Joining up the dots….


  • Self Esteem
  • Healthy Relationships
  • Health including sexual health and mental health
  • Increased Confidence, Assertiveness skills
  • Independence and abilities to seek help when needed
  • Knowledge and understanding of the human body
  • Knowledge and understanding of relationships, sex, sexuality, sexual health, pregnancy and pregnancy choices, contraception, STI’s, abortion, consent, power, gender, sex in the media, ethics etc etc.
  • Contribute to reducing teenage pregnancy rates
  • Contribute to reducing STI transmission rates
  • Contribute to reducing sexual crime rates
  • Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development (SMSC)
  • Anti-bullying (including Transphobia, Homophobia, Biphobia, sexists and sexual bullying)
  • Gendered Harrassment and Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)
  • Sexual harrassment, assault and rape
  • Domestic violence and violence in teen relationships
  • Sexualisation
  • Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)
  • Tackling gang violence
  • FGM
  • Equality
  • Inclusion
  • Wellbeing

What is the one thing that joins these dots together? *subtle hint- it’s my favourite subject!*

This list was off the top of my head in 5 minutes I am sure there are many more things that high quality Sex and Relationships Education can contribute too (tweet me or comment below and I will add to list).   I find it so frustrating that these links are not always made by policy makers.   High quality SRE can contribute to prevention efforts of many of the negatives on that list and significantly boost the positives.

A gentle reminder that pretty much everyone on this planet has sex at some point in their lives and the vast majority of us are here because our parents had sex. Sex is central in society yet hidden, tabboo and maligned. Which means sex education is also. Seems daft when you think sex and sex education impacts on so much.

How can we help the policy makers join up the dots and see that significant investment in High Quality SRE is crucial as it contributes to so many vital areas of current concern? Without such investment, many of the agendas in this list will not suceed.

 

 

Love is all you need. Video resources for schools


Collecting some video resources useful for classrooms when exploring understandings of sexual orientation and homophobia and bullying. Will add to this post as I find more but here are my current faves which I find incredibly moving and powerful :

Also primary schools have you seen this new resource from Stonewall?

Creating safe spaces in Sex Education- separate or mixed gender groups?


***This is a rough post that will be edited as some of the ideas are discussed on twitter and in the comments***

A large part of a Sex Ed teacher’s job is creating safe spaces, a space where discussion can flow freely, where participants are all aware this is a mutally supportive learning environment and no-one will make fun of anyone in the group for asking a “silly question*”.

I think considering your groupings is very important, how do you create a safe space so that the more gregarious members don’t dominate at the expense of the shyer? Also should you offer separate sex groupings to allow conversations more personal to each group to flow? (eg. periods and vaginal discharge versus wet dreams and smegma)

In my experience sex education is best taught using a combination of separate and mixed sex groupings. You can get incredible discussions in single sex groups where finally young women feel able to openly discuss female sexuality without fear, and young men without the opposite sex present (apart from my presence if I couldn’t get a male teacher to lead the session!) suddenly stop acting with bravado and like they know it all and ask questions that have genuinely been worrying them.

Likewise bring those groups back together and getting the perspective of the opposite sex can be very powerful indeed.  I would always argue that both groups need to cover the same material. I do not like the idea of boys getting the wet dream talk while girls get the period talk. All young people need to know information about both sexes.

Offering single sex groupings in sex ed can also serve to reassure parents about participation in sex education particularly in primary schools or from religious communities. Students maybe less likely to be withdrawn in this case.

However, single sex groupings may not meet trans or gender non-conforming students needs, as a safe space cannot be created if you are forced to join a group where you don’t feel you belong and are denied entry to the other group.  This is something that needs to be thought carefully about, as a result I have come up with some thoughts about creating safer spaces that would still hopefully enable free flowing discussion for all. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please add in comments below.

a) Firstly as their teacher you know your group better than anyone- use your professional knowledge about the groupings to decide which will be most appropriate to your group. If single sex groupings won’t work for your class don’t do them.

b) Ask the group in advance of separating out the groups that this is your plan. Discuss with the group whether they want this option or would prefer to stay together. Go with the group consensus about what they would prefer, but also ensure you give opportunities for individuals to come to you after the lesson if they prefer to chat about their preferences then if they prefer not to do this as part of the group. If a student does raise concerns about being in a single sex group, ensure you work with that student to identify how best a safe discussion space can be provided for them.  If this can’t be done in single sex groupings then don’t do them. To my mind supporting a trans student in your class to feel safe in your classroom trumps the needs of the rest of the group. It is important to be aware that young trans students are often at the highest risk of self harm and suicide therefore your role is to create a supportive classroom environment to best benefit their mental health as much as you are able.

c) Sometimes there won’t be opportunities to separate out the sexes due to teacher or classroom availability.  You could experiement with having three main discussion groupings- a boy group, a girls group and a mixed group. Discuss the same issue and then feedback and then discuss whether the different groups felt differently about any of it. (This way you could try and make sure the students were in the group they would feel most comfortable in too).

d) You could arrange your seating plan to maximise discussion between participants. You know your students- you know which ones won’t mind discussing things with the opposite sex and which ones might prefer to discuss things with participants of the same sex. Instead of throwing out questions for a whole class response- allow everyone in the class a minute or two to discuss it in their pair or group before feeding back. You circulate so you can have micro supportive discussions based on need. These may or may not be fed back to the whole group.

e) I am really not a fan of schools that enforce boy/girl seating plans etc, and PE in particular is quite problematic (I’d love a PE teachers thoughts on how to manage this inclusively in PE).  I think schools do need to be mindful how they segregate and think carefully about how they can meet the needs of trans students (remember around 1% of the population will be trans so schools may well have trans students). So even just flagging such thoughts up for consideration in your school can help create safer spaces for trans or gender non-conforming youth in your school.

In conclusion whilst not a fan of separating out the sexes arbitarily in most aspects of school life where there is no clear benefit, I can see there are benefits in sex education and I think we can still create safe spaces for all students regardless of their gender, it just needs some careful thinking about how we do this most effectively.

Happy Educating!

P.S I have tried to use sex (meaning sex assigned at birth- girl boy man woman) instead of gender (the gender identity you assume – male, female) in this post in most places. However when writing about sex education and mentioning sex as human biology and not meaning the act- it got a bit confusing and also strange writing “separate sex groups” – because of worries people might misread as “group sex”! So I’m not sure I got it right in places- any thoughts on a solution!?

 

*A top tip about questions having a basic ground rule such as “there are no silly questions- if you have a question you want answering then it is likely others in the group have wondered the same thing.” (I usually add in a caveat about “if you ask a question with the aim of embarrassing me or the class I won’t answer it, and you run the risk of your genuine questions not being taken seriously”. As a result I never have non genuine questions, sometimes ones that make me raise my eyebrows but I can tell they are from a place of genuine befuddlement. :)

It’s time to talk about gendered harassment


 

“Stop acting like a girl”, “You look like a fag”, “You are such a slut”, “Genderbender”

Each of those taunts can be heard in schools across the land, where homophobic, transphobic, bi-phobic, sexist and sexual commentary is often seen as the norm. At the core of each of these comments is a common root: Gendered Harrassment.

What is gendered harassment?

Gendered harassment is defined as any behaviour, verbal, physical, or psychological, that polices the boundaries of traditional heterosexual gender norms and includes (hetero)sexual harassment, homophobic harassment, and harassment for gender non-conformity.” (Meyer, 2008)

In other words where gendered stereotypes prevail about what males and females should traditionally look and act like then gendered harassment will exist.  Anyone and everyone will be affected by gendered harassment , it is a way of society policing and enforcing its idea of “normal”.

Schools are starting to understand they need to address homophobia, thanks to high profile media campaigns, support and training, which is great but they still lack understanding about how to address sexual, sexist or transphobic bullying, where such behaviours are sometimes perceived as normal “gendered banter” from children and young people.   By reframing the discussion in terms of gendered harassment, this recognises that gender is at the core of all of these different types of bullying and harassment, then schools can get to the crux of the issue and start to address three distinct problematic issues in schools for the price of one!

Care will need to be taken not to lose specific nuances within each issue  by consideration under a gendered harassment umbrella but adopting such approaches is time and energy saving for the school and can transform school environments for male, female, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight students. Ie. such approaches will benefit everyone. (What’s not to like!?)

So this February for LGBT history month- take some time to consider how your school approaches gendered harassment and help make homophobia, transphobia, sexist and sexual bullying HISTORY.

For more help with understanding gendered harrassment in your school please contact me on sexedukation@gmail.com

 

 

Masters announcement


In case you missed me shrieking delightedly about it on twitter yesterday:

I GOT A DISTINCTION FOR MY DISSERTATION!!!!!

The marks still need to go through external examiner and be checked against my other modules so at this stage not sure what my final overall grade will be*.

But after all that struggle to get my head around concepts like hegemony, praxis and paradigm I’m pretty bloody proud of myself right now.

I’m also seriously considering a PhD in challenging gendered harrassment in schools. Ahem I do believe I told you all to stop me if I mentioned such a thing but it seems like a waste to not continue with academic learning now I have my academic dictionary all sorted (note I didn’t even mention academic wankery either!)

 

 

 

* Annoyingly about 80% of my modules are distinction level but I did 30% of the distinction level stuff at a different university so the grade can’t be counted. Which means of the remainder I have about 65% at distinction and rest not so may mean a merit overall which is extremely extremely annoying!

A Masters Dedication to my Dad


I dedicated my masters dissertation to my dad who died 9months before I started the final bit of my masters having encouraged me to start it and championed me all the way through and paid for some of the modules when I was too skint!.

I wanted to also share this dedication publicly because my dad was ace and I turned out pretty okay as a result ;)

 

Dedicated to my dad, John Smith

1935- 2012

 

This masters dissertation is dedicated to the man who taught me there is nothing more important than education and equality. It has been completed in his memory to stand as evidence of everything I have learned and am still learning about the world, equality and understanding.

 

For you Dad.

Challenge oppression through developing understanding not anger and confrontation. It doesn’t help people learn.


Back in real world having spent the last 15 months immersed in a dissertation exploring challenging homophobia in schools.

The key take home message has always been we need to develop children and young people’s understanding of diversity, and give them opportunities to discuss, reflect and learn from different experiences and identities.

I can’t simply ban “That’s so gay” in my classroom without spending sometime explaining why and working towards a shared understanding of why that language is problematic. Otherwise all I do is I teach kids that “gay is a word Miss doesn’t like” and it’s somehow a wrong and powerful word and mustn’t be used in that space (but would still be used in other spaces). However by taking the time to work with children and young people on developing their understanding of such terms, they come to the conclusion themselves that they don’t want to use such language, they start educating their peers and it snowballs from there. I have seen it with my own eyes it can happen.

I’m going to point out this also holds true for twitter feminism. I have seen some absolutely foul and abusive behaviour on twitter recently with people calling out other people in the name of intersectionality, but in abusive ways that don’t help people learn and understand but shut down and then again it becomes “us vs. them”. I appreciate that people feel so strongly about this and as a result feelings can run very high, but some of the ad hominem attacks in recent months are simply not okay.

If you truly want to educate people about oppression then time needs to be taken to discuss and educate, not shout and abuse. The latter gets people nowhere and people simply will not learn because the second someone is put on the defensive or made angry – their brain can’t learn as cortisol and adrenalin take over.

I’m not an expert on oppression and intersectionality, but I know a bit about learning. I’d like to think I know a masters level worth of stuff into homophobia in schools but it hasn’t been marked yet and if it does badly I probably don’t know as much as I think, but don’t know enough about biphobia or transphobia in schools (because the research and education agendas are not there yet really), I also don’t know enough about racism, or sexism, or classism, but I am listening and trying to learn, that is all I can do. All I ask for in return is do not abuse me or the many other people like me who are also trying to learn and change society for the better.

After all:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”                                                                                      (Nelson Mandela, 2003)

And that holds true for children and young people in schools, and adults and twitter.

Happy Educating.

Reference

MANDELA N, (2003) Lighting your way to a better future. Speech delivered by Mr N R Mandela at launch of Mindset Network. Available from http://db.nelsonmandela.org/speeches/pub_view.asp?pg=itemandItemID=NMS909andtxtstr=education%20is%20the%20most%20powerful

Praxis makes perfect


15 months ago I didn’t even know what praxis was:

“reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.”(Friere, 1972 p28).

Or more simply- the combination of theory and practice- praxis.

I have always maintained I am a practitioner and not an academic and you only have to look at my rantings on twitter about #academicwankery to see how alien and unintelligle I have found a lot of my research to be.

I am not alone in this as teachers working in the field of challenging homophobia with academics, have frequently reported that they feel excluded by the habitually used academic discourses leading to a sense of inadequacy and exclusion (DePalma and Teague, 2009)where the use of such language may reinscribe power and privilege (two of the very concepts this work aims to address)  (Darder and Baldotano, 2009).

However being almost at the otherside of 15months immersion into academia and I can see the value in using words such as praxis, hegemony, patriachy, praxis, paradigm, opression, kyriachy, intersectionality.

In the words of Ronseal- they kind of “do what they say on the tin”- well actually they don’t always, and there is significant debate about the definitions of each term and the limitations of the concepts. However when you have a wordcount to stick to, using “hegemony” saves you about 2 pages in protracted explanations!

Still don’t know how to say the word out loud though- and judging from the debate I had on twitter yesterday- neither do many! (Hegg ee monnee or Hedge ee monnee or Hed Jem Onnneee?)

More importantly recognising such concepts has been significant for me. If you don’t know what hegemony is then you don’t need to say it out loud if you can help it! it becomes harder to recognise and therefore harder to challenge.  I think I am possibly now a convert to academic wankery on some levels- whilst always striving to keep my language clear and accessible to practitioners.

I think the most significant struggle I have had with this masters has been trying to bridge the gap between theory and practice, academia and practitioners. In a way I have been trying to use my blog to this end over the last few months, and I have decided to continue with this aim. The way I see it is if I can grapple with bits of academia relevant to my practice I can then try and translate them to help other practitioners.  After all supporting practitioners is my dayjob and it is the best job in the world!

I won’t always get it right, but even just making the effort can create discussion for praxis. So it has to be worth a try.

So here it is a new years resolution to be the #academicwanker I always swore I wouldn’t be. Or maybe #academicpractitioner is more apt? Sigh. and if you hear me mention a doctorate in education is calling please someone stop me.

References

DARDER, A., and BALTODANO, M. (2009). The critical pedagogy reader. R. D. TORRES (Ed.). New York: Routledge Falmer.

DEPALMA,R. AND TEAGUE,L. (2008) A democratic community of practice: Unpicking all those words. Educational Action Research16(4), 441-456. Available from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09650790802445619#.UoyDocS-2m4 [Accessed 20/11/13]

FREIRE, P. (1972), Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin Books.

Discussing same sex relationships should not be treated as a sensitive or controversial issue.


***N.B This is a draft post of some musings. I will  be refining it further following twitter discussions and masters submission, but publishing now as I need to link to it in my masters reflection!***

For a while now I have agreed with Simon Blake’s (CEO of Brook Charity) assertion that non heterosexuality should not be treated as a sensitive issue in education.  I’d also add in we need to stop treating such topics as “controversial”. To do so causes teachers to worry and tiptoe around such conversations and only reinforces stigma.

Remember same sex marriage is now legal, and the Equality Act (2010) supports equal rights for those who are LGBT.  Whilst there maybe religious perspectives against non-heterosexuality, all religions promote tolerance and respect, and many people within different religions either are LGBT or support LGBT equality. Also the vast majority of parents want their children to learn about sexual orientation as part of sex education (Morgan, 2000, Mumsnet, 2012). Therefore allowing the views of vocal minorities to skew the provision of such education about something so simple as the actual existence of people who are LGBT to children and young people, is morally wrong in my opinion.

Since writing up my masters dissertation exploring the evidence base for challenging homophobia in schools I have been considering this “moral debate” in more detail so I thought I would share some of the academic perspectives here (Partly because word count means I need to cut them out of my dissertation – sob)

On one side of the debate are arguments like Archard (1998),  Petrovic ( 2002) White (1991), Jones  (2011a and b) argue for a liberal approach to sexuality education giving overt support to the view that non-heterosexuality is morally legitimate or unproblematic. On the counter argument side academics such as Halstead and  Lewicka (1998), Reiss (1997) (there are more but no time to add them all!) who argue non-heterosexuality must always be positioned as a controversial issue.

Hand (2007) explores some of these arguments about how issues can be defined as “controversial” using behavioural, epistemic, political or moral criterion, and argues that the only educational defensible criterion for defining non-heterosexuality as controversial is the epistemic one- where a view can only be controversial if contrary views are held upon it and where the disagreement is reasonable and rationally defensible.  The paper explores many of the differing viewpoints and concludes there are no rational credible objections to non-heterosexuality and therefore we should be “unapologetic in our commitment to promoting this view in the moral education of children and young people”(Hand, 2007 page 85). Funnily enough I agree with him.

The counterarguments from Halstead and Lewicka, (1998), Reiss, (1997) include arguments that teaching about such issues must only ever be treated as a sensitive controversial issue as teaching about sexual orientation requires specialist teacher skills,  and to not teach it sensitively including a balanced exploration of perspectives on non-heterosexuality, may inflame rather than inform students. i.e. it could make homophobia worse.

However I’d argue that these positions are insufficient as teaching an issue sensitively (as one would with any aspect of PSHE or SRE as it is good practice) is different to treating it sensitively which actually translates into ignoring it as an issue wherever possible for fear of backlash.  The former is very important and the latter is inhibitory.  While in some cases it maybe appropriate to explore different opinions on non-heterosexuality, teachers do not need to try and sit on the fence and provide perfect balance in all cases. We are role models who can be clear that we uphold the value of equality for all according to the laws of the land, doing so can change perspectives (simple peer pressure and social norming!).

(Of course there are a minority of teachers who are homophobic – such teachers do need to be very careful in how they decide to address this topic remembering that that teachers working in schools have have a legal duty to advance equality and cannot discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.)

Therefore whilst I acknowledge  teachers may need specialist support and training to discuss such issues confidently (and sensitively where need arises), they should try to avoid treating nonheterosexuality as a special,  sensitive or controversial issue, as to do so continues to allows bigotry to prevail.

Happy Educating.