The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Lucy Marcovitch

Five ways to teach RSHE with confidence

Guest blogger Lucy Marcovitch, writer, educator and series editor Discovery Education’s Health and Relationships programme shares her top five strategies for building confidence in teaching relationships, sex and health education.

No matter how good a school’s RSHE provision might be, there is always challenging content that can cause anxieties, even in those teachers who have been delivering it for years.

How can teachers develop confidence in delivering their RSHE programmes, especially when the subject touches on such personal and potentially sensitive parts of pupils' lives? Here are my top five suggestions.

1. Use others’ experience and expertise

Whether you are an NQT or have been teaching for years, somebody out there has done this before you. Start by using the knowledge, expertise and experience that exists within your school: the PSHE lead will probably be your first port of call but using or adapting a more experience colleague’s planning can give you confidence with a tricky topic.

Observe or support a lesson if you can – many schools use a school nurse or RSHE consultant to deliver topics such as puberty or sex education, so use their expertise to help guide your own delivery. Joining social media networks and groups where teachers swap ideas and give advice, can also help you feel more confident in your own abilities.

Don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel – a good resource can be used and adapted to suit your pupils’ needs

If possible, attend some high-quality training: this could be whole-school or rolled out to the rest of the staff by the subject lead. As well as benefiting from others’ expertise, training can also give the opportunity to share experiences, ideas and planning with teachers from other parts of the country and set up networks. If nothing else, it can give you a confidence to know that you are already doing the right thing!

2. Be clear about what you are teaching, and why

It is essential that everyone involved in teaching RSHE is clear of two things: what is to be taught and when, and the benefits of this to both school and pupils. Ensure you are aware of the content of the guidelines and are clear on which is statutory and which non-statutory (and therefore from which aspects parents can withdraw their children).

Creating a school policy for RSHE including both content and justification for that content (e.g. its importance to safeguarding), will enable you to articulate these to yourselves as professionals, and thus communicate them clearly to parents. (Optimus members can download an editable, quality-assured relationships, sex and health education policy.)

A policy provides teachers with confidence in their provision, guidance when uncertain, and support if challenged. Content clarity can also offer a useful response to pupil questions: 'That’s a great question! You’ll look at that when you cover this topic in secondary school.'

3. Be well-resourced

Investing in a scheme of work can boost teacher confidence and improve delivery, especially if that scheme includes guidance and training materials as well as lesson plans. As well as providing actual lesson content, it also gives schools a common language, providing a level of expectation for teaching, learning and behaviour for teachers and pupils across all year groups. Use a scheme that works alongside your school’s ethos and values, and don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel – a good resource can be used and adapted to suit your pupils’ needs.

In addition, don’t be afraid to supplement a scheme of work with other resources, especially those provided by charities or specialist organisations which focus on specific areas of the curriculum such as mental health (many of which are free). Using your scheme of work to introduce a topic, then additional resources to explore it further, can extend and strengthen both your pupils’ and your own understanding.

Remember that it’s ok to not have all the answers – for all the questions that pupils always ask, there will always be new ones that you aren’t prepared for

4. Communicate with colleagues, parents, and pupils

As mentioned above, communication is essential in enabling you to articulate and justify your reasons for teaching RSHE, both yourself and colleagues as professionals and to parents. However, it’s also really important to inform parents what you are teaching and when, so you can feel confident that everyone is speaking the same language – parents will appreciate being forewarned of some of the words and topics their children will be taught!

Keeping channels of communication with parents also means that they are more likely to support a school’s provision of non-statutory content, and less likely to withdraw their children from the lessons. Often, parents who are considering or request withdrawal of their children from RSHE change their minds after discussing content and provision with teachers, thus endorsing their faith and trust in you to give their children that knowledge.

5. Create a safe learning environment

Creating a safe teaching and learning environment enables pupils to discuss and share their ideas and feeling without judgement, and teachers to feel more confident in delivering and managing discussion of sensitive areas. In a nutshell, this means creating an environment for learning where everyone feels relaxed and secure. Establishing ground rules, using ‘distancing’ techniques and encouraging questioning are all essential, but as awkwardness is often a first hurdle to overcome, being honest and open is the best way to instil confidence.

Being upfront that everyone, including adults, might find the ‘S’ of RSHE awkward and embarrassing, and allowing pupils to have a giggle over particular words or aspects, can help everyone relax and feel more comfortable, and get those words out in the open.

Most teachers prefer to teach the trickier aspects of RSHE in the final term when they know their class well and feel confident in their relationships, as well as having more awareness of pupils’ home life and background so they can gauge potential sensitivities and vulnerabilities. In Year 6, pupils will also appreciate that a teacher considers them mature enough for these conversations, and are more likely to respond well to them, increasing your confidence in handling them.

There will be questions you just can’t answer!

Finally, remember that it’s ok to not have all the answers – for all the questions that pupils always ask, there will always be new ones that you aren’t prepared for. Children now are growing up in all sorts of different family set-ups and will have a myriad of experiences of relationships. Some of these teachers may never have experience or considered themselves, so there will be questions you just can’t answer.

In the words of an experienced Year 6 teacher who still 'dreads it', teaching RSHE is always a lot better than you think it will be – 'when it comes to it, I end up loving it. It is always good'.

Find out more about Discovery Education's Health and Relationships programme, a complete resource for primary RSHE:

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