Update from Jono: September 2023
Hello and welcome back to all of our colleagues returning to classrooms up and down the country this week. Just wanted to give you all a bit of an update on the policy landscape for the coming year and tell you about some of the exciting projects we have lined up, in addition to all of the usual resources, training and support.
First up is the upcoming RSHE consultation, which is front of mind and a key focus all of us in the sector.
As you no doubt know, back in March following concerns raised by some MPs and in the press about materials apparently being used in PSHE lessons, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak asked the Department for Education (DfE) to “ensure that schools are not teaching inappropriate or contested content” and accelerated the upcoming review of the existing Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) statutory guidance which has been in force — as we all know — since 2020.
Later in March the Education Secretary put out a press release announcing the plan to appoint an expert independent panel to inform the review, and wrote to schools to “remind them they are required by law to publish a relationships or a relationships and sex education policy and consult parents on it”. Schools were also warned against entering into contracts with providers that don’t allow full transparency of their materials, for reasons of copyright or otherwise.
In May the DfE announced that updated guidance on RSHE in schools will be published for consultation in the autumn, with an expert panel appointed to advise on age ratings for lesson content. This public consultation is slated to conclude by the end of the calendar year (2023), coming into statutory force as soon as possible after that.
So what’s our take?
As we outlined in our blog earlier this year, though problematic materials do exist, thankfully, they are in the minority, and it’s rarer still that these materials are used in practice. We’ve made parent/carer copies available of our own materials and undertook a KC-led legal review for all of our relevant materials — so member schools can have full confidence when using our resources. And in terms of the wider pedagogical context, we’ve always maintained that anyone teaching PSHE education must understand the fundamentals of safe, effective practice. This way we can avoid a culture of grab-and-go when it comes to lesson plans and ensure those materials that are truly inappropriate for whatever reason do not reach the classroom.
At the same time, we welcome the upcoming review of the RSHE guidance as an opportunity to reinforce the consensus around the importance of high-quality RSHE in schools across the country. The introduction of statutory RSHE in 2020 was overwhelmingly endorsed by parents, over 90% of whom supported it. And back in 2018, 91% of school leaders surveyed by NAHT believed PSHE education — the school curriculum subject through which RSHE content is delivered in the vast majority of schools — should be taught in regular timetabled lessons. This is because it is proven to keep children and young people safe from harm, support their mental and physical health and prepare them for life’s challenges and opportunities in an increasingly complex world.
So the landscape for teaching RSHE may have changed, following the Covid-19 pandemic, the ongoing cost of living crisis and a range of other pressures, but the need for high-quality lessons has never been more apparent. The good news for teachers, schools and pupils is that parents continue to be broadly supportive, especially within a framework that allows for their engagement. All of this leads us nicely on to our upcoming report on parental attitudes to RSHE and accompanying ‘parent tool':
We’re working with Parent Zone to explore parents’ attitudes towards the teaching of RSHE in schools. As part of this work, we invited two groups of parents to engage in constructive dialogue with us around the topic of teaching RSHE in schools. We didn’t shy away from the difficult questions, and these discussions unearthed some really interesting insights on all sides which we look forward to sharing in a short paper which will give you the chance to see what parents said as well as some of our recommendations for moving forward — to help build and restore trust between parents and schools. Because ultimately, we all know that teaching works best when it has support at home. And partnerships between teachers and schools are vital to support children and young people to lead happy and healthy lives.
To accompany the paper, we’re also pulling together a ‘parent tool’ to act as a kind of evidence summary for schools to use when explaining the rationale for PSHE education and RSHE with parents, drawing on relevant research and pedagogy. This could be used in the context of a meeting or presentation or sent out on an individual basis.
Check out our guidance on engaging parents and governors in the meantime — if this is something you’re thinking about at the moment.
Next I want to highlight some of the work we’re doing around child financial harms, including a new Child Financial Harms Consortium, because this an emerging area that we’re increasingly asked about by our members.
As we all know, online technologies increasingly expose children to financial risk and exploitation, whether through phishing and scams, when gaming, or as a result of pseudo-currencies. At the same time, children are able to buy, trade and earn online more easily.
Some statistics on this:
- Over 90% of mobile games that feature loot boxes are deemed suitable for children aged 12+
- 22% of 7 to 11-year-olds have paid for things online, and 38% of those did so without adult supervision
- The financial skills of 15-year-olds from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are four years behind those from advantaged backgrounds
- 49% of 16-25-year-olds in the UK have made money through social media
So this is what we’re rubbing up against in the sector, and it’s clear that these are cross-cutting issues which require a system-level response — just as we responded to online child sexual abuse and exploitation through years of research, investment and strategic coordination. And hopefully the newly founded Child Financial Harms Consortium will help us take a big step forward in how we think about and tackle these issues. The consortium is made up of ourselves, Parent Zone, UK Finance, Cifas, Dr David Zendle (University of York), and Reason Digital — and it’s been awarded funding by Nominet to develop innovative solutions to the issue over the next 3 years.
We couldn’t be more excited to be involved with this work. We have an event for senior stakeholders in the coming weeks and will be developing this work over the coming years. So it’s another case of ‘watch this space’ for now, before we’re able to share anything more concrete.
Moving on finally to an update on Fully Human — the research arm of the Association we founded back in 2021 to help us explore and think about how we can provide young people with the education they need to thrive in the real world.
So thinking about fundamental questions around:
- What does it mean to be human?
- How is technology challenging the human experience?
- And, how can education support young people to live an autonomous and fully human life in the face of these challenges?
Following the launch of our first issue on pornography and human futures we’re doing some new and exciting research into both AI and video games.
We have a project underway on generative AI and voice assistants, exploring young people’s experiences of conversational AI or ‘speaking machines’ like Alexa and Siri. We ran a series of workshops in schools last year to introduce basic AI concepts, explore ethical dilemmas in AI and get students’ views on the role of this technology in their lives. These turned up some really interesting insights which we look forward to sharing with the sector over the coming months.
And, in keeping with our explorations of what it means to be fully human, we’re also looking at play, the critical role it plays in supporting children’s social and emotional development and the erosion of children’s opportunities to experience free play over the last fifty years. We’re looking at the extent to which the principles of ‘Playwork’ - the community behind the development of adventure playgrounds could be in the mid 20th century – could make an effective contribution PSHE education, following recent studies that suggest child-directed play offers a powerful route to learning and development.
Working with journalist and author Andrew Robertson, we’ve developed a suite of lessons which aim to capitalise not only on using video games to address PSHE education topics, but as an untapped way to work with play in the classroom. The lessons involve students using carefully selected online games to explore how they can capitalise on the opportunities these games can offer, to:
- actively engage in their learning
- encourage participation and leadership
- allow an embodied experience of developing skills
- increase agency with genuine stakes
We piloted the lessons in schools last term and hope to publish our findings, along with the suite of lessons, this academic year.
Those are our key picks for this year. Remember, we have a range of resources, CPD and support available for members, whichever position you find yourself in this year. If you are a member you can use our website to get in touch or send an email to for any queries. And if you’re not a member, head to our homepage to find to more about who we are and join our community. Until next time. ..