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The Spiral Curriculum in Relationships and Sex Education  

For #SHW23, we’re Playing It Safe. In this blog, Brook’s Resource Development Coordinator, Rebecca Cant, explains what a spiral curriculum is, how it looks in practice, and why it’s essential in supporting young people to be safe.  

At Brook, each one of our sessions and resources fits together into an overall pedagogy called the spiral approach.

Brook’s spiral curriculum is carefully designed to create important foundations for learning about relationships and wellbeing right from the earliest years of school. This approach gently introduces and reintroduces fundamental topics in an age-appropriate way, year on year, meaning that there are no sudden shocks, leaps, or gaps in a young person’s relationships and sex education.  

What does this look like in practice? Let’s take consent as an example.

In Key stage 1, the foundation of the Brook spiral approach consists of teaching children about appropriate touch and personal boundaries. Through engaging activities and discussions, children develop an understanding of what feels comfortable and safe for them. They learn to identify and differentiate between different types of touch (good and bad), promoting an early understanding of consent and bodily autonomy.  

As children continue into Key Stage 2, Brook develops children’s understanding of consent though topics such as respecting personal space and healthy friendships. Brook lesson plans draw on storytelling, games, activities, and group discussions to develop children’s knowledge, empathy, active listening skills, and a growing awareness of consent and respectful relationships.  

By Key stage 3, children have transitioned to secondary school. In Year 7, learners learn that consent applies to many aspects of relationships – for example, hugging, kissing, and even posting a picture of somebody online. In Year 8, Brook lessons dive deeper into what consent means when it comes to using social media, and how to negotiate the complexities of on and offline relationships.  

By the time learners reach Year 9 (age 13-14), they specifically learn about consent in relation to all forms of sexual activity, and are taught about sex and the law, and how to identify enthusiastic consent. They learn about how people’s ability to consent to activities may be impacted by things like alcohol, pressure, and power dynamics. While our sessions make clear that sex is something to be delayed until they are old enough, the learning provided is designed to help keep them safe and know how to identity and respond to pressure, coercion, or exploitation.  

Throughout Key stage 4 and 5, learners have a solid foundation in the basics of consent, and they are ready to delve into reflective discussions around communication, negotiation, and establishing boundaries that are crucial for healthy and fulfilling intimate relationships. Brook sessions delivered at this age support learners to think critically about the portrayal of consent in the media, and how to challenge harmful consent myths.  

By the end of this journey, which spans years of child and adolescent development, young people will have had the chance to integrate their developing understanding consent – with regard to rights, respect and relationships – not only within formalised learning but most importantly within their personal lives. This kind of learning takes place at the level of values and attitudes, meaning that young people grow up being able to fully understand – and articulate – the importance of consent, respect and care for themselves and for others.  

In short, Brook’s spiral approach is the opposite of simply having “one big talk” about sex and relationships.

Instead, our approach repeatedly revisits fundamental topics throughout the course of education. Each time a Brook session revisits a topic, it develops and builds on it with increasing complexity, adding deeper contextual learning each time.  

In many ways, this is like learning a language. People learn the fundamentals of a new language at first, starting with the simple nouns and building up the complexities of grammar over time. Much as you wouldn’t expect a teenager to study a few Spanish lessons to prepare for a GSCE Spanish exam, you wouldn’t expect a few RSE lessons in Year 10 to prepare somebody to navigate the complex world of sex and relationships. 

A spiral approach is ideal for RSE because it enables us to teach topics in an age-appropriate manner, progressively building upon earlier knowledge as students mature and gain a deeper understanding of relationships and personal boundaries. This is essential as children gradually mature into young people capable of making their own healthy choices about sex and relationships.  

Want to know more about the spiral curriculum?

By enrolling in our new online course for teachers and schools, How to Deliver RSE, you’ll learn more about the strengths of the spiral curriculum, more examples and a guide to how to implement it in your school.

More about How to Deliver RSE

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