Whilst schools across the UK are dealing with a mountain of COVID-policies & procedures to get students safely back into educational establishments; it is not the masks and bubbles we are most interested in… It is the bodies and boundaries!
Our team at It Happens Education have been excited about September 2020 for some time now. It has been on the horizon for us before anyone even knew the words ‘lockdown’ or ‘furlough’. September 2020 is when Relationships, Sex & Health Education (RSHE) becomes statutory in all UK schools. Primary, secondary, state maintained, independent, day, boarding, religious or otherwise. ALL SCHOOLS HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO THIS NEW GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE!
And this is really really brilliant. In fact it is so brilliant – we wrote a book. And our book was published last week. Brilliant Questions About Growing Up aims to support families and schools tackle much of the RSHE guidance at home. It is aimed at Key Stage 2 but will be useful for younger children and is sure to fill in the blanks for older children too!
The last Department of Education guidance in this area was published in 2000 – and the world has changed a wee bit since then. As a society we are struggling to prepare young people for early-onset puberty and discussing correct terminology and body changes TOO LATE. We have intolerable levels of homophobia and transphobia in schools and a generation of adults who often don’t have the training or the language to discuss these topics in an LGBTQ+ inclusive way. Public Health data would suggest that we aren’t doing brilliantly at STI or teen pregnancy figures. And we are hopeless when it comes to consent, non-consensual acts, unwanted touch and understanding Sexual Assault. You only have to look at The Everyday Sexism Project, The Our Streets Now campaign or the recent controversy at St Andrews University. We must do better.
Young children have questions. So many questions. But they don’t necessarily get good answers. Sex is still such a taboo that young people tell us on a regular basis that they find themselves searching for answers to these sensitive topics online (not wanting to embarrass the adults in their lives!). As with everything, if they know where to look online, they could do quite well: NHS, Childline, Amaze.org and others have a wealth of evidence-based content. But the students we work with admit they would rather find a youtuber, tik-tokker or rely on Wikipedia to plug those knowledge gaps. Which isn’t helpful at all! And then there are those who will stumble around elsewhere online. They may get in a pickle with porn. They will find explicit content, scary stuff, extreme stuff… Complicated and complex content that is not designed for children, is not produced to educate – and more often than not – won’t answer their questions but will just confuse them further.
Which is why we have gathered the questions together. All the brilliant questions. And published them (well, the first bunch of them anyway). With a range of inclusive and modern answers in child-speak. No topic is ‘off-limits’; it just needs to be tackled in a sensitive and age-appropriate way using gentle language and clear descriptions so it all makes sense. And if the questions get answered by real life humans with educational and medical experience, expertise, and honest straight-talking answers…. Then everyone moves forwards – better informed and ultimately safer in their bodies and relationships!
So, if you have children in your life (yours or anyone else’s, as a parent or a teacher or aunt or uncle or grandparent or carer or otherwise), then let’s allow them to ask us anything. Let’s do better at answering brilliant questions. Let’s talk about new and better words – the vulva, the clitoris, sex for pleasure, consent, all relationships, all gender identities, mental health and let’s empower everyone to use this statutory guidance to change the tide so we can do much better!
As well as wearing masks and bubbling. Of course.
Amy Forbes-Robertson is one half of It Happens, and author of Brilliant Questions About Growing Up, available now from Puffin Books.