual relationships, including sexual health.
Why RSE is so crucial in FE colleges
As students progress through puberty, RSE becomes increasingly crucial. Currently, many students leave school confused about vital topics like consent and what healthy relationships look like.
New research by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that 35 per cent of students entering university had learned “more about sex from pornography than from formal education”. Furthermore, only 14 per cent of students leaving secondary school have been taught what safe intimate and sexual relationships look like online.
As a result, we have seen a sharp rise in discussion about sexual harassment and abuse in secondary schools, FE institutions and universities. Much of this has gone under the radar for decades. Student-led movement Everyone’s Invited has collected 16,375 testimonies of rape culture perpetrated in educational institutions in the UK and the BBC has collated an expose on sexual harassment in schools just this week.
We know that a significant RSE knowledge gap exists amongst students entering FE and HE education and that this gap exacerbates serious risks of abuse to fellow students and in particular, to female students. This is a problem we can no longer ignore.
This vital new curriculum must be taught by all primary and secondary schools, yet it is not compulsory for sixth-form colleges, 16-19 academies or FE colleges. The Department for Education (DfE) encourages such institutions to offer RSE support to all students even though it is not mandatory.
If students do not receive RSE support while studying at FE institutions, it is likely that such students may never receive the information they need to understand vital RSE topics like consent.
What teachers can do
While teachers are often enthusiastic about the new RSE curriculum and are comfortable discussing challenging topics with their pupils, many have had to overcome hurdles to deliver this loaded curriculum.
Firstly, teachers have had to battle the unprecedented complications caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, including lockdowns, school closures and the subsequent mental health struggles that students and teachers have faced. Juggling these challenges with learning a new curriculum and deciding how best to deliver it has been difficult.
Secondly, teachers are often offered no additional training or support to deliver the RSE curriculum. A recent survey found that 82 per cent of teachers expected to teach RSE did not learn about the subject during their teacher training, 63 per cent of these teachers have not received training within the past two years and 29 per cent had never had any RSE training at all.
This puts teachers in a compromising position as they are challenged to teach a curriculum they may not have had any training in.
If we agree that the danger of not educating children is a very real issue, then teachers need and deserve support.
Working with schools and in my time as a teacher I recognised that videos that ‘play out’ related story lines are proving to be particularly effective in terms of providing teachers with this support to develop students’ understanding. The students feel comfortable with the format because the learning is delivered in a style that is familiar and meets the needs of this ‘YouTube generation.’ Research shows that students who visualise (or internalise) information are far more likely to retain it and be able to apply it in a meaningful and relevant way. Videos can help to bring the new RSE curriculum to life and to showcase how vital topics like LGBTQ+ rights or consent relate to the real world.
For this reason, in partnership with expert consultant, Rebecca Jennings, ClickView has created two original series, Respectful Relationships and Respectful Intimate Relationships. These videos have been designed to give teachers the tools and resources needed to teach these topics with confidence and are completely free of charge to all schools, colleges and parents.
They encourage teachers and parents to introduce and explore the challenging and important issues surrounding respectful relationships, including consent, sexual harassment, domestic violence, misogyny in pornography and the sharing of intimate images.
We hope these videos are helpful to teachers in FE colleges in delivering this challenging topics.
By Rachel Coatup, Former Educator and now Learning Adviser at ClickView