Subject: Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and Relationships, Sex & Health Education (RSHE)
Age Group: KS3, KS4
Synopsis: After Hampshire SLS’s recent Secondary School Seminar, Lead Adviser Abby Bunton assesses what was shared by both presenters and attendees. Looking at the now mandatory RSE curriculum and how school libraries can do more to be inclusive and open to the presence of sex and relationships in library stock.
In June 2021, Ofsted produced a review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges. After reading the shocking headlines and statistics that followed on the news, I was horrified by the percentages of harmful sexual behaviour happening among children and the lack of support students said they were given in their own schools – both within the curriculum and the wider school community. The review said: “Children and young people were rarely positive about the RSHE they had received. They felt that it was too little, too late and that the curriculum was not equipping them with the information and advice they needed to navigate the reality of their lives.” Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
As a professional, there is always a lingering question in the back of my mind about responsibility. Did I “not know the reality” as the students said? After reading the report and familiarising myself with the statutory RSE curriculum, I asked myself that question and also “How can the library help?”
The good news is that a library can have a huge impact in tackling these issues in schools by providing:
- up-to-date and inclusive non-fiction resources that fit in with the RSE curriculum;
- fiction that covers the tough realities that are present in young peoples’ lives
- physical safe space for students.
At SLS’s recent seminar for secondary educators and librarians, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex and Relationship in Your Secondary School Library’, we chose to hone in on the topic and look at the book stock in secondary school libraries. We know that books can help build one’s empathy as well as provide a reader with a safe space to explore new ideas. We invited the School of Sexuality Education and author Holly Bourne to help us investigate how library stock can support the RSE curriculum.
While there were many topics discussed, questions raised and opinions voiced, I came away from the seminar with three main takeaways:
- Inclusivity for gender and sexuality should be visible in a library’s stock. It’s not just about having a collection of LGBTQ+ books available but recognising inclusive language in information resources to make sure that every young person is seen as who they are.
- It is important for young people to read fiction based in real life with realistic relationships. Ever present in popular movies, online and in literature are these unrealistic romanticised versions of relationships. Young people need to see and read about both the healthy and the unhealthy relationships that exist, to help them have the right mindset about relationships in their own lives.
- Do not be afraid to provide problematic texts that as an adult you may have the urge to age restrict. When it comes down to it, young people are being exposed to sex. What a school library has the power to do is ensure that any references to sex and relationships in their collections are inclusive, consent-based, trauma-informed and positive.
Below are some resources we recommend.
by Lucy Cuthew
After Frankie gets her period during her first sexual experience with her crush Benjamin, the two young teens agree it is perfectly normal. However, when a meme about her goes viral, Frankie feels lonely and ashamed. Discussing the importance of female friendship, the acceptance of your own body and standing up to misogynistic attitudes.
Teachers’ Resources available:
Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew – Teachers’ Notes, Book Club resources and author videos | Reading Agency
The Places I’ve Cried in Public
by Holly Bourne
As Amelie replays her relationship with Reese, she begins to remember various incidents and times where her boyfriend may not have been as perfect as she’d first imagined. As she removes those ‘rose-coloured glasses’ she begins to realise and process that Reese had been emotionally and physically abusive. A powerful read looking at a controlling relationship.
Teachers’ Resources available:
The Black Flamingo
by Dean Atta
Told in verse through the eyes of Michael, the reader follows along pivotal moments in Michael’s adolescence, discussing race, gender, identity and all the pains of growing up. From his 6th birthday to his first drag show at university, this coming-of-age tale beautifully expresses what it truly means to just be.
Teaching Resources available:
Sex Ed: An Inclusive Guide to Sex and Relationships – School of Sexuality Education
A practical guide for teenagers that will help them navigate all aspects of sex and relationships in an inclusive, positive and informative way. Includes guidance pages for teachers, parents and carers. See,