Jon Dickinson, deputy head and designated safeguarding lead at Kingsley School, recently posted on the Independent Schools’ Council website to discuss the school’s decision to remodel their SRE provision and the measurable impact this has had upon pupils.
“It is often thought that in terms of sex education schools remain begrudgingly entrenched in legislation created by the DfEE (Department for Education and Employment) back in July 2000. But almost 20 years later and after a veritable explosion in terms of technology, information-sharing and social interaction on a global scale, I think it’s fair to say that this particular piece of statutory guidance is likely to be well past its sell-by date. However even in traditional schools, children’s needs in today’s global society are greater than ever.
With the knowledge that from September 2019 sex and relationship education will become compulsory for all children in England, there has never been a better time than right now to begin revolutionising and revitalising the SRE provision that we provide for our pupils. One of the drivers behind our recent overhaul is that no matter how up-to-date we make our curriculum, we live in world of instantaneous change and growth where the landscape of childhood is fluid and ever shifting. If we are to empower, educate and protect our pupils, we need to be ready to change too.
For this reason we decided to return to the drawing board in terms of designing robust provision that is not only current in terms of thinking but fluid in terms of delivery. It is ironic, but widely recognised, that some of the very best teaching and learning takes place around informal, unplanned or organic situations. So with this in mind we decided to create our SRE content around a selection of important and necessary themes, whilst also leaving room for change and innovation.
Our sex and relationship education is built around a core of topics that resonate with young peoples’ existent experiences today; conflict, relationships, decision-making, choices, consent, sexuality, gender, friendship, communication, pleasure, equality and diversity. We also look to address the nuts-and-bolts matters of; pornography, ‘selfies’, sexting, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, anatomy, contraception and online relationships. Alongside a continuum of vital wider issues such as mental health and stress management in an increasingly pressurised world.
This is a fairly substantial (although not exhaustive) list. We have also very deliberately separated the delivery of these SRE topics from the core of the PSHE delivery that is led by tutors and brought in a youth worker to create a learning environment that is very different from the routine of regular timetabled lessons and very noticeably less formal and more conducive to discussion and openness. This allows tutors themselves to continue to work through alternative themes such as; British values, current affairs, study skills, mental health, charity work and life skills whilst also contributing to, attending and also taking opportunities to reflect upon the SRE provision that runs parallel.
We have carefully created workshops, presentations and lectures that are sometimes presented to specific ages of pupil and sometimes to specific groups within the school community. A bespoke educational experience is one of our overarching tenets, so we feel that it’s important to stay close to this ethos even when delivering group work, external speakers and team teaching.
Education is already a demanding profession and for many teachers the added remit of delivering what amounts to an additional subject, alongside their existing workload, can be a daunting proposition. By challenging our pupils, empowering and supporting our teachers and tutors and by injecting a sense of openness and understanding around historically problematic themes, we aim to create a school where informed discussion and acceptance are the status quo. This is reflected in our policies and our approach to pupil needs; we have recently re-written our uniform rules to remove gender from the equation, we have created gender-neutral restrooms and we have an LGBT+ policy that is informed by some of the most up-to-date thinking in the field.
Thus far the new SRE programme has had a measurable impact on our pupils and as a part of a holistic pastoral approach it has also been an enlightening experience for some of our parents. Contemporary schooling deserves to exist in diverse environment with as many facets as the “big wide world” itself. Kingsley School is an inclusive and divergent community that brings together pupils from a huge range of ages, cultures, backgrounds and experiences. So it stands to reason that in the pursuit of doing all we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can… that we are diverse, committed, progressive and proactive too.”