The prevalence of sexual harassment and abusive behaviours in our schools is extremely troubling.
These are complex issues that can’t be solved by education alone, but the curriculum can play a vital role in helping to keep children safe as part of a whole-school approach.
Personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) can be used to address these issues directly, but must be taken seriously in order to be effective.
How PSHE can help to tackle sexual harassment and abuse
The introduction of statutory relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) requirements presents an important opportunity. Here are some of our tips for making sure that PSHE is effective in helping to keep children and young people safe:
1. Make the most of the statutory relationships, sex and health educaiton
Schools are now required to provide relationships education at key stages 1 and 2, relationships and sex education at key stages 3 and 4, and health education from key stages 1 to 4.
The majority of schools are covering this statutory RSHE content within a broader PSHE education curriculum that includes learning about economic wellbeing and careers.
We recommend checking out Three Steps to RSHE Success, published recently in collaboration with the NEU, the NAHT and the Association of School and College Leaders unions, as well as the Sex Education Forum and Public Health England. It includes information on consulting with parents and pupils, developing policy, what to teach (and how to teach it) and sustaining success.
2. Address contributing factors
Issues such as harassment and abuse don’t exist in isolation, and there are many contributing factors that create environments in which attitudes are skewed and respectful behaviour is undermined.
The PSHE education curriculum allows schools to explore these factors coherently, including how they have an impact on each other, and the statutory RSHE requirements cover the need to explore content relating to issues such as pornography, consent and how to recognise abusive or inappropriate behaviours.
Taking pornography as one example, our recent teacher briefing and evidence paper outline its negative impact on young people and what schools can consider when addressing it through PSHE.
3. Consult relevant guidance
In light of the recent focus on peer harassment and abuse, we recommend consulting the government guidance on sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges – which includes advice on how to help prevent and respond to issues – alongside the statutory Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance.
Governing bodies, too, can support and positively influence PSHE education provision. New PSHE education guidance from the National Governance Association (NGA) outlines steps that governors can take to help support PSHE education and optimise its role in safeguarding and other key aspects of school culture.
4. Plan a coherent curriculum
There are more lesson plans and teaching materials than ever to choose from. Some are of great quality, and include guidance on creating a safe learning environment and promote effective learning, while others are best avoided. It’s important that any teachers delivering PSHE education have at least an understanding of the basics of good practice so that they can choose wisely.
We grant our quality mark to resources that have been through a rigorous process of quality assurance. Examples of key stage 3 and 4 quality-assured materials available to support these areas include Working out Relationships lesson plans from the University of Exeter to help students identify (and leave) controlling relationships; and the Relationships Safety resources from the Alice Ruggles Trust, which include a focus on harassment.
Also see Something’s not Right (which focuses on identifying and reporting abuse) and ‘Disrespect NoBody’, which focuses on teenage relationship abuse – both produced to support Home Office awareness campaigns – and Managing Healthy and Unhealthy Relationship Behaviours, produced in partnership with Medway Public Health Directorate.
These lesson plans and others must be delivered within the context of a coherent programme in order to be effective – not just a series of one-off, isolated lessons.
Our Programme Builders feature all of these resources and more, and will support you to plan this content within the context of your broader PSHE education programmes.
Jenny Fox works for the PSHE Association as a member of its subject specialist team