There’s a coffee-morning atmosphere in the classroom at Oak Field School, Nottingham, as teacher Tom Hall sits with six teenage boys, offering stories, encouragement and light relief. This is a sex education lesson. Laminated “OK/Not OK” cards are scattered around the table which, along with illustrations of sexual anatomy, show actions such as “touch,” “cuddle,” “masturbation”. The boys do not smirk or titter, but point and sign: it is OK to cuddle your sister; it is not OK to kiss your friends. The Guardian reports.
Relationships and sex education
(RSE) is taken seriously at Oak Field special school, which caters for pupils with severe and complex learning and physical disabilities. Hall, the PSHEE (Personal, Social, Health, Economic Education) lead, is adamant that all pupils should receive comprehensive sex education throughout their school life. Each week, his students learn about hygiene, anatomy, puberty, contraception, consent, and LGBT issues, or what the boys call “gay pride”. With parental consent, Hall even brings in balloons and foam to teach the boys how to shave, helping them to take pride in their appearance.
Outside Oak Field, however, the commitment to sex education for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is less resolute. Although these are among the most vulnerable young people – nearly three times as likely to be sexually abused as non-disabled peers, says the NSPCC – some pupils are being deprived of all sex education and many more of lessons that are tailored to their needs.
David Stewart, headteacher of Oak Field, explains that sex education for those with SEND is, on a national level, “a real mixed bag”. “In some schools there is absolutely nothing,” he says, “and when I do teacher training, I think, none of this is going to make any difference: the headteacher isn’t there, there’s no support from school leadership.”
This is especially true, Stewart explains, of mainstream schools, where there is no additional training for teachers supporting pupils with SEND. “We’ll have teachers phone us up and say, ‘we didn’t know they do this sort of thing’ – like inappropriately touching themselves in public or hugging strangers. But it’s not about them ‘doing these things’; it’s that they haven’t been taught otherwise.”
Better education about sexuality and the rules of society is about ensuring personal and public safety, Stewart points out. Not only are young people with learning disabilities over-represented as victims of sexual abuse, they also make up 40% of those classed as sexual offenders – yet they form only 2% of the population.
Paul Bray, whose consultancy,
Insight, offers RSE SEND training in social care and health – fears such attitudes and anxieties can translate, in the minds of teachers, parents and policymakers, into denial of the need to educate in this area.
“We’ve spent years and years being creative and adapting a poorly designed national curriculum to suit the needs of our learners,” he says. So what’s preventing the national picture from being recoloured? “It must be that there’s a moral or political issue. Otherwise, it’s just embarrassment.”
Read the full article Sex and special needs: Why new schools guidance must embrace pupils with learning difficulties
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Health, Learning, Primary, Resources, Safeguarding, Secondary, SEN, and Teaching. PHSE, RSE, RSE SEND, and SEN.