For Sexual Health Week 2020 and throughout September, Brook is celebrating the introduction of mandatory RSE in all schools in England. Brook Education and Wellbeing Specialist, Viccie Hamlet, talks to us about how Brook makes teaching about relationships a priority of our RSE model.
At Brook, we have used the term ‘Relationships and Sex Education’ over the more widely used ‘Sex and Relationships Education’ for many years, and when the 2017 Children and Social Work Act also took this stance, the ‘Relationships’ component of RSE was firmly established at the forefront of the topic.
This step recognises that relationships:
- Come before sex, in particular the relationship a young person has with themselves
- Are a bigger and broader topic encompassing the development of a young person’s values, attitudes and skills
- Set the foundation from which young people can make informed, active choices about their personal and sexual relationships
During puberty, along with the physiological changes, young people also experience psychosocial developments which includes an increase in self-identity and growing concern about other people’s opinions, particularly those of their peers (World Health Organisation 2020).
Whilst this influence from peers is increasing, the influence of parents/carers is diminishing and coupled with the additional pressure brought on by the sudden arrival of extra responsibilities and new situations, many young people struggle to cope.
Young people act ‘reactively’ to situations which can often lead to negative outcomes alongside feelings of regret and low self-worth.
Relationships education is key here with the development of self-esteem, resilience and aspirations significant in supporting young people to navigate adolescence and respond more skilfully to the situations they encounter. In addition, young people need a safe space to explore how they think and feel about themselves, the situations they are in and the events that happen to and around them so they are better equipped to manage them in the future.
Young people are inquisitive and resourceful so will seek the information they need whether or not schools and/or parents provide the opportunities.
Young people will look online or discuss with friends and what we know is that information gained from these sources are not always accurate or reliable and are quite often harmful.
Brook education sessions provide accurate and timely information in a fun and engaging way, meaning young people are more likely to retain that information and pass it on to peers. However, adequate and effective relationships education requires much more than the provision of information.
Brook education sessions have been designed specifically to encourage young people to learn through participation. A ‘Brook Space’ is created enabling young people to feel safe to explore set topics within the context of their own values and experiences. Alongside information giving, Education and Wellbeing Specialists facilitate discussions and activities around such topics which not only aim to increase knowledge but also develop relevant skills, confidence and self-esteem. Whilst we have aims and outcomes for each session, this approach ensures the learning and skills gained are specific to the needs of each individual and therefore of most use.
Providing relationships and sex education in this way gives young people the chance to be better informed and know what they value about relationships.
It means they are more likely to take responsibility for themselves and others, recognise the components of staying safe, take responsibility for their choices and actions as individuals and base their decisions on their own needs and identified values. Positive sexual health and relationships come as a by-product if these outcomes.
The challenge we have always faced with regards to RSE was time, with allocation to the topic varying from school to school but ultimately never being enough. With RSE now a mandatory topic the hope is that schools will have the support in place to teach adequate and effective relationships and sex education that provides young people with the tools they need to have happy and healthy lives.