Primary school children deserve nothing less than a solid foundation in sex and relationships education, says Dr Audrey Simpson OBE
Children and young people learn about sex and relationships from a variety of sources, both formal and informal - from parents, health professionals and teachers, to friends in the playground and a vast array of media outlets.
Unfortunately these sources can vary in their accuracy and not only are many children given misinformation; sometimes images or messaging can cause confusion and distress.
While the term ‘sex and relationships education’ (SRE) can be daunting for a primary school teacher, particularly if they have not had any specialist training, at sexual health charity FPA we are absolutely clear about its importance and the need for it to begin at Key Stage 1.
It is a stance that is supported by evidence. Research has often shown that older pupils think their SRE was ‘too little, too late, and too biological’.
Ofsted reinforced this in their 2013 Not yet good enough report and the Department for Education has emphasised the statutory requirement to provide a balanced and broad school curriculum, and the need for SRE throughout all key stages.
We know that teachers want to deliver accurate, informative and useful SRE and help pupils to make the transition through puberty, adolescence and into adulthood, but that sometimes they lack the confidence to tackle the issues involved and aren’t equipped with specialist knowledge.
That’s why we developed Growing up with Yasmine and Tom, which is a brand new, fully interactive online SRE resource, and has been specially designed by our expert trainers to complement any school curriculum and PSHE programme.
Uniquely, the resource is structured in a way that enables pupils to grow and learn with our characters Yasmine and Tom through their years at primary school.
The content is age-appropriate, but what does this mean? And why are we so adamant that primary school-age pupils need quality SRE?
SRE is most beneficial as a lifelong process starting in early childhood, with information that equips them with the capacity to gradually develop the skills and values they need to explore, develop and express themselves within relationships.
This should be based on qualities such as mutual respect, trust, negotiation and enjoyment.
Specifically at primary-age when we talk about SRE, we mean learning about topics such as our bodies, life cycles, keeping safe, feelings, relationships and celebrating difference – for example challenging stereotypes around gender and sexuality.
And it’s important to prepare children for puberty – before it happens – so they can be ready for the changes they will face. We might take it for granted that it can be a worrying time for children, made worse if they aren’t given information about things like periods and wet dreams before they happen.
Making the link between relationships and other aspects of health and wellbeing is also essential, for example talking about body image, resilience and self-esteem. Children need to know how to keep safe both in real life situations and online and so Growing Up with Yasmine and Tom’s lesson plans cover topics such as talking to strangers, new technology and using the internet safely.
Sadly it’s still a common myth that talking about sex and relationships will encourage young people to have sex. Research has shown that good SRE can actually delay first sexual activity and prevent unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
When discussion of sex and relationships is normalised from the beginning of a child’s education we stand a much better chance of helping young people to experience healthy and happy relationships as they grow, and stay safe from harm.
Growing up with Yasmine and Tom is full of animations, videos, sound effects and touch-screen activities, as well as creative and practical activities, to bring the characters to life in the classroom.
Because it’s online, it can be used by multiple teachers in any school and will always include the most up-to-date information. It is also responsive to teachers’ feedback, unlike traditional media resources such as DVDs.
It includes 50 lesson plans, designed to be as flexible as possible, so they can be easily tailored to meet the needs of individual classes.
In every subject, teachers are in a unique position to help shape children’s perceptions of the world and prepare them for a time when they will set out on their own. Sex and relationships education is as important, if not more important, as any other subject.
Every pupil will make that complex transition from childhood to adulthood. They deserve nothing less than a solid education foundation which equips them with the knowledge and skills to achieve the healthy and happy relationships we all wish for in life.
• For a free online demo of Growing up with Yasmine and Tom, more information, and the chance to subscribe at our special first year introductory price of £150 (saving 50% on the RRP of £299), visit www.fpa.org.uk/teachprimary
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