Making RSE inclusive

Written by: Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton | Published:

Education for all means LGBT inclusive relationships and sex education. Stonewall’s Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton delivers a call to action

All schools should make sure that their culture is accepting and inclusive for all staff and students, and that it enables students to thrive and feel able to be themselves.

This includes students who identify as lesbian, gay, bi or trans (LGBT), or who might be questioning their identity.

Some schools are making a proactive effort to achieve this, but there are still lots which aren’t. LGBT students (or those who are perceived to be LGBT) continue to face a tough time at school, be it in the form of isolation, verbal bullying, physical abuse or not feeling supported by staff.

Homophobic language has become an acceptable form of “banter”. In fact, 99 per cent of young people have heard “that’s so gay” used as an insult in their school.

When teachers fail to directly call this sort of language out, it can be misread as them agreeing with the sentiment, and not supporting gay students. This can be deeply damaging for young people who might identify as gay.

As well as calling this language out, teachers can help combat these sorts of attitudes by promoting LGBT role-models at school, on posters for events like LGBT History Month and in lesson plans.

Lesson content should always be inclusive of all students, not just to educate them around diversity and different families, but to ensure that LGBT young people in the classroom are adequately equipped for adult life. This could not be truer for relationships and sex education (RSE). In the past, we’ve often heard from schools where RSE is either defunct or, if not, includes no mention whatsoever of different families or same-sex relationships.

Thankfully, the government passed a law prior to the election that will make age-appropriate RSE compulsory in all schools from September 2019.

However, at present, this does not mean that schools are required by law to make these lessons LGBT-inclusive. It is vital that RSE is inclusive of same-sex relationships, as it enables young people to make informed decisions and develop healthy relationships. When this doesn’t happen, it can put young people’s lives at risk. This has to change.

Stonewall has produced a manifesto ahead of this June’s election, where we outline six key areas that we want party leaders and candidates to pledge to address. Education is one of these areas, and we are asking for specific commitments to:

  • Ensure that the new guidance for relationships and sex education is LGBT-inclusive and supported by high-quality resources and training for teachers.
  • Intensify activities to tackle bullying of LGBT young people in all schools by ensuring that all teachers receive initial and on-going training.
  • Develop practical statutory guidance on supporting trans young people at school.

To help support our manifesto, you can contact your local candidates and ask them to commit to addressing these issues, should they be elected.

For wider guidance on how to tackle and prevent anti-LGBT bullying at your school, you can download free schools’ resources from the Stonewall website.

You can also find out information on how to join our Secondary School Champions programme, which helps equip you with the tools to benchmark your current policies and practice with legal requirements and national best practice.

Case study: Chew Valley School, Somerset

“I believe that schools have a duty to prepare young people for adult life. This involves developing values, understanding risk and recognising rights and responsibilities.

At Chew Valley, we believe that RSE, taught by a specialist team who have had specific training in all aspects of sex and relationships, has an important role to play in this preparation.

We teach every class assuming that there are LGBT young people in the group and ensuring that the information we give and the discussions we have include them.

We aim to teach students about respecting difference and diversity. On the one hand, we have a thorough PSHE programme which is taught across key stage 3 to sixth form which includes explicit lessons on a wide range of diversity topics. This ensures that students are well-informed and can discuss and ask questions in a safe, non-judgemental setting.

On the other hand, the student-led equalities team works with the senior leadership team to ensure that school policies deal explicitly with equality issues. Our students also run events throughout the year which highlight and celebrate diversity.

Our ethos toward equality and inclusion work says that every little change that you make, however small, will make a huge difference to your students. Listen to the young people in your care, create safe spaces and enable your students to be themselves.

No-one can thrive and be the best they can be if their energies are taken up hiding who they really are, living in fear.”

  • Louise Pope is head of PSHRE at Chew Valley School in Somerset.


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