Rachel Coathup provides SEND teachers with tips and resources on delivering Relationships and Sex Education.
In 2015 a coalition of children’s charities called on UK authorities to offer ‘accessible and appropriate’ sex and relationships education to children with learning disabilities. The report was commissioned by Comic Relief, and produced by Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, Paradigm Research and Coventry University. Moving forward to September 2020 and all schools including those with students with special educational needs, are now required to teach “Relationships Education” with secondary schools, teaching “Relationships and Sex Education” (RSE).
Talking about relationships
There is often a lot of anxiety around talking to children with special needs about growing up, relationships and sex. Their parents rightly worry that their children may be more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse but teaching children about sex and relationships helps them to understand the appropriate parameters: what is acceptable and what is not.
Whatever the special needs of a child, as they grow through puberty, they still need to learn to understand their feelings and how to channel these appropriately. Like every other child they need the support and guidance to develop positive, healthy attitudes with their peers and the wider community.
The RSE curriculum requires careful planning but especially for pupils with SEND. High quality teaching needs to be differentiated and personalised to ensure accessibility for all students. As teachers and particularly SENCOs will appreciate, some pupils are more vulnerable to exploitation, bullying and other issues due to the nature of their SEND.
In the months leading up to the start of the new RSE curriculum we started working with consultant, Rebecca Jennings who has more than 18 years of experience working with children and young people in educational settings. She has worked with the Department for Education as a subject matter expert around the staff training element of relationships, sex and health education (RSHE Curriculum).
Working with Rebecca, we have developed two ‘Respectful & Intimate Relationships series’ of video-based learning content which are completely free of charge to parents and schools, along with supporting information and advice for teachers in delivering this potentially complex but vitally important topic. As with all teaching for these subjects, the learning content is carefully and sensitively designed, age-appropriate, and developmentally appropriate and aligned to the new curriculum. Whatever the RSE learning content you decide to use, we recommend some additional considerations to make the process easier and more effective for the teacher and students.
The first important consideration is to offer all students a level of anonymity; particularly for those who may have questions they are not comfortable asking in front of their peers. We suggest setting up an enclosed box in the hall, back of the class or even the changing rooms, so students can write down their question and put this in the box anonymously for the teacher to address in class. Of course, depending on the level of disability, it may be necessary to create an alternative way of communicating their questions.
The next step is to have a structure for your lesson. The students within your class could potentially have a variety of past experiences and backgrounds therefore, even if your school has created its learning content for each class to use, each teacher should review the lesson in advance. Our RSE videos all come with transcripts so the teachers can read what will be included prior to the lesson and can always stop the video before it gets to something that either they, or a student, may not be comfortable with.
We also recommend having a list of prepared questions associated with the lesson content so that teachers aren’t put on the spot by having to think of the best way of beginning a dialogue with the students; such questions are included in our free content.
Before a lesson starts, it’s also a good idea to set up a ‘contract’ with the students of what is acceptable and what isn’t. For example, you may agree with them that personal questions can’t be asked. This avoids the ‘Hey Miss have you had sex?’ question which can be responded to by simply reminding them of the contract agreement, before moving on.
Our videos ‘play out’ related story lines, taking a lot of pressure away from the teacher in creating effective learning content. Whatever content you use, it is important to get the right balance between being light-hearted but also delivering a very important message. When selecting videos on YouTube, ensure they are appropriate for the student’s age and not too graphic.
The videos in our two Respectful & Intimate Relationships series’ are designed for Years 10 – 12 students but parts of them can be used and the lesson adapted according to the students’ needs.
The free learning content gives teachers the ideal material to adapt, if necessary and deliver the new curriculum to all students regardless of their special educational provision. They are designed to help even the most vulnerable students to develop a strong foundation for a deeper level of understanding; it’s about giving them the confidence to ‘see’ the issues from a broader perspective, develop a respect for how others may feel and acquire the tools necessary to address issues in their future lives.
ClickView’s two original series, Respectful Relationships and Respectful Intimate Relationships series have been specifically designed to give you the tools and resources you need to teach these topics with confidence. Both series are free for both educators and parents to access.