Relationship and Sex Education is finally changing! Earlier this year the government produced compulsory guidance for both Primary and Secondary Schools in relation to what they should be educating children and young people with regards to Relationship Education and Relationship and Sex Education. The guidance isn't perfect, but it is definitely a step in the right direction considering the last time this was debated was nearly 20 years ago!!
So why am I passionate about Relationship and Sex Education and more importantly, how can I help you as teachers, youth workers, social workers and other important significant support networks for children and young people…Well I have been working in the field of sexual trauma and domestic abuse for over 15 years now with previous roles including CSE Coordinator, Domestic Abuse Advocate and Senior of Children's Services. Many of these roles included a high level of one to one support to children and young people ranging from 5 years old to 21 years old. I loved all of these roles, the many challenges they brought and the amazing rewards that you could actually see happening in front of you.
Those challenges were hard though, seeing boys as young as 6 thinking that their mother deserved the abuse they were suffering from because they believed the excuses the abuser was making and trying to help change this way of thinking. Having 13 year old girls ask me why they were taught about stranger danger when it was those that they trusted that had sexual assaulted them, a 11 year old boy that so desperately wanted to be nothing like his father because of the abuse he had witnessed and one of my most heart-breaking memories is sitting with a 15 year old girl who was telling me about her weekend in which she was raped at a party, however this was described and pushed aside by her in the same way she told me how crap the music was at the same party. She hadn't realised she had been raped, she had passed out and woken with a guy on top of her and passed out again before he finished. She didn't see this as rape, she didn't even see it as sexual assault, why? Because in her words it wasn't violent, she didn't say no, she had been drinking, none of her friends had questioned what happened (even though many witnessed it!). This girl had never been taught about consent, she had never been educated around rape and sexual assault and it was heart-breaking to watch her face as she argued with herself that she couldn't have been raped.
The rewards outweighed all of this though, seeing young people repair the relationships with their parents, realising that they weren't to blame for the abuse that was going on under their roofs, hearing them tell me about how safe they felt in their new relationships, telling me that they hadn't self-harmed in a week or that they were now ready to engage with other services to help with their substance misuse and supporting that 15 year old girl through a police investigation, seeing her wanting to make a change to help others and training her to become a Peer Mentor!
Seeing these took time though and many were a result of completing stripping things down and taking it back to basics when we talk about relationship education, completing support sessions around healthy friendships, qualities that we want in our relationships, our own responsibilities within our relationships. As with the 15-year-old girl above, many of the young people I had supported didn't have any form of relationship education. Most knew about using condoms to prevent STIs but what use is that knowledge when you have exploiters and abusers chipping away at your self-esteem and self-worth, emotionally abusing and coercing you into doing things that you don’t want to do or aren't ready to do all while thinking this is what a normal relationship is because it’s the same as what you’ve witnessed at home or what is being shown on TV or Porn or because no one has told you any different!
So many amazing organisations and charities have been campaigning for Relationship and Sex Education for years and my examples above are just a small reason as to why! From their numerous campaigns and research many found that:
· 45% of young people did not learn all they needed to about sexual consent
· 20% of 16- and 17-year olds did not receive any teaching on the signs of an abusive relationship
· 18% had not learnt about how to find any support if they had been sexually assaulted
· 23% did not learn about how to recognise grooming for exploitation
How I Can Help Your RSE…
My What's The Debate? Statement Cards were created in my mind during a group work session where we spoke about the impact of porn on young people, you read more about it in my previous blog, however the concept behind them is based around what I learnt from working directly with young people…they are greatly influenced by their peers and the media!
Many polls have shown us that the three main educators of their RSE is their peers, school and the media, all three of these can create such positive, engaging learning experiences so why not combine them all in a simple resource, that can be used in many different ways!
Young people want to be actively involved in their relationship education, many want to know if other young people their age the same views and experiences have, they want to ask questions and have discussions with their peers about what they have been exposed to and seen. Young people want to understand where their influences come from and be shown how to understand they ways in which their peers, media, religion and their families might shape their understandings of sex and relationships and this is what my What's The Debate? Statement Cards aim to do!
Each topic comes with 25 PVC Statement Cards, on each of these cards there is a myth or misconception about the topic in question. These myths and misconceptions are ones that I have heard throughout my experience of working with young people, they are ones I have heard from young people directly, from group work sessions, from members of the public and even from professionals. In their simplest form they can be used with young people to encourage them to actively participate in their education and ask those important questions that they really want to ask. RSE should provide an opportunity for learning and the statement cards offer this while promoting positive behaviours and challenging stereotypes. They also encourage other skills for young people such as taking turns, negotiating skills, active listening, empathy, awareness of other opinions and feelings and many more.
So how can they be used;
In their simplest way, the cards can be used within a group setting. A facilitator picks a card and reads it out, asking the group to go to the side of the room that represents how they feel about that statement and then asks members to feedback why they feel that why, what influences them or that statement etc
They can be used in a One-to-One setting by laying out all the cards on a table and asking the young person to pick those that they agree with or have questions about and then discussions can be based on those chosen.
They can be used to enhance debating skills, choose a statement and task members to either be for or against the statement. Ask them to go research their evidence for their arguments and then hold a debate.
They can be used within Circle Time or Tutor Time for a quick and brief awareness session, use one statement card per Circle/Tutor Time and base a 10-minute discussion or learning experience around it.
They can be embedded into other workshops/lessons as ice-breakers to the subject or to help facilitators gain an understanding of the knowledge within the room…I also use them as this within the training I facilitate to professionals, they can create some great table top discussions during activities and breaks.
With the topic packs, you also get four lesson plans. One of these is based around the cards but the other three ai to extend and enhance knowledge on the main topic. They have been designed to encourage participation and to be able to be easily used and so there isn't any PowerPoints needed as many of us will know that technology tends to fail us when we need it the most but also so that the lessons can be facilitated in small groups if needed and out of a classroom setting by youth workers and social workers as well as teachers. There is also a full Facilitators Guide which as well gives tips and advice for not only facilitating and supporting debates and discussions but also about teaching and handling sensitive subjects and questions and lots of prompts, facts and questions to go with each of the Statement Cards.
The lesson plans and guide are provided on a digital download basis, this is because as I said earlier, that many of the myths and misconceptions include ones that I heard many years ago, ones that the 15 year old girl tried to use to convince herself she wasn't raped and that was over 8 years ago. I believe that many of these myths and misconceptions are here to stay but what is changing is what influences us about them, especially for young people. With the ease of access to the internet and social media pretty much being 24/7 for them, with the changes to watersheds and what is being shown or exposed to on the media and with how news is reported our influences are constantly changing and so providing these as a digital download allows me to update these to include any new trends or information that is influencing our young people, for example I have spent the summer break updating many of the topics to include themes and information from recent Hollyoaks storylines and also from Netflix's Sex Education (which is great and a must for anyone working with young people).
There are topics for Primary and Secondary Key Stages with new topics be added on a regular basis and all of the lesson plans and guides are linked to the new RSE Guidance and PSHE Association Curriculum. Educators can also choose what topics they want to create their own toolkit that suits the needs of their young people, there is also discounts applied for more than one topic purchased.
Workshops and Training
I love facilitating workshops and training to young people and to professionals, some of the best conversations I have ever had have been with young people about the subjects they worry about the most and I love empowering other people to be able to have the skills and confidence to not only support children and young people but to safeguard them as well and help them make their own empowered and informed choices. I have a number of workshops and specialised programmes that I can facilitate in schools around RSE including Consent, Online Safety, Porn and many others and I also have a number of RSE and Safeguarding Workshops and Training days for professionals.
One thing I am very passionate about though is that schools play such an important and vital role in promoting safe and healthy relationships, teachers are those who see these young people the most, you know about their lives inside and out of the school, you know how they are going to respond, how they engage and how they take in information. This is why I provide Train The Trainer training on all of my workshops and programmes because no matter how much I love facilitating them myself, I always struggle with being seen as the "expert" coming in to deliver a session for an hour and then leave knowing that my session was part of a drop-down day and through no fault of their own, the school won’t have another session until the following term, or leaving knowing that a young person in that classroom is being directly affected by what I was talking about and doesn't feel that they can disclose to their teacher because the teacher wasn't involved in the actual session.
When educating on any sensitive subjects is it important for the facilitator to understand any prior knowledge that will be within the room, have an insight into the dynamics of the group and aware of any recent events that may be happening within the environment, this makes teachers the best facilitators. It has been evident to see though that many teachers don't feel prepared to deliver such sensitive subjects mainly due to lack of training. This is why my Train The Trainer packages ensure that educators are able to enhance their skills and gain the confidence to deliver such subjects, gain knowledge the subjects and how they can impact young people, explore how effective relationship and sex education can promote positive safeguarding and gain skills and practical ideas of facilitation. Benefits of the Train The Trainer packages also allow for a whole school approach to be adapted and for academies and trusts to have a continual framework that can be delivered throughout all their schools.
If you would like more information about What's The Debate? or to discuss any bespoke training or resources, then please contact me on Beckie@whatsthedebate.co.uk