Relationships and Sex Education

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.