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Making relationships and sex education work for children with SEND

Posted in News

Sex Education Forum, Image in Action and Mencap have published new guidance for teachers

Their press release this week explained To coincide with relationships and sex education (RSE) becoming compulsory on 1 September, the Sex Education Forum, together with Image in Action and Mencap, have published a new guide for teachers about how to teach RSE in an accessible way to ensure pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are not left behind.

While the Department for Education guidance (1) stresses that RSE must be accessible to all pupils and may be a particularly important subject for pupils with SEND, over three-quarters (76%) of teachers consulted by the Sex Education Forum said that practical advice on how to deliver RSE to students with SEND would be ‘very helpful’ (2).

While the curriculum and topics covered in RSE should essentially be the same for pupils with SEND as for mainstream pupils (2), there are some specific practical considerations for schools, such as planning to revisit topics, involving the wide range of staff who may be involved in the teaching and care of pupils and using informal opportunities, for example queuing for lunch could be a chance to reinforce learning about personal boundaries.

The guide is also a timely reminder of good practice that applies to all schools, such as using correct language for private body parts, establishing partnerships with parents and carers, and listening to children and young people themselves.

Lucy Emmerson, Director of the Sex Education Forum, said:

‘Relationships and Sex Education is an important subject for all children and young people, because it deals with matters that affect their everyday lives such as changing bodies, emotions, friendships, family and intimate relationships. Statutory RSE correctly sets high expectations for meeting the needs of all children, and with adequate support schools will be able to achieve this. The extent to which RSE meets the needs of pupils with SEND will be a test of successful implementation of the new legislation.’

Richard Lawrence, project support assistant and co-chair of the Relationship and Sex Steering Group at Mencap and who has a learning disability, said:

‘People with a learning disability can and do fall in love. But lots of people have told me that because I have a learning disability, I don’t understand what a healthy relationship, consent or safe sex is. It’s negative attitudes like this that mean that people with a learning disability don’t get to learn about these important things like others do. They end up finding out the hard way, and this isn’t right. People with a learning disability need to be given the chance to learn so they can find love or have friendships.

“We all need to learn about sex, relationships, consent and our bodies. But it’s a lot harder for people with a learning disability to do this because accessible information is hidden away. That’s why we at Mencap are proud to be working with the Sex Education Forum and Image in Action on this guide for teachers. It will help teachers make relationship and sex education accessible to everyone, by giving people more time, using images and avoiding jargon, to make sure pupils with a learning disability can better understand.’

‘RSE for disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs’ is available at: https://www.sexeducationforum.org.uk/resources/advice-guidance/rse-pupils-send-short-guide