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What do children and young people learn in RSE?  

‘At secondary school relationships and sex education covers content on a wider range of key topics including consent, sexual exploitation, online abuse, grooming, coercion, harassment, rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage, honour-based violence and FGM, and how these can affect current and future relationships.

Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way. There should be an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships.

“Health education focuses on enabling pupils to make well-informed, positive choices for themselves, and includes teaching about the impact of puberty. The curriculum covers mental health and will support young people to recognise and manage any wellbeing issues as well as how they can seek support as early as possible.”

Department for Education, ‘What do children and young people learn in relationship, sex and health education’, (2023)

How to work with different groups

In secondary schools Prevention work can be facilitated in several ways and each option has its pros and cons. It is important work is delivered to all genders and year groups – these issues affect everyone. You’ll need to consider the group’s dynamics and to think about how you can explore topics safely. 

Everyone should get the opportunity to actively participate, without feeling pressured to do or say anything that makes them uncomfortable. You can encourage young people to be brave whilst also honouring their boundaries. Facilitating sessions is an opportunity to model a respectful and appropriate child-adult relationship. 

Working with mixed groups

Working with mixed-gender groups can spark thought-provoking discussion but it’s important to consider the potential risks of this type of work and mitigate against them. Be mindful that power imbalances are likely to play out within the session and think about what you can do to ensure young women and young marginalised people are heard. 

There might be young people who have experienced harm and young people who have caused harm within the space and so achieving safety for all might not be a realistic aim. Young people who challenge or subvert gender stereotypes or norms might face ridicule or abuse and this needs to be called out. Young LGBTQIA+ people might be especially vulnerable to this type of behaviour.  

Nearly half of lesbian, gay and bisexual students, rising to 64% of trans students, are bullied for being LGBTQ+ at school. 

Bradlow, J., Bartram, F., and Guasp, A. Jadva, V., ‘Stonewall School Report: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people in Britain’s schools in 2017’,  (Stonewall, 2017)

Be sure to reinforce the potential positive role of boys and young men, as allies, and ensure they do not feel attacked or labelled as ‘perpetrators.’ All groups benefit from two facilitators being present, especially mixed groups. 

Working with gender-specific groups 

When working with gender-specific groups, nobody’s gender should be assumed. Young people should be invited to share their pronouns and preferred names at the beginning of every session. Non-binary and gender-fluid young people should be provided with choice about which group they feel most comfortable joining. 

Gender-specific groups provide an opportunity to create trusting and open spaces to explore gender inequality and relationships – a chance to have conversations that might not be possible in mixed spaces. Young people are more likely to feel comfortable to share their experiences and express solidarity with other group members. 

Power dynamics will still play out and should be explored. Taking an intersectional approach includes talking to young people about the racialised nature of gender-based violence (GBV), its impact, and the barriers to support. Gender-specific groups might benefit from facilitators who identify as the same gender as the majority of the group. 

Working with groups of young women 

These spaces should be inclusive of transgender young women and non-binary young people. Working with young women is an opportunity to create a sense of real safety, where young women can talk openly from their own experience. Young women’s groups can take a holistic approach to Prevention, focussing on building confidence, healthy relationships, body image, online safety and activism. You can also support young women to be reflective about how patriarchal norms and expectations play out in their friendships and relationships. 

Working with groups of young men

These spaces should be inclusive of transgender young men and non-binary young people. Delivery should be relevant and tailored to the needs of the young men you are supporting, including the topics you choose to cover. Young men are part of the solution and need to be engaged as allies.

Equally Safe at School (ESAS) recommends: 

  1. Having open and honest discussions about the nature of gender inequality.
  2. Supporting boys and young men to identify ways in which gender roles and stereotypes create inequalities and power imbalances. 
  3. Building empathy, understanding and positive relationships among boys. 
  4. Being role models for equality.

Involving young men is integral to the Whole School Approach (WSA). You can find out more here.