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Why do we need RSE?

Today is RSE day, but what does RSE actually mean and why do we need it? With the new compulsory curriculum for Relationship and Sex Education starting in September 2020, the government has given clear guidelines on the type and amount of RSE that children & teenagers are to receive. Primary School children will be given Relationship Education, while Secondary School pupils will be taught Relationship & Sex Education. The Department for Education’s guidance on what is required starts with “All schools must have an up-to-date policy, which is made available to parents and others. Schools must provide a copy of the policy free of charge to anyone who asks for one and should publish the policy on the school website.” The D of E requires a specific set of points:

  • Details of content/scheme of work and when each topic is taught, taking account of the age of pupils
  • Who delivers either Relationships Education or RSE
  • How the policy has been produced, and how it will be kept under review, in both cases working with parents
  • How delivery of the content will be made accessible to all pupils. 
  • Explanation of the right to withdraw
  • Requirements on schools in law e.g. the Equality Act (please see The Equality Act 2010 and schools: Departmental advice)
  • How often the policy is updated
  • Who approves the Policy

It has long been demonstrated that providing evidence-based sexual health education can improve academic success; prevent dating violence, and bullying; help youth develop healthier relationships; delay sexual initiation; reduce unplanned pregnancy, HIV, and other STIs; and reduce sexual health disparities among LGBTQ youth (M.D. Szydlowski, 2015b).

Given the imminent compulsory status, what are the most effective ways of imparting this knowledge and providing young people with the beneficial lessons?  The form that it will take, in adherence to the new rules will be instrumental in the reaping of its rewards.

Sexual health as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is “… a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality…” and must be the minimum target for any RSE policy. 

We have conducted an anonymous survey ourselves, receiving over 1300 respondents. When students were asked to assess which RSE topics were most important to them, they listed Sexual Health, Respect and Equality, and Sexual Harassment as their biggest concerns. Almost 60% of students rated them as ‘Very Important’, the highest degree available. Body image came in a close fourth. This highlights a clear link between the fundamental desires of young people and the WHO’s definition of sexual health. It is heartening that young people are gravitating towards the ideas and tools that can help them take personal control of their lives. Hungry for the knowledge that can empower their decision making, many will find health and success in other areas of life, apart from relationships and sex. 

This clearly demonstrates the importance of RSE in equipping young people with the knowledge to safely and successfully navigate, not only the world of physical and mental wellbeing but also to create confidence in the wider sphere of the workplace and social life. Learning how to identify when you feel uncomfortable and when you need to exit or speak up in a situation is not exclusive to the young or vulnerable, they are attributes which are always necessary on both a micro and macro scale. We can see from the desires and willingness in both the students that we meet and in the many responses to our surveys that there is no shortage of good young people willing to do something about the problems they see in the world. It falls to us, as adults, to provide them with the protection, tools, support and guidance so that they can not only combat the evil that they find in their youth, but to be able to take that strength into their lives as better champions for what they see to be right, to be able to stand up for the vulnerable themselves one day.

This RAP Project survey also illustrates a clear distinction in the way young people learn best about these subjects. With regards to discussion of pornography, sexual relationships & sexual harassment, it is clear pupils prefer an external speaker as supported in the graph below. Outside speakers are followed by guided group discussions in schools. Teachers and students often support this argument, by clearly stating the students are more open, comfortable and prone to asking questions they might otherwise feel embarrassed about. 

rap graph 1

With the ever changing digital and social world, as well as foreseen and unforeseen global challenges, it is more vital than ever to create a safe and formalised space for children and young adults to learn how to navigate their personal lives safely on and offline. The question should not be ‘Why do we need RSE?’ but, ‘How have we gone this long without it?!’

Eshu Christianson, Social Media Producer, The RAP Project