Safeguarding Children – In focus 

Statutory relationships and health education

The government, in July 2018, published the draft guidance for the new subject of relationships and sex education.  Schools that are ready to provide high quality RSE (relationships education in primary schools) should do so from September 2019 and those needing longer to prepare have until September 2020 before they must be teaching the new curriculum. 

To embrace the challenges of creating a happy and successful adult life, pupils need knowledge that will enable them to make informed decisions about their wellbeing, health and relationships and build their self-efficacy.  Pupils can also put this knowledge into practice as they develop the capacity to make sound decisions when facing risks, challenges and complex contexts.  Everyone faces difficult situations in their lives.  These subjects have been designed to support young people to develop resilience, to know how and when to ask for help, and to know where to access support.

So what does the introduction of relationships and sex education mean for Hill West?  While some of the details in the guidance could change, the draft sets out a clear direction of travel.  For the first time, every school in the country must prepare to provide RSE – and schools like us who are doing so already will need to review and update our teaching and curriculum plans in light of the guidance.  We will of course start with the content tables in the guidance which set out what pupils should know by the end of primary school.  The thematic categories are helpfully organised: families and people who care for me; caring friendships; respectful relationships; online relationships and being safe.  The new compulsory subject of health education covers learning about feelings and emotions, more on internet safety and also on puberty. 

The new guidance stipulates that for teaching to be effective “core knowledge is broken down into units of manageable size and communicated clearly to pupils, in a carefully sequenced way, within a planned programme of lessons”.  It says that relationships education should start from the beginning of primary school, building on the education in early years.  It is essential that the curriculum content is presented through a scheme of work that begins early in primary school and progresses thought-out primary and secondary education and the guidance leaves flexibility for schools to organise the curriculum as they wish.

Relationships education must be inclusive in-order to comply with the Equality Act.   Under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, schools must not unlawfully discriminate against pupils because of their age, sex, race, disability, religion or belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity, marriage or civil partnership, or sexual orientation (collectively known as the protected characteristic).    Provisions within the Equality Act allow schools to take positive action, where it can be shown that it is proportionate, to deal with particular disadvantage affecting one group because of a protected characteristic.  The focus of Relationships Education in primary schools should be on teaching the fundamental building blocks and characteristics of positive relationships, with particular reference to friendships, family relationships, and relationships with other peers and adults.  This starts with pupils being taught what a relationship is, what family means and who the people are who can support them.  Discussions about families will naturally include diversity in terms of family size, who is caring for children, same-sex relationships, adoption, step families, extended family, marriage and other partnerships.  Some children may also know that they were conceived using donor egg or sperm and this could be part of their understanding of family.  Others may refer to the death of a parent or family member or sibling due to be born. 

Schools should not be afraid of the way discussion about family links with human life-cycles and a wide range of relationships. The principles of positive relationships apply as much online as they do offline especially as, by the end of primary school, many children will already be negotiating relationships seamlessly online and offline.  Teachers will therefore address online safety including how information and data is shared online, for example sharing pictures, understanding that many websites are businesses and how sites may use information provided by users in ways they might not expect. 

The aim of teaching pupils about physical health and wellbeing is to give them the information they need to make good decisions about their own health and wellbeing, recognise issues in themselves and others and, when issues arise, seek support as early as possible from appropriate sources.  Physical health and mental wellbeing are interlinked, and it is important that pupils understand that good physical health contributes to good mental wellbeing and vice versa.  Pupils will be taught about the benefits of daily exercise, good nutrition and sufficient sleep, and will understand the normal range of emotions that everyone experiences.  Pupils will be taught the benefits of hobbies, interests and participation in their own communicates.  They will learn about the benefits of balancing time spent on and offline.  They will also be taught why social media, computer games and online gaming have age restrictions.  They will be equipped to manage common difficulties encountered online.  Through the delivery of the relationships and sex education scheme of work pupils will learn how to keep themselves safe from harm both on and off-line.  

Obviously the role of parents in the development of their children’s understanding is vital also.  Parents are the first educators of their children.  They have the most significant influence in enabling their children to grow and mature and to form healthy relationships.  Hill West will work closely with parents when planning and delivering these subjects especially as we weave them into our existing progressive learning journey for personal development and well-being which outlines what children will be taught in each year of their schooling.  It will be important that our curriculum reflects local issues and addresses scenarios that are likely to be very real for our pupils growing up in a 21st Century world.