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Four ways to modernise your RSE curriculum

Posted on: April 12, 2021

By Sophie Manning, co-author of Sex Ed on the Cards: Changing the Conversation around Sex, Bodies, Consent and Relationships, a fun, factual and LGBTQ+ inclusive resource for teachers delivering RSE to students aged 14+​

In this short article, Sophie outlines four ways to modernise your Relationships & Sex Education(RSE) curriculum and how Sex Ed on the Cards can support you in doing so.

We can safely assume a very different starting point for our RSE learners today than twenty years ago. Thanks to the internet, the average Year 10 student now comes to class with an already advanced subject knowledge and the expectation of multimedia delivery to fit their digital lives.

They may also show a zeal for social justice that previous generations did not, and it’s their right to have that enthusiasm met with modern, inclusive and holistic materials. According to this article in the BMJ, learners want “a ‘sex-positive’ approach that aims for young people to enjoy their sexuality in a way that is safe, consensual and healthy”.

No longer can we stick to well-trodden ground: the “facts of life” and the risks associated with sex – (unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections). Here’s how we can go further to serve today’s young people as they grow up:


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1. Go back in time – online

Studying the past can unlock learners’ most astute insights about the present. Use clips from sex education videos from times past or try a quiz about the twentieth century’s milestone laws on sex and relationships. 

The internet and modern technology have unlocked this avenue for us: online we can find resources on the history of RSE and sexual attitudes to kickstart the debates our young people sorely want and need to have.

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2. Be inclusive: widen the remit

The Department for Education’s 2019 guidance on Relationships, Sex and Health Education significantly widened the playing field for RSE educators, requiring schools to go beyond health and cover a range of topics from body image to sexual media and sexual identity. 

Try googling the Genderbread Person for identity resources, Thinkuknow for online safety and Sex Ed Matters for friendship and bullying materials. Routledge Speechmark’s new Sex Ed on the Cards resource can help by bringing all of these topics together. Is virginity a social construct? Is it sexist to say “man up” or “all girls are like that”? The cards introduce newly relevant concepts and help learners to explore the issues of the day.

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3. Use play to address conflict

Today’s learners are often turned off by top-down teaching and sensitive to being patronised. Best practice RSE is only partly about the facts, and devotes as much time to values exploration and critical thinking as about information delivery.

That can feel dangerous: more than any other, this subject comes loaded with latent misunderstanding, differing religious and cultural perspectives, and even conflict. What can help facilitate open conversation? 

  • Firstly, it’s vital to spend a lot of time up front on the creation of a safe space via ground rules or other messaging. 
  • Humour and fun are the best diffusing mechanisms. Game play allows emotions to be suspended while learners work through the issues.
  • Hypotheticals are useful devices which allow learners to depersonalise difficult and charged topics. “What should Jay do?”; “What advice would you give?”

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4. Let the cards do the work

Sex Ed on the Cards combines all of these suggestions and can act as a useful icebreaker or entertaining debrief in any RSE programme. It’s a conversation starter for what can be an awkward subject, bringing discussion, debate and laughter to the curriculum. It also links to digital resources and refers to online scenarios to bring together young people’s face to face and digital lives.

Sex Ed on the Cards by Sophie Manning and Leah Jewett

Sex Ed on the Cards

If you found this article useful then take a look at Sex Ed on the Cards, an interactive card game that helps support RSE for students aged 14+​. With 3 modes of game play – conversation, collaboration and competition – the cards allow young people to explore their attitudes, beliefs and values around key topics including body image, consent and gender identity.

"This card game is fun, thought-provoking and refreshing! It will foster discussion and debate around sexual health topics relevant to today’s society in an inclusive and thoughtful way. Would strongly recommend Sex Ed on the Cards to enhance any relationships and sex education (RSE) curriculum."​ Dr Naomi Sutton, Consultant Physician at the Integrated Sexual Health Services, The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust and TV doctor on E4’s The Sex Clinic.

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