Working as an SRE coordinator in a special school is not a role for the faint-hearted. As well as the usual issues to be aware of, such as the religious and cultural beliefs of parents and staff, there may be added complications connected to some special educational needs that make it particularly difficult to teach things like a concrete concept of privacy, or to tackle the challenges that will emerge from actually enabling sexual identity.
When designing a curriculum, the most important thing is an honest desire to understand as far as possible what a developing sexual identity may signify for the students themselves. Teachers must seek to understand how their students understand “sexuality” − in whatever form that might take − so that a more sensitive, appropriate and meaningful approach can be formulated to bring about positive sexual identity formation during adolescence.
The curriculum needs to reflect the fact that issues around sexuality and relationships are being continuously negotiated − in the playground; in the lunch hall; on the school bus; or casually passing each other in the corridor.
The emphasis should, where possible, be on the relational aspects and only rarely on the biological. I would argue that this needs to be made explicit in any SRE policy. Shifting the letters from SRE to RSE may help with this, and would give a clear sign to parents, staff or OFSTED inspectors where the school’s focus lies.
This might sound daunting, but if you break the subject down into the following key topics, this will give you a good basis for any SRE curriculum:
- Different types of space
Pupils should be given opportunities to develop the skills to understand the difference between private (space that is not shared) and public (space that is shared).
Explore the different types of touching and the criteria governing each type. These might be: touching myself (which is allowed), touching others (which needs to be negotiated or may not be allowed at all) and being touched (allowing others to touch me).
- Types of relationships
Support pupils to develop an understanding of the role they may play across a variety of different forms of relationships. They will always play some form of role, although this may occasionally be a passive one.
- Me, you, us
Pupils need to be taught to understand what we mean by “me” (my body and its parameters), “you” (other entities who play a role within my world but who are outside of “me”), and “us” (all external entities).
The curriculum should explore the unknown qualities of pupils’ forming identities as they grow and mature.
Thomas Andrews is a senior teacher and RSE coordinator at The Bridge Integrated Learning Space. He is currently completing a PhD focussing on autism and sexuality at Sheffield Hallam University.