RHSE planning and student vulnerabilities

Waist up portrait view of the cheerful girl with down syndrome smiling and looking at the teacher while her boyfriend making plates from clay during the pottery master class

Jenny Fox on ensuring pupils with SEND benefit from high quality teaching and resources.

Children and young people with special education needs and disabilities face particular and unique challenges when it comes to developing relationships, understanding sex and, importantly, accessing education about these topics. We know, for example, that many young people with SEND report feeling lonely or worried about their future relationships, and that they are at greater risk of being exploited online. These increased vulnerabilities regarding relationships highlight the importance of high quality Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE).

But we also know pupils with SEND sometimes get less education about these important topics. Reasons may include a lack of suitable teaching resources, or because their cognitive, emotional and physical development are at different stages, making age-appropriate RSHE education more challenging to plan and deliver.

However, the Department for Education’s statutory RSHE guidance is clear that:

“Relationships Education, RSE and Health Education must be accessible for all pupils. This is particularly important when planning teaching for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities who represent a large minority of pupils. Relationships Education and RSE can also be particularly important subjects for some pupils, for example those with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs or learning disabilities.”

Recognising this, the PSHE Association has developed a Planning Framework for pupils with SEND to support schools to tailor content from the statutory guidance into accessible learning outcomes, as part of a sequenced PSHE curriculum. The framework covers key stages 1 to 4, and approaches PSHE education through six core themes, starting with Self-Awareness, moving on to Self-Care Support and Safety, and eventually progressing through to The World I Live In, which helps pupils recognise their place in the wider community. Each theme provides learning aims in six progressive stages, from Encountering (starting to engage with the learning process) through to Enhancement (able to apply learning in different contexts), meaning you can pitch learning at the right level. The Planning Framework can be used in both special education settings or for pupils with SEND in mainstream schools.

We have also recently worked with the NSPCC to develop Talk Relationships, a specific series of lessons on Relationships and Sex Education for pupils with SEND aged 11 to 16. These lessons cover a range of pressing issues for young people with SEND, including: understanding personal boundaries, the concepts of public and private (and how this applies to online communication), and how to challenge pressure to share inappropriate messages and images online. These lessons all include the same flexibility as the Planning Framework. They allow you to choose between main activities so that you can pitch learning for different needs.

This is in addition to helping the NSPCC update their Talk PANTS programme, which will include a specific lesson for children with SEND, helping them to recognise abuse, understand about their rights over their own bodies, and to feel empowered to speak out if they need help. This will be launched at the start of the next academic year.

It is vital that all young people access this important learning in a way that is accessible for them, supports their autonomy and safety, and enables them to thrive in adult life.

Jenny Fox
Author: Jenny Fox

Jenny Fox
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Jenny Fox is Senior Subject Specialist at the PSHE Association, and has developed PSHE planning frameworks, training and lesson plans for special education provision. She has two adopted children with special educational needs.


The PSHE Association is the official subject association for PSHE education.

Website: http://www.pshe-association.org.uk/SEND
Twitter: @PSHEassociation
Twitter: @JennyFoxPSHE


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