Ofsted’s report shines a crucial light on importance of empowering RSHE

Rachel Coatup
Monday, June 14, 2021

After meeting with 900 students in UK schools, Ofsted found that sexual harassment, including online sexual abuse, has become ‘normalised’ for children and young people.

This includes, and in some cases begins, in our schools. While this finding is heart-breaking, it is also not surprising.

Ofsted’s report shines a crucial light on the reality of sexual harassment in schools. The report also recognises where children are being failed by the education system and highlights the importance of powerful Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) and puberty education for all students.

Here, learning advisor at ClickView Rachel Coathup, analyses Ofsted’s report while she offers tips to delivering RSHE lessons that inspire students and help to tackle the sexual harassment crisis in our schools.

Ofsted’s report is shocking and disturbing. It features first-hand accounts of students on the frontline of sexual harassment and assault and showcases the prevalence of sexism throughout a variety of schools. While this emotional reaction is understandable, Ofsted’s report should also be recognised as empowering. It highlights the ways we are failing pupils and should be used as a springboard from which we must tackle this widespread issue.

Training and confidence

Ofsted found that “many teachers said they don’t feel prepared to teach outside their subject specialism, or lack knowledge on topics like consent, healthy relationships and sharing of sexual images”. Additionally, the report found that school leaders themselves “did not value the importance of RSHE”. Subsequently, insufficient time was given to the subject and curriculum planning was very poor.

As a result of this lack of training, students often don’t receive the information about crucial topics like consent that they desperately need. When students aren’t taught about these crucial topics in school, they look elsewhere. Research by Freeda found that 70 per cent of young people gained their information on sex ed from the internet, 56 per cent said they simply asked friends and 43 per cent said they consulted social media.1 Ofsted’s report mentions a female pupil who told inspectors, “it shouldn’t be our responsibility to educate boys” about issues like consent.

The problem with finding RSHE information anywhere but school is that falsehoods can easily be spread and stigma can grow as a result. This is partly why sexual harassment has been normalised. Students deserve to feel confident about their bodies and empowering RSHE lessons can help to change these statistics.

School leaders must act

If we are to truly solve this problem, school leaders must act and acknowledge the importance of sex ed. If school leaders don’t prioritise this crucial subject area, then their students will continue to face abuse and harassment, which in turn will negatively impact their wider studies in many subject areas. How can you expect students to thrive academically when they don’t feel safe, protected or heard when they speak up, in school?

Schools that value RSHE will provide adequate support for their teachers, students and parents alike. This should take the form of training for staff, the implementation of a robust and confidential reporting process for students, support for parents when they wish to discuss these issues with their children at home and the circulation of a range of additional support from external organisations including ClickView’s, free learning content. Schools can also add a question box for pupils to share their concerns about consent problems anonymously and they should let parents know what they’re teaching so that they can continue the education at home.

Investigate the feelings pupils have about RSHE subjects

Additionally, we all need to reimagine the way we teach RSHE. My first piece of advice to giving empowering lessons, even if you find RSHE subjects such as consent daunting, is to encourage students to investigate their feelings. If they feel intimidated, scared or confused about these vast topics, you can help them to explore why they feel this way. Do they think their feelings make learning about the topics even more important? Do they know why they feel afraid or confused? How do they think they can be supported to feel empowered? Can they create any campaigns to inform others?

Learn from your students

As you know, children and young people have lots of fresh ideas and knowledge about all topics, including RSHE. Make sure you remember to learn from your students during your lessons. Listen to what they are concerned about, and work with them to find solutions. Their insight is invaluable.

Why teaching young children about consent is vital

Of course, consent is important throughout all stages of life and so is maintaining a solid understand of the concept. This applies to young students in primary and early secondary school. As children’s sexual emotions develop during puberty and early childhood, this is a particularly important time to talk openly with them and to help them understand and manage their feelings. Additionally, being introduced to consent at an early age will help then to learn about consent in a healthy way, rather than having to unlearn falsehoods later in life. This is why it is vital for primary school leaders to take the RSHE curriculum as seriously as secondary school and college leaders.

Teach using different mediums

As you know, students learn in different ways. Some will respond well to open discussion, while others learn best by reading or watching videos. Don’t be afraid to utilise edtech to help deliver RSHE lessons in a multitude of ways, so that all learners are catered to.

If school leaders, teachers and parents alike work to deliver empowering and inspiring RSHE lessons that engage all students, then Ofsted’s findings can become a problem of the past. However, this will only happen if we act now.

Rachel Coatup is a learning advisor at ClickView

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