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My RSE was too little, too late: let’s change this

Brook believes Relationships and Sex Education should be informed by young people’s needs and experiences. In this blog, we hear from Lybah, a Changemaker at SafeLives, about what she thinks needs to be done to improve RSE in schools.

Relationships and Sex Education, also known as “RSE”, plays a big role in the lives of many young people and teenagers and, arguably, shapes us into the young adults we will become. However, a common theme when asked about RSE is that teenagers just don’t find it engaging.

But why is it that so many young people lack interest in a topic that plays such a vital part in everyday life?

My experience and opinion of RSE will differ to others. However, I feel that it got introduced into the curriculum too late. I was in Year 10 when I had my first RSE session at secondary school which spoke about healthy relationships. The session brushed over topics such as the different types of abuse and the qualities of healthy and unhealthy relationships. We only ever had one lesson on healthy relationships and I feel that it would’ve been helpful if we explored the topic in multiple sessions which spanned out across a few years.

These sessions could be developed by elaborating on certain aspects of the ‘healthy relationships’ topic, according to the age group and relevance of the subject. Although relationships at a younger age aren’t necessarily taken as seriously, it is still important to highlight and raise awareness of the qualities of unhealthy relationships with students as early as Years 7 and 8; this is something which I feel my school did not do. It is important that children at a younger age are aware of what unhealthy relationships look like as this will not only act to prevent them forming these relationships in the future, but will also allow them to recognise when others as well as themselves are in toxic situations which will allow them to seek any help they may need.

Similarly, I was in Year 11 when the concept of ‘safe sex’ was first spoken about.

Many students felt this came across as patronising and felt like it was a topic that should’ve been taught when they were in Year 9. By Year 11, students are already aware of the concept of sex having seen it discussed and portrayed in film, TV shows and music. Many are also already sexually active.

All the topics covered in the RSE sessions at school were topics of valid importance.

But they were taught at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

Although the sessions did get students talking, they were mainly teacher-led and were not found to be engaging. This could be because the students were already aware of the topics that were talked about in the session such as the different methods of contraception.

Moving forward, the best way to fully maximise young people’s involvement and enjoyment of RSE is to deliver short sessions around 20-30 mins long that are appropriate for the target age group. This could be decided by sending out a poll or survey for the students to fill in about which topics they would like to discuss or explore further in the sessions. Students should also have a section on the survey where they can recommend topics they want to be delivered in the future.

As well as this, it is important to take into consideration when these sessions are delivered. For students in Key Stage 4 and above (Years 10-13) these sessions should not cut into vital revision and study time (such as free periods) as this will only cause reluctance when engaging in the sessions. Perhaps instead they could be delivered during one 20 minute form period in the morning.

Sessions should be discussion-based instead of teacher-led.

Young people themselves could also chose the topics being discussed which will will help ensure all students are engaged in the sessions. Discussions could have a targeted focus by presenting young people with a statement or a question surrounding the particular topic they have chosen to discuss, thus allowing them to debate the subject with their peers. This would be a more suitable format as it gets students engaging with their peers and talking about subjects they want to explore more.

Furthermore, by adding the discussion element to the sessions, students are able to express their own views and opinions on topics in a controlled, safe and respectful environment. This will then allow the sessions to have a more pupil-led focus with space for teachers to have input.

sign our pledge for rse

This year, the Government is reviewing and revising the Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) guidance. This review is happening in response to vocal opposition to inclusive RSE.

If you support high-quality, inclusive RSHE, sign our pledge.

Sign the pledge


We are SafeLives, the UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for everyone and for good. We work with organisations across the UK to transform the response to domestic abuse for each individual and family to get the right help at the right time. We listen to young people, our Changemakers, putting their voices at the heart of our thinking so that we can challenge harmful behaviours in young people’s early relationships, before they become an entrenched part of their lives


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