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‘young people are the experts’: listen to what we want from RSHE

Dear the Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP and the Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP,      

I hope this letter finds you both well.   

My name is Maya Balachandran, and I am writing on behalf of a group of young people from SafeLives, Brook, and other organisations working to safeguard young people from abuse and unhealthy relationships. I am deeply passionate about including young voices in policymaking, especially when it comes to preventing domestic abuse. For this reason, I wanted to reach out to you to express our collective concerns and aims for the new RSHE guidance that is being developed by your department.  

At a Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) event at Portcullis House on September 5th, organised by Brook and  Sex Education Forum and hosted by the Rt Hon Maria Miller MP and Sarah Champion MP I was honoured to be joined by other young people and Members of Parliament to hear from a panel of young people from Brook, Girlguiding, SafeLives, Sexpression:UK, The LGBT Youth in Care Network, and Make It Mandatory about what young people want to see from the review of the RSHE guidance. We want to ensure that momentum on this issue is maintained going forward and ensure that the new guidance addresses the diverse needs and experiences of young people in our society. 

Young people’s concerns:    

Young people see a need for the RSHE curriculum to be inclusive of all types of relationships. We owe it to all young people to have an expansive understanding of sexuality and gender, whether this is their own or their peers, as they grow up and become young adults. It’s only now that I’m older, with more life experience, and having worked with SafeLives, that I realise just how important the RSHE I was lucky enough to receive was; it touched on the feelings, pressures, and questions I would later have as a young adult.    

Moreover, the variety of topics included in RSHE should not and do not need to be introduced to young people at the same time. Young people are the experts; only they understand the pressures they face and the questions they have. The presentation of RSHE topics should centre the needs of young people, rather than what politicians and the media deem as age appropriate. There is no point introducing consent and safe relationships at 16 years old, if students are experiencing peer pressure or start dating years earlier.  

Teachers must be empowered and confident in teaching RSHE. Many schools do not have a specific RSHE teacher and those teaching the curriculum receive varying levels of support or training before delivering this curriculum to young people. If a teacher does not feel comfortable or confident teaching the RSHE curriculum and dealing with these situations, how can we expect young people to engage with the lessons and feel supported, prepared, and listened to?  

RSHE teaching should be consistent and encourage equal and healthy relationships. Young people deserve a safe space to explore significant topics, like intimate relationships, sex, pressures in society, and the changes your body goes through in your teens. Young people today are overwhelmed with so many different sources of information – family, school, friends, and social media. Without a reliable source to learn about these topics, there is a risk of encountering harmful ideas about relationships which young people often lack the information to challenge. 

The Ask:    

We would like to see the concerns raised within this letter reflected and addressed in the guidance for the new RSHE curriculum:    

  • An inclusive RSHE curriculum; LGBT+ relationships and other diverse types of relationships and family structures should be taught at all stages in young people’s education.  
  • A curriculum with an intersectional approach. For instance, highlighting different complexities of young people’s lives and how this impacts their relationship with themselves and others. 
  • RSHE that is taught at age-appropriate times; decisions about what this timeline looks like should involve  parents and should centre the needs and voices of young people themselves.    
  • Trained and confident teachers, with an understanding of RSHE on young people’s personal development and safety. 
  • Robust and clear guidance of what students can and cannot opt out of, and how to manage parental requests to withdraw whilst ensuring children still receive RSHE. 
  • Integrating both factual based information and discussion-based activities that address the complicated nuances of navigating relationships, such as examples and practical advice about how to handle different situations.    
  • Schools being supported by their governance bodies to ensure that RSHE as a subject is prioritised and provided with resources and time to meaningfully embed a whole-school approach. 
  • Mandatory RSHE to be extended to Key Stage 5 as recommended by the Women and Equalities Select Committee  

 I, like many other young people, believe that something as important and wide-reaching as RSHE must be taken seriously. Our collective ask is that Parliament ensures that the new curriculum is inclusive and relevant to young people today, with lessons consistently delivered to a high standard in schools across the UK. At the Brook and SEF event, Parliamentarians also expressed the need for young people’s voices to be front and central in all RSHE developments, and we are calling on the Government to guarantee this going forward.  

On behalf of all the young people and organisations behind this letter, I thank you for your continued involvement and support. We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and your team to discuss our priorities with you in more detail.  

Kind regards,   

Maya Balachandran    
SafeLives Changemaker    

Jack Liepa 
Director, Sexpression:UK 

Zari Syed  
Youth Support Worker and Trainer, LGBTQ+ Youth in Care 

Faustine Petron 
Founder of Make it Mandatory 

Poppy  
Brook, Participation Forum Member 

Millie Johnson 
Advocate, Girlguiding 

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