Relationships and Sex Education

News

During the 2014-2015 academic year we have been working hard on revising our materials and piloting new resources. 

This has culminated in two major achievements: the PSHE Association has awarded the SRE Project their Quality Assurance Mark for both the ApauseToo Adult-led Resources and the Apause Peer-led programme.

These award require rigorous evaluation of the resources against a range of best-practice criteria. In one sense, we shouldn't be surprises that our work has been acknowledged in this way.  We have an excellent track record of providing well evaluated programmes to schools in England, Wales and Ireland.

However, this generation of resources meets several challanges.  

Keeping prices down - the students resources are laminated for multiple use and the teachers guidelines are printed on a durable paper. 

Supporting developing classroom practice - while the resources and 'teacher guidelines' can be used on a 'grab-and-go' basis,  with a little preparation and practice the less experienced teacher soon discovers they can manage quite well without adhering slavishly to the scripts.

For accomplished  teachers - the  'lesson plan'  is much more schematic and enables the more accomplished teacher to work creatively and spontaneously with the resources.

A 'performative' experience - the whole programme gives primacy to the students' performances. Research show that in order to influence subsequent behaviour learners need to actively engage in the social dimensions of learning.  This means interrogating normative beliefs and personal practices, discussion, debate, reading aloud, sharing a joke in the privacy of small group work, simulations, presenting role-plays and performing solutions to challenging scenarios.

In response to national concerns about internet safety and cyber bullying, we have developed two new exercises which we intend to put through the PSHE Quality Assurance Process and have available for schools by the beginning of the Autumn Term 2015. 

We are always keen to make improvements, so if any one is interested in piloting these resources for free, just contact us:

Phone: 01392 829450 Mobile: 07812561123   E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Same sex versus mixed classes

I have often heard and read reports of practitioners’ preference for same sex classes or groups.  Usually, these are supported by the observation that with same sex classes they are able to elicit much more ‘open’ and ‘honest’ discussions.  Certainly, it is true that boys will express themselves differently when they are referencing their beliefs and behaviours against an audience of other boys.  Likewise, it is common for girls to feel more comfortable if they are discussing ‘taboo’ subjects such as managing their periods or masturbation in the absence of boys. Whilst not wishing to discount these observations, it is also true that same sex groups run the risk of having the ‘normalising’ effect of censoring minority or non-gender stereotypical viewpoints.   Context is everything, and while there are pros and cons regarding same sex classes, this capacity of same sex groupings to afford a valued sense of privacy can often be effectively utilised in small group settings within a mixed class.

Same sex groups in a mixed class

If, as is often the case, a class organises itself into small group based predominantly on gender, it is useful to set up the tasks in such a way as to signal that there will be a formal, ‘out-loud’ sharing of their ideas with the rest of the class and that each group should chose someone who is going to represent them.  This allows the class to get on with the task in the relative privacy of small group work whilst reducing the anxiety of the responses appearing to represent an individual’s personal belief or viewpoint.  The conventional nature of groups taking turns to feed back to the whole class can be enhanced if the facilitator gives them time to write down the groups' responses first and rehearse it. 

Some tasks, for example those involving preparing and reading back short scenarios, can be nuanced and lend themselves to either male, female or mixed groups. Although we tend not to specify gender, it is always intriguing and often generates discussion when learners play unexpected gender roles.

Promoting novel interactions between genders and other groups 

Our position is that we aim to make mixed classes the default configuration for RSE, simply because we are trying to stimulate forms of learning which enable people to hear a wide and inclusive spectrum of viewpoints and practice the skills of interactional competencies.  If one group expresses, say, a stereotypically masculine perspective such as, “Boys are more interested in sex, while girls are more interested in relationships”, the facilitator can politely acknowledge that viewpoint and then go on to ask the whole class if everyone agrees with it or if this true for everyone.

Skilful classroom management which anticipates responses as presenting opportunities to open up a range of unconventional or novel dialogues between genders (or otherwise marginalised and underepresented groups) is central to implementing an inclusive and skills-based curriculum.

 

If you have found this an interesting read, watch this space.  Over the next few weeks I will be  discussing some more aspects of how to get the best out of small group work.

Please feel free to phone me: on 01393 829450 or by email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

 

What the expert say

Experts in relationships and sex education, such as the Sex Education Forum and the PSHE Association, frequently promote small group activities as a highly effective teaching method. So, what are its advantages and challenges and are there any pitfalls compared with, say, a whole class activity or discussion?

What has Apause found?

When developing new resources Apause collaborates closely with young learners, alongside adult and peer facilitators. We have learned, during 25 years or research, what most teachers quickly discover - there is rarely one simple solution.  These are just some of the considerations we have had to wrestle with when thinking about group work: group size; gender mix; self-select or teacher assigned; ability matching; group privacy versus teacher intervention; activation of different language forms; and being creative and fair when facilitating small group feedback to the whole class.

Group Size

When it comes to group size, we have a basic rule of thumb – aim to divide the class into seven groups.  Why? Because if you plan your resource design and feedback for seven small groups in classes of between twenty-one and thirty-five, your small groups sizes will always work out between three and five.  This seems to be the optimal range and you can then develop the activity so that everyone has a good chance of getting involved.

Self-select

If you allow them to self-select then, usually, they will be sitting near their friends and those will be the people they feel most comfortable talking with and with whom they feel most able to develop their thinking around sensitive issues.   This is important, because these emerging friendships are often the social bases of advice, norms and approval that young people seek as they navigate their way through the challenges of adolescent relationships. 

Any pitfalls?  Inevitably. Some classes form themselves into groups in which one or more individuals are left out.  Some learners prefers it that way, but remember, we are trying to develop relationships skills, so good facilitators quickly explain this exercise can only be done in a group and use their knowledge of the class to integrate the outsiders with an appropriate group, or help them form a group of their own.  This should not appear personal or coercive, just a logistical necessity.  If the learners still do not consent, we provide extra sets or components of the resource so that they can work individually and still be involved in class feedback, but ideally this is a last resort.

.Beyond the classroom

If your session is designed to stimulate ‘appropriate’ forms of social interactions, then these will carry through beyond the classroom and into the learners’ social worlds. This is where health education in general, and relationships education in particular, really needs to have an impact if we want to lay any claim to their effectiveness.

 

If you have found this an interesting start, watch this space.  Over the next few weeks I will be discussing some more aspects of how to get the best out of small group work.

Please feel free to phone me: on 01393 829450 or by email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

David Evans is the Chief Executive of Apause and the Health Behaviour Group and is a PhD student at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Apause and its Scientific Evidence-base

During the halcyon days when Apause contributed to scientific research, I was privileged to count the late and great Doug Kirby as a colleague. Doug’s work and legacy were recently cited in an excellent article, What does science tell us about Sex Ed? As I dutifully read the paper, a persistent voice yawned, “So, what’s new?” until I reached the paragraphs below:

"About 90 percent of the beneficial programs in the Kirby analysis included at least two interactive activities to help participants engage with the lessons via acting out scenarios or other exercises.

At the end of the day, what young people need is the interpersonal skills to negotiate and communicate and to refuse. And to teach that, you’re going to spend an awful lot of time role-playing and not a lot of time labeling body parts,” said Leslie Kantor, chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health at the Rutgers School of Public Health. Nearly all of the effective programs in the Kirby review discussed specific sexual and protective behaviors. Usually this included encouraging abstinence as well as the use of condoms or other contraception if and when a person chose to become sexually active. Finally, 90 percent of these programs provided training to the educators who delivered the curriculum."

 

Role-plays and interactive activities

I am extremely proud to say that Apause (1995) was included as one of the 83 effective programmes in Kirby’s international study (2007) and, unsurprisingly, Apause does, indeed, spend an ‘awful lot of time role-playing’ and acting out scenarios. Moreover, Apause embraced the 17 characteristics Kirby identified as being common to effective RSE.

Tragically, in my opinion, the current political climate militates against the implementation of evidence-based, comprehensive RSE programmes through educational and health authorities. But if they did, the effective ones would almost certainly place a premium on relationships skills, role-plays and simulations.

Training and Resources

Do not misunderstand me, highly interactive classroom activities put special demands on the skill-sets of teachers, and such experiential learning methods do not ‘naturally’ emerge from a responsive and cooperative class. Pedagogies of this kind require careful structuring and sequencing of classroom stimuli, but many teachers and peer educators who may have thought such an approach was well outside their comfort zone have learned to become accomplished facilitators through Apause video-supported, training and even during first use of the resources.

Anatomy

What about body parts? Yes, these are very important. Especially if we think young people should raise their expectations when it comes to negotiating the intricacies of giving and receiving sexual pleasure. But this kind of anatomical knowledge needs to be encountered within an inclusive classroom ethos and contextualised with models which normalise respectful and consensual relationships. Moreover, sometimes verbal languages do not fully encompass these interactions, at such times the deployment of novel theatrical devices such as floor-puppets can present more meaningful reflections of young people’s realities.

Can we help you? 

Visit our home page to get a flavour of how we are trying to offer practical and useful solutions to the challenge of statory RSE.

Our website is in the process of improvement and you may want to ask some specific questions.

Contact me

Contact me: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to discuss how a low cost, high value collaboration with Apause could support you.

 

David Evans is the CEO and senior trainer/developer of Apause. He is completing his PhD in interactive RSE methods, at Goldsmiths, University of London