In this think piece, Elliott Loveless, City of Norwich School discusses how their PSHE curriculum was updated to reflect new government guidance.
The Government has published new statutory guidance on Health, Relationship and Sexual Relationships Education (RSE) to be taught in schools across England. Schools were instructed to start teaching this new content from September 2020. A large proportion of schools already taught this content in PSHE lessons but were missing key new additions such as LGBT+ relationships. The teaching of LGBT+ relationships has never been statutory content that schools have had to deliver. Section 28 was a law passed by the Conservative Government in 1988 that prohibited the teaching and promotion of homosexuality in schools. This was abolished in 2003, but for 17 years there has been an absence of statutory guidance for schools to follow on how to affectively teach LGBT+ content. Many schools have risen to the challenge, but sadly there were many that did not, leaving many LGBT young people, including myself, feeling lost, confused and under-represented. Thankfully, the recent changes mean schools across England are going to be more inclusive than ever before as they are legally bound to do so. This is a step forward for equality as the needs of all students are being recognised, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Department for Education (DfE) have proposed that schools should try to start teaching this content from September 2020, but schools can take a phased approach and delay this to September 2021. This was to give schools some ‘breathing room’ so they could focus on the main challenges that the pandemic has caused across England.
City of Norwich School, an Ormiston Academy, is one of the largest schools in Norfolk. Including its sixth form, it has close to 1,700 students. The students that come to my school are diverse in terms of their ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender. We pride ourselves in celebrating all of our differences, which resonates in our motto: ‘Excellence in all’.
My new appointment, PSHE Co-ordinator, meant I was in the position to start the planning of this exciting new RSE content. Historically within my school, PSHE was a 20-minute tutor time activity that occurred once a week. Students would fill in a different page of their PSHE booklet each week and would reflect on content through form group discussions. In some instances, the booklets were not as engaging as they could have been, so both students and form tutors welcomed a change.
The government insisted that the new RSE content must be taught as discrete lessons on a student’s timetable. To the end, my school decided to allot PSHE an hour lesson once every 2 weeks. With COVID-19, however, this was reduced to 50 minutes as changes were made to the timetable to ensure safety across the school. My school also made the decision to only teach PSHE to KS3 years so that KS4 and KS5 could have greater focus on core subjects and revision for their exams. I was to lead the development of PSHE as a subject and to lead a small team of staff who volunteered to teach it along with their core subject.
As soon as I was appointed, I began to put together a working document on content the curriculum would cover:
Putting this together was relatively straightforward as the government guidance is very prescriptive with regard to what needs to be covered. I also used the PSHE Association resources and training, along with the new Hodder Education KS3 PSHE book. All of this material was the basis of a good framework, but I also needed to make sure I was addressing the diverse needs of our students. There needed to be greater focus on certain topics and less of a focus on others.
Tailoring the Curriculum
The Schools and Students Health Education Unit (SHEU) publish and analyse data on the physical health and emotion wellbeing of students in schools across the country. If schools apply to be part of their surveys that happen a few times across the year, they are able to understand the needs of the students in greater detail.
In February of this year (2020), the whole school took part in an hour SHEU report. The data gathered from this was priceless to middle and senior leaders as it helped to identify common issues in the school population. The report found many key findings, such as: 50% of students did not know how to manage money, deal with a bereavement or separation, and a high percentage of our students believe that people of different backgrounds are valued within our school. These statistics allowed me to concentrate more time and lessons on money management and mental health, whilst spending slightly less time on issues of diversity and background.
As this SHEU report was a snapshot of our students lives before the pandemic, I deemed it necessary to ask our students to complete another one once we were back at school. Before the students finished their first half term, we engaged in another school-wide SHEU report. We are yet to receive the results of this survey, but I will edit the curriculum accordingly to the more pressing needs of our students. I anticipate that mental health issues will have increased due to the pandemic, so adding elements of this into to lessons in the future would be beneficial.
Surveys of students’ wellbeing nationally performed by various charities during the first national lockdown revealed some worrying statistics about their emotional wellbeing. This was also reinforced by the PSHE Association. It was clear that our students were in need for some mental health provision before we started the main curriculum. To that end, I designed brief mental health activities using PSHE Association resources for students to undertake during their first form time back after the summer break. A key activity of this was to design their own wellbeing tool kit. The students added to their tool kit all the things that would lift their mood in a time of crisis. Students were adding jokes, favourite quotes, people, music and films. It was really refreshing to see the students engage with this activity and to see them take it home or keep it in their bag to use.
Furthermore, I decided to get year 7 and 8 to do two lessons on identifying and promoting mental health before they started their Relationships and Identity topics respectively. Year 9 were already starting with mental health, so there was no need to change their curriculum. The year 7 and 8 changes, along with the form activities previously discussed, were a huge success and I truly believe it helped settle the more nervous students back into school.
Anti-Discrimination Group – After School Club
Research by the LGBT+ charity Stonewall in 2017 found that the presence of an LGBT+ club within a school can promote the mental health of LGBT+ students by making them feel more accepted, safe and included. It also highlighted the importance of having an area(s) around the school that reinforce the acceptance and promotion of LGBT+ lives in both school and in the wider community. This is important as we live in a heteronormative world where LGBT+ students are made to feel like they don’t fit into society as they do not conform to the ‘norm’. In recent years this has improved, but there is still a long way to go.
Once we were all back to school in September, I set to work on starting the School’s first LGBT+ group. I wanted it to be a safe space for LGBT+ students to go as statistically we should have roughly 100 students who identify as LGBT+. Over time, this has grown into an anti-discrimination group called COD (Celebrating Our Difference) whose main purpose is stand up for, raise awareness and to protect students who face discrimination of all kinds. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the club is split into year group bubbles. Each room has its entrance decorated in rainbow colours to make the participants who identify as LGBT+ feel wanted and safe. At the time of writing, this group has 40 members and is continuing to grow.
The group has also helped me tailor the PSHE curriculum to meet the needs to our LGBT+ students. Through talking to the students on a regular basis, I was made aware of their main concerns. The one concern that kept coming up was inappropriate use of language and around the school. From these discussions I have made sure these issues are done to a greater extent within the curriculum and organised as staff training day on these issues.
Shaun Dellenty Training
As a school, we are seeing an increase in the number of students who are identifying as LGBT+, with the greatest increase in those identifying as transgender. To make sure the needs of these students were being met, I organised a school wide training on LGBT+ inclusion led by Shaun Dellenty, a leading LGBT+ trainer who has trained thousands of teachers across the country. The training was a huge success and many staff commented on how before they were unsure on how to address certain misuse of language heard in the corridor or in the classroom, and that the training had helped build their confidence in this.
From this training, and through discussions in COD, I wanted the school to remove the disabled toilet signs from all toilets around the school. This was because some of the transgender and non-binary students were using a key fob for the disabled toilet. Being trans or non-binary is definitely not a disability, so it was sending the wrong message to these students. These toilets are now referred to as accessible toilets.
The Sex Education part of the RSE content can be a cause of concern for some parents for various reasons, such as: the age that it is taught or because it does not conform to their religious views or values. As such, in the new year I plan to hold a parent consultation evening where parents can see resources that will be used and have an opportunity to ask questions. It is also there as a way to reassure parents that this is not going to cause promiscuity, but to teach them how to be as equipped as they can be when they decide they are ready. I plan to take the parent’s comments on board to edit and add lessons if necessary.
Another way I have involved parents is by staying in frequent communication via email on upcoming sensitive topics taught in lessons. Once every half term I have sent parents information on content that I deem to be sensitive. Parents are encouraged to get in touch if they think the delivering of the lesson would actually have a negative impact based on experiences they have had at home, school or beyond. Together we agree on whether their child should be removed from lesson and put in a safe, supervised environment where they can do some independent work that is related to the unit they are being taught.
The last way I can tailor my curriculum is through student voice. By simply asking students in anonymous surveys what they want to be taught means that are taking ownership of their own learning, but also that we as teacher value their opinions. My first survey it is going out to students before Christmas. Questions will ask them whether they wish certain topics to have a greater emphasis or less of an emphasis, but also other topics they wish to be addressed.
As the year progresses, I will gain a clearer picture of the needs of the students through the results of the SHEU report, parent engagement and student voice. With this information, I will further edit and add to the curriculum, so the needs of the students are continually being met. It is important, however, to make sure that these strategies continue in every academic year as society changes, along with the maturity and development of the students. Their opinions, ideas and values change through time, and the curriculum should also change to reflect this. Take the current pandemic as an example. In the years to come, I will spend less time in lessons emphasising the importance of using anti-bacterial gel on hands regularly, but rather on the current trends, events or situation the world is currently in.
I truly believe that the changes I have made to the PSHE curriculum within my school will have a positive impact on our student’s wellbeing, attitudes and development. It is my hope that with the knowledge that they have gained, they will leave school and have a positive impact on society. They will do this by helping it to become and more accepting place with knowledgeable people that can look after themselves and the others around them, both physically and emotionally.
Stonewall School Report, 2017
Shaun Dellenty, 2020
PSHE Association, 2020
SHEU Reports, 2020