From September 2020, Relationships Education becomes compulsory for all primary and secondary school pupils. Some schools are starting to teach it this year. Catherine Hine is the CEO of FASTN, a charity which champions healthy, dependable and nurturing relationships for all. Here she gives us a crash course in the new Relationships Education curriculum and why it matters.
Our children start learning about relationships as babies. Every interaction, good or bad, teaches them something new. Fast forward to school and they’ll suddenly have a lot more people to learn from. Hopefully they’ll make lifelong friends and be surrounded by people they can talk to if they ever need help. They’ll definitely hear and see a few things in the playground we’d rather they did not.
Whatever happens, they’ll be learning about relationships every step of the way and that that is why Relationships Education is so important. It means time will be set aside for them to learn what healthy relationships look like, they’ll hear about respect, kindness and when to ask for help, they’ll also be able to separate fact from the fiction because RSE will come from a trusted source.
So, what exactly is Relationships Education and when is it being introduced?
Relationships Education is part of the new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum. It’s compulsory. All schools will have to teach it from September 2020. Some schools are keen to get ahead of the game and will run pilots from September 2019.
It aims to teach about all kinds of relationships. In primary school, children will learn about respect, listening and empathy. They’ll hear about things like friendship and different kinds of families, how to treat people with kindness and the difference between online and offline friendships. In secondary school this work will be built on and they’ll learn about things like coercion and control.
Why do they need to learn this stuff?
Teenagers told us they want these lessons. Over 80%* of teenagers said they want help from schools to understand what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like. We carried out some polling and it showed that parents and teachers are overwhelmingly supportive of relationships education in schools too**.
Sadly, for some children, home is where they experience abusive relationships. Also some parents or carers may not want to discuss relationships. Relationships Education will ensure all children get to hear about these vital skills. And if you’re like me, a parent who has those moments of anxiety when the enormity of the task of raising a child hits home, it means there is extra help on hand to teach children about relationships.
As one teacher put it – it is the most important subject of all. In times of emotional crisis, people won’t care about square roots or capital cities, they’ll need those relationship skills. Another teacher told us her reception class pupils can’t learn a thing until they master skills like listening, sharing and taking turns. Researchers*** have shown that developing relationship skills in childhood can have a positive impact on academic performance, health, the ability to have fulfilling relationships in later life and how we manage stress and conflict.
I’ve heard this subject teaches primary school children about sex – what if a parent wants to withdraw my child?
Sex education – which goes beyond the long-standing existing curriculum for science – is not being made compulsory in primary schools. That is a fact. Only Relationships Education is being made compulsory. You cannot withdraw your children from these lessons because the Government views these subjects – such as family, friendship, safety (including online safety) – as important for all children to learn about.
How can I find out more?
There are some RSE resources issued by the Department for Education specifically for parents. These outline what the new curriculum entails. Schools are required to consult with parents when developing and reviewing policies for Relationships Education and RSE.
The subject will be different in every school so it really is worth talking with the school and finding out what RSE will be like for your child. There has been a lot of misinformation about RSE, so it’s important to hear it from the teachers who can give you accurate information about what your child will learn. When you talk to them, it’s a great chance to ask how you can support the subject at home as some of the issues might come up. RSE really is a great opportunity – if we all get behind it we can make it a success.
FASTN is the national champion of family stability and all types of committed relationships. It brings together a wide range of practitioners to support Relationships Education in schools.
FASTN has been working with teachers, schools and practitioners across the country to gather stories about RSE in Action. The stories aim to inspire and spark a debate about how we can make the most out of RSE.
*Source: Survation Poll of Young People for FASTN. Sample size: 1,011 children aged 14-17. Date: December 2017.)
** The Survation poll on RSE surveyed 1015 parents of children currently in a primary or secondary school in the UK interviewed online between 3rd – 11th June 2019 and 507 teachers currently teaching in a primary or secondary school between 4th – 10th June 2019.