Alice Hoyle

10 ways to join up PSHE between primary and secondary

Sorting out your own school’s approach isn't the only issue when it comes to teaching relationships, says Alice Hoyle

Why we need to link up relationships education in primary and secondary schools

As we all know, the Year 6s in primary schools are the bigwigs – they are the ones treated with the most respect, with the highest expectations for their learning and behaviour. Yet the Year 7s in secondary schools are the “babies”, the ones who need nurturing, and perhaps not as much is expected of them in learning and behaviour.

This leads to the common issue of their attainment and progression stalling in the transition between primary and secondary school. I have always found this particularly marked in relation to teaching PSHE – in particular, RSE (relationships and sex education).

Some Year 7 students would roll their eyes at me as I made them label the same old diagrams and list the changes of puberty, while others would get zero marks. The difference was usually down to huge variability in teaching between the feeder primary schools.

Since the government has now made relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) statutory, it is hoped that this might elevate the status of the subject in both primary and secondary schools. However, while the guidance states that secondary should build on primary teaching, it doesn’t give any supportive, detailed advice on how this could be achieved.

So below, you’ll find a wide range of ideas that can support a joined-up approach between primary and secondary schools.

Content summary sharing between schools

Secondary schools should write to all their feeder schools with a brief summary of their Year 7 PSHE and the minimum keywords/topics/learning objectives they would hope the pupils entering Year 7 will know, as well as information about how PSHE is delivered in their school.

Likewise, primary schools should write to their secondary schools to share information on how PSHE is delivered in their school (and on any schemes of work used with specific details on what the Year 6 teaching usually consists of and whether it is taught by the class teacher or the school nurse).

Oversight of anonymous questions between schools

Both the Year 7 and Year 6 teachers should try to keep their anonymous question box questions each year. They could use a shared Google Doc to document them and look at the similarities and differences and where the common gaps in learning are. This will help both groups with their planning (and it is also a great CPD activity – having an advance opportunity to reflect on how you would answer those trickier questions in the classroom). Obviously, it should go without saying that keeping the questions absolutely anonymous on this document is crucial, so pupils are never identifiable, and any safeguarding issues raised should be dealt with within the school.

Co-creation of the RSE curriculum with Year 7 pupils

One of the first tasks Year 7s should do in secondary school is work with school staff to evaluate their RSE so far and plan their curriculum. The Sex Education Forum provides a toolkit called “Activities for consulting about your school sex and relationships education policy”, and materials are available from AGENDA, a primary and secondary toolkit developed by young people in conjunction with organisations such as the NSPCC to support children to “make positive relationships matter”. This will give secondary schools a good idea of the current breadth and depth of knowledge across the feeder primary schools. It also provides an opportunity to reinforce certain messages without the students feeling like they are covering the same material as they did in Year 6.

Explore novel approaches for reinforcement and retention

Year 7 PSHE teachers should think about how they are going to cover the common topics of puberty and reproduction without repetition. One of my favourite Year 7 activities (from my book Great Relationships and Sex Education) is to ask students to plan a puberty party. Should we celebrate puberty? Why or why not? What games could we play that build knowledge about puberty? What sorts of things should go in the party bags? What mood-boosting foods could we serve?

It’s not about them actually putting on a party but the value lies in the discussion of social and cultural norms around puberty and how they think they could raise awareness of things that can help people navigate puberty.

Access or create joint training

In so many areas, local authority PSHE groups have been decimated, but what about trying to set up a termly or twice yearly PSHE practice-sharing group? It could be hosted in rotation by a network schools as a short twilight CPD session. If you can get local authority support for this, you may be able to access funding for healthy snacks or resource packs that can incentivise attendance.

Virtual networks

If you can’t meet together in person, you could set up virtual practice-sharing groups in your local authority area. I find Facebook great for such groups but others find collaborative ventures like WhatsApp or Basecamp useful. If you can’t get these established or active enough, I run national Facebook groups for RSE teachers that cover all key stages, and schools across your area could be encouraged to join and share good practice.

Plan transition sessions to include RSHE

Transition sessions should include elements of RSHE activities. One fun idea could be to use a huge roll of white paper rolled out across the hall divided into age ranges from the age the students are now, with large yearly gaps for the duration of their time at secondary school, plus smaller sections on early adulthood (18-25), adulthood (25-60), and older adulthood (60-plus). Task students with drawing or writing across the continuum what issues they think they might face in each age range and what they think each age range might need to know about. Before the Year 6 pupils come to the session, they should have thought about their current age range and what their current issues or worries might be and what they want to learn to help them to stick on the paper.

This can give secondary schools a really good idea of what the students’ current understanding and worries are and how good they are at understanding what might be coming up for them. It could also be an interesting exercise to compare at the end of their time at school to see if any of the issues had changed for them and whether they felt they had ticked the required learning off during their time at school.

Adopt transition journals with an RSHE focus

What about establishing a PSHE transition journal or journey between the schools that they start in Year 6 and continue in Year 7? It could be a private journal documenting the changes they are experiencing both internally and externally. I would recommend keeping it open ended, as expecting students to record things such as height, weight and shoe size could raise issues for certain individuals. But it could ask key questions such as: what makes a good friendship? How can I identify what I am feeling? What strategies can I use if I am feeling sad? That can be addressed in lessons and revisited throughout the transition stage as a working document, with tips and tricks for managing the transition to secondary.

Work with parents

RSHE has to be taught in partnership between home and school. With siblings, you may have parents who have children in both the local primary and secondary school. They could become your greatest allies and advocates for high-quality RSHE. You could try to set up an RSHE parents’ network group, and work with them to create parent briefings about the life-course approach to RSHE and top tips to help them.

Consistency via PSHE Association membership and resources

In an ideal world, all schools in a network would be members of the PSHE Association and use its free programme of study and planning resources (paid for) as the progression is planned in across the key stages. This would enhance consistency between the schools.

Alice Hoyle is a relationships and sex education advisory teacher. 

This article originally appeared under the headline "Joining the RSHE dots from primary to secondary" in the 14 February 2020 edition of Tes magazine. A Tes magazine schoolwide subscription provides you and your staff with the most up-to-date information, the latest education thinking, current teaching discussions and a space for sharing best practice.

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