How we teach RSE to pupils with SEND

SEND expert Helen Dunman explains how she uses stories and dolls to deliver sex education for students

Helen Dunman

How we teach sex education to pupils with SEND in schools

When I came to teach young people with severe learning and physical difficulties about relationships and sex education, I had difficulty finding resources that were at an appropriate level. 

So, as part of my teaching practice at Chailey Heritage School, I have developed a range of resources, the Sex Factor, that can be used to help young people with learning difficulties access RSE. These are based around four categories: puberty, relationships, diversity and safety.

People with learning disabilities need as much repetition as possible and I’ve found that stories are the perfect way to provide this while also giving consistency of language.

Sex and relationships education for SEND students 

Why dolls can work

I’ve found that students with very complex needs often don’t respond positively to DVDs, line drawings and worksheets. They need sensory props to engage them, which is why it can be so useful to use anatomically correct dolls.

I have seen students become instantly engaged and reach out when an anatomically correct doll is used in class. Dolls can be used in drama to teach about periods, masturbation and safeguarding issues such as good/bad touch.  

Make sure that, before you use any dolls, you have shown them to staff in their undressed state and given people a chance to get over any embarrassment. Be very clear with staff about the protocol and rationale around using the dolls.

Lay the groundwork

When writing the “keeping safe” stories, I wanted to find a way of leading into the stories gradually, without scaring the students, because they need to be clear about what is drama and what is reality. 

This can take a number of sessions to do but it is very important and worth taking the time to do right, as it lays the groundwork for sessions that will explore sensitive issues.

Debrief appropriately 

Focusing on safeguarding issues can be emotionally taxing. Even if you think you feel fine, it is very important to debrief with a senior colleague after carrying out this work, for your own mental health and wellbeing.

RSE is an important and serious subject, which we hope will equip the people we work with to learn more about themselves, their bodies and their sexuality and their relationships, but it is really important that people we work with enjoy the sessions, feel that they can communicate about personal issues with us and that they have some fun while learning.

We want to help them keep safe but also to help them to form meaningful, healthy and happy relationships.

Helen Dunman has been teaching PSHE and drama to young people with a range of special educational needs and disabilities for 30 years. She currently teaches at Chailey Heritage Foundation and has whole-school responsibility for PSHE/RSHE. Helen is also a member and trustee of SHADA, which promotes good sex education for people with disabilities of all ages

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