What the inspectors saw - Good practice by Ofsted
The John Henry Newman Catholic School is a comprehensive that delivers up-to-date sex and relationships education (SRE) while keeping parents involved.
Sex education has often struggled to keep up with teenagers' use of mobile phones to share sexually explicit messages and pictures. A poll of teachers by TES earlier this autumn found that two-thirds of them felt that sex education was failing to keep pace with changes in technology.
Perhaps surprisingly, one of the schools noted by inspectors for its up-to-date work on this subject is a Catholic comprehensive.
Not only has the John Henry Newman school in Hertfordshire provided workshops on topics such as the risks of "sexting", but it has also made sex education a central part of its curriculum. Yet it has done so in a way it believes is consistent with its faith and which keeps parents comfortable.
"As a Catholic community we believe that sex and relationships education is integral to the lifelong learning process and the belief that we have been uniquely created in the image and likeness of God," deputy head Jane Goring says.
Parents and carers are seen by teachers as "the primary educators" in SRE, she adds. The school builds trust with parents by holding support evenings and information events, and by regularly informing them of relevant pastoral issues.
Staff who teach SRE are given extensive and thorough inductions so they feel confident, and then further support to help them deliver more sensitive and challenging parts of the programme.
The school has a dedicated PSHE education coordinator and has made that subject an official development priority. However, SRE is not limited to PSHE lessons. It is also taught as part of science lessons and RE. So, in Year 7, pupils explore emotional changes in PSHE while in science they are studying the changes that occur during puberty. In Year 9, pupils spend a day on a retreat run by the RE department at Buckden Towers, a manor house in Cambridgeshire, where they reflect on the value of marriage and family, while in science they study conception.
In GCSE RE, all pupils study a unit on Religion and Life, which explores issues such as abortion "fully and with confidence", the inspectors said, "reflecting Catholic teaching".
A range of outside agencies, including representatives from the local police and the Ten Ten Theatre company, are also brought in to help teach SRE and other aspects of PSHE.
Signs of success:
SRE has come to be highly valued by the school's governing body and the staff responsible for it have confident and open discussions with the governors about pertinent issues that may need to be included. The school has worked successfully on local networking initiatives with other schools in the area.
One pupil says: "We can always write down any questions and the teacher will answer them next lesson - but as we get older and more confident we just ask whatever we like, knowing that it will be taken seriously."
What the inspectors said
"This example shows how sex and relationships' education is delivered comprehensively and effectively in a Catholic context as part of the PSHE programme. Teachers deal extremely well with sensitive and controversial issues ensuring that students feel secure and able to express their opinions and reach their own judgements."
Read the full Ofsted cast study report at bit.lyTP7m73
Name: The John Henry Newman Catholic School
Location: Stevenage, Hertfordshire
Type: Mixed Catholic secondary
Numbers: approximately 1,600 (including 500 in the sixth form)
Intake: The majority of pupils are Catholic and they come from a wide catchment area including Bedfordshire and North London.