Secondary RSE and SEND inclusion

Written by: Rachael Baker | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Relationships, sex and health education is a statutory requirement from this month. Rachael Baker looks at what we must do to ensure our curriculum is inclusive for SEND learners and offers some resources, advice and ideas


It is finally here: statutory relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) for every child.

The government guidance is very clear that “relationships education, RSE and health education must be accessible for all pupils”. Framing teaching in the Equalities Act, the guidance stipulates that this is particularly important for the large minority of our learners who have SEND, both in special schools and mainstream settings (DfE, 2019).

The key to delivering an inclusive RSHE curriculum is differentiation and personalisation. But with such diversity of needs and ability, how do we offer a truly differentiated learning experience in mainstream secondary classrooms?

In many ways, special schools and specialist settings have the inside track on differentiation. Often enjoying more generous timetable allocations, perhaps with a whole school focus more attuned for skills for life and preparation for adulthood. In special schools we can take our time, focus on the journey, and overlearn.

In mainstream schools, where perhaps only one or two learners in a class have additional needs, differentiation may be far harder. Leaner portions of timetable, more buzz around exam subjects, and RSHE often being taught in form groups, often means that learners with SEND miss out.

Differentiation is borne out of assessment, as a baseline at the start of each topic and lesson, and throughout the lesson as learners develop their understanding and demonstrate their skills. We differentiate, with activities designed to be flexible to each individual’s learning needs, challenging our more able learners, and supporting those who need extra help.

We personalise, by really getting to know our learners and tailoring the teaching and learning experience for their ability, age, and experience, creating a curriculum that is inclusive and which caters for every learner as an individual.

Inclusion really is the theme of our time, and our RSHE curriculum and delivery should be no different. Learners with SEND are entitled to the full curriculum, and as these learners may need a slower pace, or revisit complex topics to embed understanding, it follows that learners with SEND may need more classroom time than their peers.

While there is scope in the guidance for schools to personalise the curriculum for learners with SEND, it also identifies that these learners may be more vulnerable to abuse or exploitation, and may need more coverage of social, emotional, and mental health topics.

It is also a matter of equality; that expectations for future healthy intimate relationships are just as positive for learners with SEND as for their peers in mainstream, and that learners are equipped with the skills to safely navigate intimate or sexual relationships when they are old enough and ready.

It is vital that our learners with SEND are offered robust teaching around topics such as pornography, female genital mutilation (FGM), masturbation, consent, and contraception, but differentiated to make the learning accessible.

The guidance also includes the requirement for rigorous assessment, calling on schools to not only assess pupils’ progress but to proactively respond with intervention and extension in RSHE, as you would in all subjects. For our learners with SEND, this is a huge step, demanding accountability for their learning experience, and ensuring they receive support to enable them to make the greatest progress they can.

As we move into compulsory RSHE for all pupils, we must consider the potential barriers to learning, and the differing starting points and circumstances of our learners.

Lessons must be challenging to all learners, age and stage appropriate, and offer opportunity for extension and overlearning. Learners must be able to ask questions, and answers must be straightforward and grounded in evidence.

We must identify our learners with additional needs and lesson plans should include strategies for named individuals. Where off-the-shelf lesson plans are used, these should be scrawled over with notes, adapting and personalising the teaching for our particular learners. Look through the lens of their learning needs, and ask yourself will this work for them?

Key considerations for learners with SEND include:

  • Timetabling: Is the lesson long enough to facilitate meaningful learning? Where does the lesson fit in the overall timetable, e.g. straight after lunch, immediately before PE?
  • Transition time: Is there long enough for learners to emotionally embed into the learning, and to prepare themselves to move on? Is time allowed to address learners’ anxieties and emotions about the subject and the learning?
  • Learning environment: Do you have a dedicated classroom, a regular, specialist teacher who is trained and confident, and a classroom layout that enables discussion and participation?
  • Challenging content: How will you respond to the learner who does not want to come in, or who tries to walk out, or who wants to sit alone away from the group?
  • Resources: Are the resources accessible? Not just font size or different coloured paper, but are they tactile, visual, not too text-heavy? Do your resources and lesson plans correlate with the learners’ expectations for their own adult life?
  • Inclusive: Can your learners with SEND see themselves reflected in the resources you use? Is your language welcoming to your diverse learners?
  • Teacher confidence: Do your teachers feel confident, equipped and supported to deliver quality RSE? Are you offering on-going robust CPD, including exploring teacher values?

Planning lessons is just one small part of the process for delivering an inclusive curriculum, and much of that process happens behind the scenes. A robust policy specifically referencing SEND inclusion, informed by parental and pupil consultation, is a cornerstone to your provision, as is a whole school commitment to inclusion and diversity, clearly stated and visually apparent.

A whole school approach to vocabulary is key, ensuring consistency and understanding by using clear, non-metaphorical, non-euphemistic, medically accurate vocabulary throughout the school. Equally important is an open-door policy welcoming questions from learners who may not feel able to ask their personal questions at home.

Learners with SEND repeatedly tell us that they want their RSE learning to be a partnership between home and school, and frequently parental consultation in special schools returns the great desire from parents to be able to support the learning beyond the school gate.

Teachers must have opportunity to examine and address their own values around the subject, and must feel confident in not just what to teach but how to teach it. Support staff such as teaching assistants must be trained and comfortable to support pupils with SEND on RSE issues.

To coincide with, and celebrate the implementation of statutory RSE for all learners, the Sex Education Forum, in partnership with Image in Action and Mencap, have created a guide to RSE for disabled pupils and pupils with SEN (2020).

We believe that quality RSE should be evidence-based, non-judgemental, differentiated and personalised, and should be delivered in such a way that all learners can fully access the learning. This guide will support you on your journey to full implementation of the new guidance, ensuring your curriculum is accessible, differentiated and personalised to the unique needs of your learners.



Further information & resources

  • DfE: Relationships education, relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education, June 2019: http://bit.ly/2kQwtgL
  • SEF: RSE for pupils with SEND: Short guide, SEF, Image in Action, Mencap, August 2020: https://bit.ly/3gKI8Vl
  • SEF: For details on the Sex Education Forum’s specialist RSE training, visit https://bit.ly/2QBtmpa


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