Humanities - Sex ed is for everyone

Exploring relationships is vital for pupils with special needs

Teaching young people about sex and relationships always has its challenges, and more so when those concerned have learning difficulties. So, it's hardly surprising that for some teachers of children with special needs, this is the first area of learning to be dropped from the timetable. But the Children's Society's sexual health project is trying to change this.

Research into sex education for disabled young people has shown it to be patchy. In some cases, this is due to the mistaken belief that they do not have the ability to enter into relationships. In others, there is a concern that talking about it will encourage inappropriate sexual contact. In fact, effective sex and relationships education (SRE) helps protect young people - for example, by increasing their ability to recognise sexual abuse.

At present, there is no statutory requirement to teach young people about relationships or sexuality, so SRE is dependent on the culture of the learning environment and whether staff have the relevant skills. Many teachers recognise its importance for disabled children, but admit they lack the confidence to deliver it effectively. Available resources are not always used well and more work is needed to promote the use of positive images of disabled young people.

Where do you start?

Basic life skills are fundamental to good SRE. Young people need to be able to make decisions, know how to give their consent and assert their needs. Covering topics such as self-image, emotions and the body are vital for subjects like publicprivate space, relationships, sexuality, health, puberty, pregnancy, STIs and contraception. It's a good idea to meet parents to discuss areas being covered. Once they see it's not just about sex, they are usually more willing to engage. Parents and staff can create a programme of work that meets young people's needs.

The right communication is vital. Decide on what language and symbols to use and stick with them. Check regularly that young people have understood - this is more important than trying to cover everything in a set period of time. Things will not always go to plan, but being flexible will allow the different needs of the group to be met.

The Children's Society's project aims to give these young people access to the same sex education as their peers through free training for professionals. The training provides practical guidance and includes the development of an action plan specific to each setting. It also uses the society's website, the Disability Toolkit, to make resources, advice and practice examples available.

Teaching about sex and relationships is challenging, but good- quality SRE should be available to all young people - and those with learning difficulties are no exception.

Katherine Evans is the sexual health project manager of the Children's Society Disability Advocacy Programme. Find out how your school can take part by emailing

What else?

The Children's Society has developed a free key stage 2 learning resource covering citizenship and PSHE topics.

A useful video guide and resource pack tackling sex and relationship education with SEN students can be viewed with TeachersTV.

Check out the range of SRE classroom resources provided by axis-education and boabobobaggins.

In the forums

Share your good practice for SEN sex and relationship education.

In the TES Opinion forums, teachers debate whether sex education for teens should cover the benefits of abstinence. There is advice for teachers covering sex education for the first time in the PSHE forum.

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