Statutory RSE must be truly inclusive

Written by: Lesley Kerr-Edwards | Published:
Lesley Kerr-Edwards, director, Image in Action

The government’s forthcoming guidance for compulsory relationships and sex education must be made inclusive of all students, including those with SEN and disabilities, says Lesley Kerr-Edwards

Wanting to ensure that children are happy and safe is a basic intention of everyone who works with children and young people who have SEND.

Families want services which can help their children to learn the skills and knowledge they need to live positive lives, have healthy relationships, recognise difficulties, understand risks, and keep themselves safe.

Therefore, the government’s new statutory relationships and sex education (RSE) is a very promising development. After 30 years working in this area, I hope this compulsory requirement, due to come into effect in September 2019, will be the turning point for all schools (including mainstream and special schools) to provide truly inclusive RSE for all our children and young people.

To this end, I am delighted to be speaking at the forthcoming conference on inclusive RSE for children and young people with SEND held by the Sex Education Forum and the Council for Disabled Children, both hosted at the National Children’s Bureau.

At Image in Action, we have been leaders in the field of RSE for people with learning disabilities, autism and additional learning needs for many years, and given the introduction of statutory RSE, practical advice and government leadership on this important issue is needed more than ever.

Teachers are often convinced of the need for this work and many ensure that the wellbeing of their pupils is extended by delivering good RSE.

However, it is a sensitive subject and not every teacher feels comfortable to deliver it. Therefore, it is important to reassure teachers about the skills development that staff training can deliver, when led by organisations that understand the joys and challenges of making this area of work accessible for pupils with a wide range of needs and abilities.

Not only do teachers need to understand RSE, we are also asking them to bring their expertise in working with children with SEND into the mix.

Sometimes a teacher will say “I could never do this”, but when I ask them how they manage their classroom with their pupils’ feelings, behaviours and relationships that go on, it seems to me that teachers are already engaging in managing practical RSE in the day-to-day learning environment – and it is a small step for them to feel a bit more confident in delivering formal RSE, given appropriate resources and methods.

It is also vital that we do recognise realities: for example, puberty happens whatever the level of disability, and young people with additional learning needs require RSE to be inclusive of LGBT+ issues just as much as anyone else.

In my experience over three decades, I have found that it is possible to do this work – it is possible for children and young people with SEND to learn about this.

Sometimes this is my most important message. When a parent looks ahead for their child and asks “How can I help him stay safe?” or a teacher asks “How can I help her learn this?”, we can reassure them that though it may not always be simple and it may require a consistent partnership approach, there are, without doubt, techniques that will work.

RSE is sometimes difficult to address and asks us to consider sensitive and complex topics, but I believe this can be a positive, creative and co-operative endeavour and it can be at the heart of teaching and learning for pupils with SEND.

  • Lesley Kerr-Edwards is director of Image in Action.

Further information

Lesley Kerr-Edwards will be speaking at Statutory SRE: Getting it right for disabled children and those with SEN on January 16 in London. This is the first joint conference held by the Council for Disabled Children and the Sex Education Forum (both hosted at the National Children’s Bureau). For more information, visit


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