A spiral curriculum for learning about condoms

At the #ASCL2018 conference this week we spoke with delegates a lot about age appropriateness of different concepts like consent (one delegate was surprised when I said 2 year olds can learn about consent) and a conversation with one colleague got me thinking about a spiral curriculum for condoms. A common criticism of sex education is that a young person may do a annual condom demonstration but not be taught about negotiation, communication, relationships skills etc. This is unhelpful.

If you are doing a yearly condom demonstration without adding any value in terms of knowledge and understanding, values, attitudes, skills each year then you are not delivering good relationships and sex education.


So I thought I would have a bash at setting out what a spiral curriculum for condoms could look like. I am even going to start it from KS1 because I am a bit radical like that but as you will see it doesn’t actually include reference to condoms! It is important to note there is no evidence that RSE hastens the first experience of sex and quality RSE has been found to  delaying the initiation of sex; reduce the number of sexual partners; and increase condom or contraceptive use.

KS1– Learning about hygeine- washing hands with soap and water and using a tissue to prevent germs spreading. Correct basic names for the outer genitals vulva/penis. Some children may also learn that a baby is made by a sperm and egg and grows in a uterus. (This book is my fave).

One of my children when aged about 4 once asked me “Mummy, how do ladies not have a baby if they don’t want one?” and whilst I was wrestling with my options of age appropriate answers around contraception and abortion, she answered her own question: “I KNOW! they stay away from sperm!” Perfect age appropriate (and hilarious) answer and we left it there!

KS2– Building on hygiene knowledge from KS1 children should understand the use of barriers to stop germs spreading eg. latex gloves or face masks. They should also learn more detailed names Vulva/Vagina/Uterus Penis/Testicles/Scrotum. They should also definitely by now understand that sperm plus egg = baby (and for IVF families and same sex parent families the What makes a baby book is excellent for inclusivity).  For Y6 if a question came up from the anonymous question box about condoms I would probably answer it thus. “Condoms are used to help protect people from some infections or pregnancy. They are mostly made from latex (like rubber gloves and balloons) and work as a barrier so sperm or infections can’t pass between people.”. Or I might be tempted to answer it like a child once told Catherine Kirk at the RSE Service  “it’s like the skin on a sausage!” (which is brill!) My rationale is that if they are old enough to ask the question they are old enough to hear an age appropriate answer.

Now in KS3/KS4/KS5 I would break it down by year/age range.

For Y7 (aged 11+) I would definitely mention condoms briefly along lines of the KS2 answer but slightly increasing the complexity. “Condoms are used to help protect people from some infections or pregnancy. They are mostly made from latex and are worn over the penis or inside the vagina to act as a barrier during sex so sperm or infections can’t pass between people”.  When talking about the spread of diseases you can spray some perfume or body spray on the palm of someones hand before the lesson and ask the young people to go round shaking hands. Everyone sniffs their hands at end of activity to see how far a “disease has spread” and talk about protecting yourself from infection (washing hands, wearing gloves, not shaking hands!)

For Y8 (aged 12- 13) I would do the STI practical and I would show them internal/external condoms (male condom and female condoms) as part of object based learning.  I would expect them to be able to describe what a condom is what it is made from and what it is used for.

For end of Y9/early Y10 (~14+ age range) I would do the STI practical (only if they haven’t done it in Y8) and I would do condom olympics if time as well as a standard condom demonstration (ideally with ejaculating function and UV blacklight ) plus an exploding condom demo (blow up two condoms- rub baby oil/vaseline or other oil based lubricant into one and water or silicone based lubricant into another and the oil based one will pop pretty quickly showing which lubricants are safe and unsafe. I would demo dental dams for safe oral sex and internal condoms (Female condom- see pic below). I would signpost the local C-card scheme. I would expect them to be able to explain in detail how and why condoms are used and where they can be accessed as well as describe an overview of STIs and how and where to get tested.


For Y10 -Y11 (~15plus age range) I would only do a condom demonstration if they hadn’t done it previously or if the group felt they needed a refresher (in which case I would expect them to ‘teach’ each other and collaborate on ‘best demo’ rather than another teacher led demo followed by student practice. I would explore condom negotiation using something like “condom excuses/responses” and explore in much more detail what causes condoms to fail . I would explore the context of condom use (types of relationships etc) and what might the barriers be to using condoms. I would also explore more info about STIs and which STIs are not protected for by condoms.

For Y11- 6th form (+16 year olds age range and over age of consent) I would expect them to be critically exploring gendered attitudes to condom use (how society responds to males carrying condoms compared to females and how internal condom use has positives especially for gender equality! I would be encouraging as many to get signed up for a C-card (local condom distribution schemes) around this age. I would sign them up myself depending on the settings policy. I would talk in much more detail about safer sex and how dental dams and condoms use is vital but also how to overcome some of the barriers to their use particularly in the context of negotiating pleasurable experiences. I would talk much more about lubricant and arousal and be directing them to the awesome info found in scarleteen  and Bish

Obviously what I have written above is a tiny part of what an RSE curriculum should be. I haven’t mentioned the detailed stuff I would cover on relationships, sexuality, pleasure, anatomy, gender, mental health, contraception etc. because this is a blog post on condoms and how to build a spiral curriculum using just that one topic. In DO… our awesome RSE materials for 14-16year olds we manage to cover all of this and more in just 6 lessons! (Our condom lesson is here but you really need to teach it in the context of the 4 lessons before it found here)

What would your spiral curriculum on condoms look like? Have I missed anything off? Please do comment below!


Exploring the power of Object Based Learning for Relationships and Sex Education

On Friday I had the honour of being invited to speak at University of Exeter about my experiences as a practitioner working on the Sex & History Project. (N.B. I co-wrote the FREE RSE lesson pack here and and lessons exploring gender and sexual diversity here for LGBT history month and beyond!)  Unfortunately due to the snow I had to Skype in and not be there in person to run a workshop, so I also wanted to summarise my thoughts in a blog post.

The topic I chose to talk about was The Power of ‘Object-Based Learning’ for Relationships and Sex Education.  For those of you who don’t know Object Based Learning is using an object (historical object/ 3D printed model or any physical solid 3D thing!) to spark a conversation and learn something new. (Or a more academic description: “Object-Based Learning (OBL) is a student-centred learning approach that uses objects to facilitate deep learning. Objects may take many forms, small or large, but the method typically involves students handling or working at close quarters with and interrogating physical artefacts.”. I first heard of it as a concept in a meeting with Melany Rose Education Manager at the British Museum. Then seeing the Ain Sakhri lovers on display there really bought it home to me the difference in learning between seeing the actual physical object is compared to learning from photo of the object (both have value but for some objects seeing them for yourselves gives a extra layer of understanding)


3D Printed Uterus model

In Sex & History, we often have to use photographs of the objects rather than actual handling materials because these are rare museum pieces that are valuable and can’t be handled by a class of teenagers in case they are damaged! However, last year I was lucky enough to lead a teacher training workshop at Brighton and Hove Museum where they had a 3D printed Venus of Willendorf to handle alongside looking at actual objects from the museum’s collection. It was fascinating to watch the teachers engage with the piece in new and unexpected ways when physically able to handle the object rather than just look at it behind glass or in a photograph or image on a screen.  At Sex and History we are gathering a small collection of handling objects (such as examples similar to these erotic fruits)  and actively exploring 3D printing of replica objects in order to further utilise the opportunities and benefits of OBL.

For my workshop with practitioners and academics from UK and Germany I had been planning to provide a huge range of objects covered with a sheet and ask individuals to choose an object they were most interested in learning more about asking the questions: “what is it?” “how could it be used for relationships and sex education?” (whilst also making it very clear that any object chosen did not reflect anything personal about the participant choosing it!). Experiencing the value of object based learning for yourself is a powerful lesson in its value for sex education.


Venus of Willendorf

Although this concept may seem foreign to many teachers of RSE I think that many RSE teachers are doing OBL all the time anyway without realising. Condoms demonstrations and passing around different methods of contraception to have a much closer look at all count as OBL! Being able to see, touch, feel, handle, move and rotate an object relating to relationships and sex education can create discussions and questions that you would never get without the physical object being present.

The benefits of object based learning (as well as possible objects to use) can be set out as follows:

  • Icebreakers– can help defuse tensions and create safer spaces by using certain objects like knitted uteruses/vulvas/penises/or cuddly STI toys.  Crocheted body parts have been used with particular success in Brighton and Hove with an RSE project for young unaccompanied asylum seekers in single sex groups (that I have been supporting in the background), as a way of kick starting safe fun conversations about their bodies.  These young people may come from cultures where such knowledge about their own bodies is sometimes seen as taboo and often not talked about, and cultural understandings of consent can be very different.  The benign fun nature of knitted or crocheted objects provide such a safe space to start having conversations which can then over time lead into trickier conversations such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). 


  • Starters- Start the conversation off by passing round an object “what is this” “what might it be used for” “how is it used?” “why does it exist” can create fascinating conversations. You could use things like wedding rings, engagement rings (non-valuable ones!!) to start conversations about marriage and relationships, gender, power and control (who wears the engagement ring- why?) and extend the conversation to explore the use of rings used for chastity (silver ring thing) or fidelity pledges or use of neck rings in marriage or sign of beauty. Something so simple as a small silver or gold band can start a conversation that could go on for a whole lesson if you plan it right and are skilled in your questioning and how you manage discussions.
  • Investigators and Interrogators  Supplying a range of objects can be used to explore and interrogate patterns and assumptions in society. For example , menstrual products, intimate washes, soaps, razors, make up. hair straighteners, Protein shakes, Pilates balls, gendered clothing or shoes. What objects make us feel good about ourselves, what make us feel bad, which are designed for men/women? what are essential? which are cultural? etc.                                                                          Or you could do the fab The Sensual Star activity (from Jo Adams who developed the RU Ready? Program) where you supply a wide range of objects that can be used to stimulate the five senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. eg. perfumes/scented candles/sound bowl/musical instruments for sound; chocolate/fruits/ massagers or objects with rough or smooth textures eg. silk scarves and have a conversation about sensuality and what are our favorite objects against each of the five senses. This can be drawn and decorated on a “Sensual Star” (a 5 pointed star with each sense allocated to a point).
  • Confidence building Adolescence can be a tricky time with lots of new things to master that people often don’t talk in detail to you about. For example you can also use a range of disposable and reusable menstrual products or range of antiperspirants and deodorants to kick start conversations about puberty, hygiene and menstruation. Familiarity with some of the products they may need to use in their lives can build confidence about talking about, purchasing and using them.
  • Reassurance about whats ‘normal’– exploring the range of variation in bodies by passing around objects of different sizes analogous to human bodies (E.g. as well as using knitted objects with some inner labia longer than outer labia etc, I also have a range of different sized condom demonstrators (and TheyFit is a great site to share). It also encourages young people to feel more comfortable talking about their bodies when I get out Lady Penelope it is fascinating (and really sad) to realise how many girls do not have any real understanding of how their own bodies work. 

  • Visualising how things work Until you have seen an actual IUD/IUS in the flesh and seen on a diagram or model of female reproductive tract how it works, then it can be quite hard to conceptualise. Likewise seeing the actual size of an implant (a matchstick can work here or small matchstick sized piece of ultra fine tubing), the contraceptive ring (the inner ring of an internal condom (femidom) works) then it can be hard to understanding or visualise how such methods work.  Also Object based learning is also vital for visually impaired students if you can’t see then being able to handle and be talked through anatomy or using methods of contraception is very important.
  • New directions for discussions Talking about STI testing can be a little dry sometimes but passing round a chlamydia testing kit and allowing a look at a urine testing pot, a swab kit, or passing round a speculum can help make the conversation more interesting. I’m also very interested in exploring how every day objects like a wire coat hanger could open up discussions on abortion, or egg white or flour paste or cottage cheese in petri dishes could open up conversations about normal vaginal discharge! A small Venus of Willendorf (I now have one of my own) could open up conversations about body image, breasts, weight, sexiness, fertility!

Speculum, swab and urine testing kits.

  • Exploring new frontiers (knowledge, learning and technology!)- the 3D printed clitoris is my FAVE object for getting a conversation going about sexual pleasure and anatomy (and I still think it is outrageous that this wasn’t mapped until 1998). I now have a 3D printed uterus and I am hoping to get a vulva too. 3D printing for sex ed could be incredible!


    Range of 3D printed clitorises

  • Consolidating learning. In youth group settings we sometimes use a “talking stick” or other object as a tool to signify who can talk and who needs to listen. We also sometimes pass an object round to close a session with each person holding the object says one thing they have learned about the session before passing it on to the next person. While I can see their might be potential for silliness if certain objects were used (!) I can also see there is potential in having a particular object close a session quite powerfully.  I am thinking something like a small squishy heart stress toy to pass round and feedback on notions of romantic love and why the heart is seen as a symbol for love and how that can make people feel. The level of SQUEEZE could indicate how much the session was enjoyed or not!


How would you use object based learning in your setting and what do you think are the benefits? Please comment below!


This post is bought to you with thanks to Sex & History Project for funding me to do this work. Rhian Drinkwater for her expert knitting skills (the uteri were knitted by a sexual health campaign up north and to my horror I can’t remember who to thank them- if it was you please shout!), Lovehoney for supplying me with loads of kit.  Ben O’Steen for 3D printing  this file designed by Odile Filod for me and putting me in touch with Valeria Vitale from  Institute of Classical Studies, Senate House who has also indulged my 3D printing whims and needs using the Odile Filod file and the Vulvacademy files (with thanks to @Gareth Cheeseman for sharing the link to Vulvacademy files)!


My Wellbeing Toolkit- A free resource for those working with young people.

So recently I learned how to use Google Drawings and at the same time this post from the awesome friend @PookyH  inspired me to think about wellbeing action plans. So this afternoon I started to have a  play with google drawings (partly because I was having a play for my own Wellbeing Action Plan- you need to practice what you preach after all!) and I came up with something that if printed on A3 might be useful for those working with young people.


My Wellbeing Toolkit (1)


It is adapted from the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and I also added some explanatory info to help young people with filling it in. It is probably aimed at secondary aged pupils due to some of the language but when I get a mo, I will look at doing a primary version.

Notes on Completing My Wellbeing Toolkit (2)

Anyhow I hope you find this helpful and I provide the PDF for printing on A3 here MyWellbeingToolkit: and the explanatory notes here:Notes on Completing My Wellbeing Toolkit

Any feedback, I would love to hear it. I am still learning with Google drawings and I am no designer but I am finding it a really easy to use and fun tool (and Google docs in general is awesome for collaborative work!).

Happy Educating!



“Being gay is against my religion”- Teachers how do you respond?

As a teacher what do you say to that statement?  You don’t want to be seen to maligning a faith viewpoint, and maybe you don’t personally know enough about the faith in question to start having a theological debate on the issue so instead perhaps you avoid the issue completely?

When I first started talking about homophobia in the classroom, I used to say was that all major religions promote tolerance and respect and even if your faith perspective doesn’t agree with someone’s sexual orientation, that does not give you the right to discriminate against someone because of it. Also despite some religious teachings against same sex relationships, there will be people who are LGBT within that particular faith, and what it actually comes down to is how you interpret the most important aspects of your faith for you, ie. faith is more importantly about your own relationship with god rather than interpretations of your faith by faith leaders. (Which is how my Catholic Lesbian friend explained to me how she reconciled her own faith with her sexual orientation, which was a very helpful perspective to help me understand.)

Since then I have developed an understanding that promoting ideas of tolerance or acceptance are flawed. We wouldn’t ask someone to tolerate black people- the very notion is offensive, why shouldn’t it be the same for people who are LGBT?  (Check out the Riddle Scale of Attitudes for more info) and hence teachers need to think carefully about using words such as tolerance or acceptance (although they do appear frequently in certain religious texts).

Since doing this masters I have realised that LGBT equality is fairly unique in being perceived as against someones religion, however just because the arguments for oppression are religious does not excuse them (the arguments for slavery in the US or persecution of Jews in Europe were also often religious, we don’t excuse those- why should this be any different?).

Teachers need to be clear that there is a limit where respecting one groups freedoms may mean limiting the freedoms of another. It is not always an easy boundary to negotiate but avoiding discussion on the issue at all with religious students/schools is also not an option.  I’ve talked about negotiating the line between faith and discussions on sexuality before in this open letter to MP Matthew Offord, and I share below the example I wrote there about my experience around discussions of faith and sexuality.

“One of my proudest teaching and learning moments was covering a lesson on homophobia with a class, a boy with strong faith views shouted out “I WANT TO KILL ALL GAYS” he was angry and convinced this was a course of action they deserved. He was adament that he believed this because his faith taught him it was wrong.  By the end of the lessons he came to me and said “Miss, I still don’t like it and neither does my faith, but I get what you mean now about not being mean to someone because of it.” For him that was the most monumental shift, and he was a violent angry young man, I have absolutely no doubt that he would be the type to beat someone up for acting “gay” whether or not they actually were.”

During that lesson, I obviously challenged him on his original statement as it was very offensive and breached our ground rules, but during the lesson we explored stereotypes and feelings and human rights. We talked about faith in the context I described above and at no point did anyone try and malign his faith viewpoint, and he still went on to have the monumental shift in attitude (I am not naive, this may not have been a permanent attitudinal change but in a single lesson it was a massive shift in positioning and if nothing else I made him think!).   This is just one example but it shows such discussions can and should take place that respect both faith values and an equalities perspective.

Please don’t let fears around a possible religious backlash, prevent work around challenging homophobia and transphobia. It is not impossible and in fact you maybe pleasantly surprised (I had several strongly religious people actively support the work within my previous school).

Happy Educating.

EDIT: As Gill Frances reminded me from her comments below- we also need to point out to children and young people that religious beliefs do not trump the laws of this land and that both Sexual Orientation, Gender Reassignment and Religion & belief are all protected characteristics within the Equality Act (2010). Also particular faith perspectives are unlikely to be universal within your classroom, having a faith perspective does not give you any more right than anyone else in the class to share that perspective.  Or to put it another way:

Dear Parents- Support your children’s teachers to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity.

I know from my own experience of challenging homophobia & tranphobia in school one of my most significant fears apart from ending up in the daily mail  was the fear of parental backlash.  As it happens as I progressed with the work the parents were overwhelmingly supportive and the backlash  never actually came, I ended up kicking myself that I had let the fear stop me progressing with aspects of the work until my confidence grew.

Now I am doing my research into my masters challenging homophobia and I am finding a lot of evidence that suggests that a significant barrier to teachers doing this type of equalities work is fear of parental reactions. However research also shows that the vast majority of parents (90+%) believe it is important to include “understanding sexual orientation” as part of PSHE (Morgan, 2000 and Mumsnet 2012 and probably a few more but no time to hunt down the refs!)

This tells me there is a MAJOR lack of communication between parents and teachers on this issue. Therefore if you are a parent of school aged children I urge you to make your schools head and PSHE teacher aware that you are very supportive of work done to talk about sexual orientation, gender identity and challenging homophobic and transphobic bullying. This in turn should hopefully give teachers more confidence to actually do this work! Likewise Teachers- COMMUNICATE with your parents. Let them know about the work you are doing, their support will increase your confidence in doing this type of work.

Happy Educating.

So are you gay then?

Talking about my masters in challenging homophobia in schools in the pub the other night I was confronted with the question:

“So are you gay then?”

This person assumed I must be as she could not comprehend why someone who is straight would be bothered about discrimination of a group that they did not belong to.

With students I usually reply to that question (with a gentle reminder about ground rules and no personal questions!)with:

“would it matter if I were?”

and we start to unpick why this stuff should be important to us all, and how ones sexual orientation does not affect their ability to be a good teacher, a good friend etc.

In the classroom it is an interesting one- if you are a Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual teacher, do you really want to come out to the students in your school? You could be an amazing role model but likewise in a non-supportive school you could be opening up a can of prejudicial worms. Likewise a straight teacher doing this work maybe worried people will assume they are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual and treat them differently as a result, and this may serve as a barrier to this work. Also they may feel they don’t know enough about the issues to address it properly (to that I must point out white male teachers can teach about racism or sexism just fine- this is no different). (Oh and N.B Straight Teachers answering that question with an emphatic “No!” as if its a bad thing, only serves to reinforce the pervading culture of heteronormativity. Sigh.)

To the woman in the pub I didn’t ask her “would it matter if I were?” but said loftily

To me this is an equalities issue and it’s something we should all be bothered about whatever our sexual orientation or gender identity.

(and then carried on ranting about my research to the poor woman- sorry!)

Whilst doing this work I have always been aware of having heterosexual privilege. Being a married (to a man) mother of two working in this field, means that it brings this issue into the mainstream. I’m not someone from a so-called “sexual minority” (I hate that term- very “othering”) on a soapbox but someone who never experiences homophobia but is actively engaged in challenging prejudice and discrimination particularly related to sexual orientation and gender identity. In my experience this has possibly added a level of engagement to the work from straight colleagues, that might not be present if I was a gay, lesbian or bisexual teacher?

I’m not saying all teachers need to be as engaged on these issues as rantypants me, but I am saying all teachers can and should challenge LGBT prejudice as much as possible regardless of their own identity. It’s a human rights issue, it’s an equalities issue and even just taking the time to consider how you might answer the question from a student

So are you gay then?

in a way that addresses sexualities equality in some way is a step in the right direction.

Anyhow Macklemore, Ryan Lewis &Mary Lewis say it better than me afterall its “Same Love.”

Does the DfEE SRE Guidance 2000 meet the Equality Duty 2011?

Thirteen years ago the 2000 the government published the Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) guidance (DfEE 2000).  In 2013 the government restated that this SRE guidance document was still in force when it published the outcomes of the PSHE review (Truss, 2013). The table below outlines the key areas where sexuality is referred to within that document, a brief analysis of key words for the document the underpinning legal framework to SRE.    This document preceded the repeal of Section 28 and hence several times throughout the document “It is not about promotion of sexual orientation- this would be inappropriate teaching” is mentioned (Highlighted in Red in the table below).

What does “promotion of sexual orientation” even mean? Not about promoting one identity over another? The inference that many teachers would take from this is you shouldn’t talk about different sexual identities, but perhaps you could interpret it as you should not promote heterosexuality as superior to other sexual identities? Is this really appropriate for a guidance document that teachers and schools are expected to pay due regard too in 2013? I think not!

Since 2011 Public Bodies including DfE are required to comply with the new equality duty which places an obligation on public authorities to positively promote equality, not merely to avoid discrimination on protected characteristics including sexual orientation.  Does the statement “it is not about promotion of sexual orientation- that would be inappropriate teaching” repeated throughout the document mean they are clearly not meeting their legal duties in 2013 by expecting teachers and schools to follow this guidance? I’m not a lawyer- what do you think?

 The DfEE (2000) Sex and Relationships Guidance Document. Key aspects relating to Sexuality and challenging homophobia.
Key aspects of the text  Page 5 of SRE Guidance“What is sex and relationship education? It is lifelong learning about physical, moral and emotional development. It is about the understanding of the importance of marriage for family life, stable and loving relationships, respect, love and care. It is also about the teaching of sex, sexuality, and sexual health. It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity – this would be inappropriate teaching.”        
Page 11 of SRE GuidanceRelationships “Within the context of talking about relationships, children should be taught about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children. The Government recognises that there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage. Therefore, children should learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society. Teaching in this area needs to be sensitive so as not to stigmatise children on the basis of their home circumstances.”
Page 12 & 13 of SRE Guidance“Sexual identity and sexual orientation It is up to schools to make sure that the needs of all pupils are met in their programmes. Young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that sex and relationship education is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment is clear that teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support. There should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation.


Sexual orientation and what is taught in schools is an area of concern for some parents. Schools that liaise closely with parents when developing their sex and relationship education policy and programme should be able to reassure parents of the content of the programme and the context in which it will be presented.


Schools need to be able to deal with homophobic bullying. Guidance issued by the Department (Social Inclusion: Pupil Support Circular 10/99) dealt with the unacceptability of and emotional distress and harm caused by bullying in whatever form – be it racial, as a result of a pupil’s appearance, related to sexual orientation or for any other reason.”

(N.B this has now been superceded by Education and Inspections Act 2006 and Equalities act 2010)

Page 19 of SRE GuidanceSRE within PSHE in Primary Schools Expects pupils to

“developing good relationships and respecting differences between people.”


Page 20 of SRE GuidanceSRE within PSHE In Secondary Schools Expects pupils to:

“be aware of their sexuality and understand human sexuality”

Page 25 of SRE Guidance

Parents need support in:

  • “answering questions about growing up, having babies, feeling attraction, sexuality, sex, contraception, relationships and sexual health.”
Page 27 of SRE Guidance

Youth Workers:

 “It is inappropriate for youth workers, as with any professional, to promote sexual orientation. They will be expected to respect this guidance when dealing with school age children. Individual views should not affect the independent advice given to the young person concerned.”

Page 27 of SRE Guidance

Peer Education:

“Particular life experiences of the educators can help young people understand how sex and relationships can affect people positively and negatively. Examples


  • young teenage mothers talking about their experiences of having a child and offering advice and support to their peers;
  • young Asian women talking about their experience of learning about sex and relationships at home and from the wider community including school;
  • young people talking about their experience of living with HIV; and
  • young people who are physically disabled talking to other young people with a disability.”

Note the complete omission of people who are LGBT as possible educators.

Page 31 of SRE Guidance


The section on confidentiality at the end of the document  does not clarify that a young persons developing sexual orientation is NOT a child protection issue. I know of cases of LGB students engaged in consensual sexual relationships both over the age of consent have been referred to child protection leads which should not have been.

Analysis of the use of key terms Overview of key terms used

Homophobia appears 0 times in the document.

Sexuality appears 9 times in the document

Sexual Orientation 7 times in the document

Heterosexual, Homosexual, Straight, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, transgender do not appear at all as terms in the document.

Prejudice appears twice in the document

Equality or Discrimination do not appear as terms in the document.

Bullying appears three times in the document, one of those mentions being “homophobic bullying”

Underpinning Legislation to this document(adapted from FPA,2011 and SEF, 2011) Legal framework for SRE

Legislation relating to sex and relationships education (SRE) are contained within the Education Act (1996) and the Learning and Skills Act (2000).

The Education Act 1996 consolidated all previous legislation, and key points related to SRE are:

  • It is compulsory for all maintained schools to teach some parts of sex education i.e. the

biological aspects of puberty, reproduction and the spread of viruses. These topics are

statutory parts of the National Curriculum Science which must be taught to all pupils of

primary and secondary age.

  • Secondary schools are required to provide an SRE programme which includes (as a minimum) information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.
  • Other elements of personal, social and health education (PSHE), including SRE, are non-statutory.
  • All schools must provide, and make available for inspection, an up-to-date policy describing the content and organisation of SRE outside of national curriculum science. This is the school governors’ responsibility.
  • Primary schools should have a policy statement that describes the SRE provided or gives a statement of the decision not to provide SRE.

The Learning and Skills Act 2000 requires that:

  • young people learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and bringing up children.
  • young people are protected from teaching and materials which are inappropriate, having regard to the age and the religious and cultural background of the pupils concerned.
  • school governing bodies have regard for the SRE guidance.
  • parents have the right to withdraw their child from all or part of SRE provided outside national curriculum science.

* N.B. Schools are also legally required to comply with the new Equality Duty. The Act also makes it unlawful for the responsible body of a school to discriminate against, harass or victimise a pupil or potential pupil in relation to admissions, the way it provides education for pupils, provision of pupil access to any benefit, facility or service, or by excluding a pupil or subjecting them to any other detriment. In England and Wales the Act applies to all maintained and independent schools, including Academies and Free Schools, and maintained and non-maintained special schools. (SEF, 2011)

 The Equality Act 2010 covers the way the curriculum is delivered, as schools and other education providers must ensure that issues are taught in a way that does not subject pupils to discrimination. It is also a legal requirement for schools to teach a balanced view of any political issue. Schools must ensure equal opportunities in the education they provide, so it would not be lawful for schools to provide SRE only for girls or only for boys. An example of good practice given in guidance for education providers on the Equality Act (EHRC,2010)  is that PSHE education should cover  equality and diversity based subjects including gender equality and non-violent, respectful relationships between women and men.

As the SRE Guidance does stateYoung people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that sex and relationship education is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs…. teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support.” & “Schools need to be able to deal with homophobic bullying”.  The legal duty for teachers/schools to combat all forms of bullying is now enshrined in the Education Act 2006 and the Equality Act 2010 

Therefore regardless of what the SRE Guidance says about “promotion of sexual orientation” (whatever that even means!?)- schools and teachers can and should talk about sexual and gender identity and challenge all forms of bullying and discrimination.

QTS Maths- How exactly does requiring teachers to be “fast” at maths help our profession?

Before you read this post in its entirety I want you to set a countdown timer to 18 seconds and listen to this maths question. You may listen to it twice but at the start of the second listening you must start the timer. Once the 18 seconds is up you MUST STOP. If you have not written down the right answer in that time you have FAILED that question*

Did you get the right answer in the time allowed? Would you continue to get the right answer for each of the next twelve mental arithmetic questions in 18 seconds each bearing in mind you can only hear the question and not see it? Then also go onto do 16 more maths questions over the next 40 minutes. You need to get 18 marks in order to pass the QTS maths test. You can try the QTS maths test here if you want.

Now imagine you are someone who has just spent four years of their life doing a BEd in Primary Education. For the first three years of your course you knew you could do the QTS tests at any point and have as many goes as you wanted, but in your final year you were informed this had now changed and you now only have three goes at it plus the pass mark had been increased to 63% (although 18/28 is actually a 64.3% pass mark).

The goalposts have suddenly changed. Now each time you do the test you are under considerable pressure. You pass the literacy test first time, but sadly you fail the maths test, first time on the mental arithmetic section by four marks. Deep breath and you try it again…………. again you fail on the mental arithmetic section by 4 marks, you can get the right answer but just not quite quick enough. Several times you are just about to put the right answer in but the box disappears as the 18 seconds are up and you have missed it by a second.

You take time before you take your third and final test, you spend weeks and weeks revising and preparing for your final chance at this test. Four years of your life are riding on this. You have just been given your dream job at a lovely yet challenging school. The head and governors are really excited about having you start and you are due to start within weeks.

The pressure this time for your last chance at this test is now insane. Again you sadly fail the mental arithmetic test BY FOUR MARKS. Because you are just not quite quick enough to answer mental arithmetic quite fast enough for the arbitrary speeds set by the government. Because the pressure of answering each question in only 18 seconds is already too much and added to that the pressure of how much you have riding on this means that you are flustered and frantic, desperate to get it right but also aware 18 seconds just isn’t quite enough time for you to process the auditory info, do the calculations and get the right answer in everytime. If you had just a few more seconds per question or could read instead of hear the question in all likelihood you would have passed the QTS Maths test and been able to become the teacher you always wanted to be.


You are not permitted to retake the tests for another 2 years, the dream job offer you had now has to be rescinded. The head and interview panel are devastated they can’t employ you. You are devastated you cannot be employed as a teacher in this school where you could have made a real difference. The real kicker is if your dream school was an academy this wouldn’t have mattered and you could have started your dream job.

But you can’t just because of FOUR marks in an auditory mental arithmetic test.

The thing is you are passionate about teaching and absolutely brilliant with kids. You already have a C in your GCSE maths, showing you have a good enough grounding in maths, and although maths isn’t a strong point you have really worked hard at it and all your observations for maths teaching at primary level have been absolutely fine, because you have worked hard to understand and overcome barriers in maths and so can really help children with those same issues. But just because you are not quite fast enough at maths, because for 4 questions you didn’t manage to get them done in 18 seconds then you are prevented from becoming a teacher for the next 2 years.

How do you feel?

This just happened to a friend of mine. I’m so angry about it. She is exactly the sort of primary teacher I want for my kids. In fact my kids absolutely adore her and she is brilliant with them. She just knows how to get onto their level and inspire them to inquire about the world. But simply because she can’t do maths “FAST” enough. She has just lost out on a job where she would have been awesome and the school and kids are losing out.

Seriously is the benchmark of a good teacher being able to do “fast maths”? Really? How utterly bonkers?! I couldn’t give a stuff how fast you can work out the proportion of money going to a charity, I care that you can teach my kids well and inspire them to learn.

I suspect I might now fail QTS maths if I had to resit and so would many of my colleagues. I can’t do maths under pressure. Never have been able to. I also can’t work as well if hearing a question and not seeing it in front of me. Should we be barred from teaching as a result? If this test was applied across the profession I suspect many incredible teachers would lose their QTS. Just because we some of us are fast enough at maths or not as good at auditory mathematical processing than visual mathematical processing. I understand and respect the need for teachers to be literate and numerate but emphasising speed over accuracy in maths is just plain wrong (also I wonder if “Troops to teachers” will be expected to do the QTS maths tests?)

It’s a joke it really is. Except an unfunny joke that has put my friends life on hold for the next two years. I don’t know if she will become a teacher now and if she doesn’t that will be a significant loss to a profession that would have really benefited from having her.

Shame on you DfE, Shame on you. Yet another way you are currently destroying the teaching workforce.

* The question from the recording was this:

Six hundred and thirty pupils paid fifty pence each on a charity day. The money collected was divided equally between three local charities.

How much did each of the charities receive?

Remember you are not allowed to see the question only hear it and you have 18 seconds from the start of the second reading of the question. Could you do it in time?

Sex and Relationships Education- A political hot potato game of piggy in the middle.

The government on the one hand says “we have full confidence in our teachers to teach their students what will be best for their education” but on the other hand says “the guidance note on reproduction is included to make sure pupils are not introduced to age inappropriate material”, and thus it lobs the hot potato of SRE into the hands of the teachers.

The teachers whom without statutory status of PSHE, without proper guidance, training and support are just not able to teach SRE to the standard it needs to currently needs to be so they either quietly drop the potato and hope no-one notices or they lob it back to the government demanding change from on high.

Meanwhile the children and young people continue to miss out on their entitlement to high quality age appropriate SRE. Another generation of poor piggys in the middle. IT IS STILL NOT GOOD ENOUGH.


The power of teachers

Yesterday I spent the day training a lovely group of teachers. We had a great day but during the training a strange thing happened. I was talking about my experiences challenging homophobia in school in particular the privilege of being the first adult a young person came out too, and the impact that had had on her (and me), and suddenly I got all choked and teary and I struggled to regain my composure.

This has never happened before despite sharing these stories many times previously. Without meaning to sound like a sanctimonious pompous prat*, I think it suddenly dawned on me the incredibly important role I played in the wellbeing of that student, and how without me and the work I was trying to do, how differently things could have turned out for that student.

Teachers, never ever underestimate your power and importance in a students’ life. Please try use that power as a force for good. Be there when your students need you, challenge bullying and discrimination when you witness it. Your influence is so much more than achieving target grades. Never forget that.

*Which I do a bit. Sorry. Lecture over. Rants about artificial semen and the like will resume shortly.