The role of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood education in the recovery curriculum

As we work to reconnect children and young people with learning and the experience of being back in school, our RSHP curriculum and the national RSHP resource ( offer support.

Mental health and peer relationships will be at the front of every educator’s practice in the coming weeks. Children and young people have had very different experiences of lockdown. We know that many have struggled with feelings of isolation and a disconnect from the supports that were available to them from school-based professionals. There are also concerns about children and young people who might have previously managed well or thrived at school; we do not yet know what level of anxiety many children and young people will bring with them on their return. It is time then to pause what might be ‘normal’ when we think about our curriculum and to provide opportunities for learners in our care to reflect, to think and talk about their feelings, to refresh and re-connect with friendships. In the first of our RSHP resource e-news updates (read it here) this term, we will be pointing to content on the RSHP resource that can support educators in this regard.

A second key concern is that during lockdown, and with school closures, children and young people have missed key parts of the RSHP curriculum. In the course of the development of the RSHP resource, we heard many educators say that it is in the final term of the year that some aspects of the RSHP curriculum are delivered. This usually meant elements of the curriculum with an interest in supporting learners to gain knowledge about their bodies, sexuality, sexual intercourse, and sexual health including reproduction. The problem is that, with school closures, these opportunities were lost, leaving learners with important gaps in knowledge. In a previous PINS blog Dr Kirsty Abu-Rajab identified significant knowledge gaps amongst young people who are sexually active, we must be very aware that these gaps will only increase where learning and support have not been available. In the second RSHP e-news update this term, we will be signposting to resources that will help make sure we address potential gaps

The lockdown has also seen an increase in children and young people spending time online. This has been encouraged in support of learning at home or keeping in touch with friends. But an unintended outcome and concern for us all, for society, should be the increased risks to children and young people from predatory adults or peers. Then there is also their access to pornography. Talking and learning about such things is not easy, educators, parents, and carers often need a kind of scaffold to help them approach such topics. In these first weeks and months back at school and with the help of the content on the RSHP resource (the focus of RSHP’s third e-news update later this month) it will be helpful to check-in with how children and young people are doing when it comes to their recent online experiences, and also to make sure we support them to build pro-social and self-protective behaviours essential to manage information and online relationships.

With all the reasons outlined here, there is a real need for a call to action when it comes to supporting our children and young people to learn about their bodies, peer and romantic or intimate relationships, sexual and reproductive health, and how to manage and keep themselves safe online. The national RSHP resource is the go-to place where educators and allied professionals can find everything they need to make sure we create a recovery curriculum that meets some very fundamental educational needs, particularly for the most vulnerable children and young people in our schools. 

Elaine McCormack is Health Improvement Lead with Sandyford (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde) and is part of the National Steering Group for the RSHP education resource

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Twitter: @RSHPscot

Young people and sexual health: Keep talking, teaching and learning

If we can speak about sex to each other in an open informative positive way, keeping communication open, then that will encourage respect and enjoyment. Dr Abu-Rajab blogs for PINS.

As a doctor working in sexual health I have been seeing young people in sexual health clinics for almost 20 years, yet I am still regularly surprised and often a bit saddened in their knowledge of their own bodies and of their understanding and enjoyment of sex.

Frequently young people come into the clinic but can’t explain why they are there or what is wrong as they are so embarrassed. Often people decline being examined for the same reason. Here are some of the situations or things that young people have said that give some insight as to why it is so important to talk, to teach, to discuss, to learn. When asked if they had seen or felt any new lumps on their genitals I have been told: I can’t even look down there let alone touch myself. And I am asked questions like: Which hole does his ‘dick’ even go in? Is it the same one that I pee out of? Do you actually blow when you give someone a blowjob?

Based on this I thought it would be useful to write down a few things that I think it would be useful to know, things to perhaps discuss when you have the opportunity with a young person:

  • They need to understand what their bodies look like, what is normal for them and to be able to accurately name their body parts.
  • They should be able to speak to their partners about what they are doing together, what they like and don’t like.
  • That sex is supposed to be enjoyable and what they can do when it is not.
  • Many young females report having anal sex rather than vaginal sex. This may be to avoid pregnancy; it may be because it has been ‘glamorized’ in pornography. However it is often more painful with the increased risk of STI transmission if there is trauma. Young people need to have the confidence to discuss what they like and want with their partners.

If we can speak about sex to each other in an open informative positive way, keeping communication open, then that will encourage respect and enjoyment.

It is important for young people to know what sexual health clinics offer and what to expect if they have to visit a clinic. Sexual health clinics provide contraception, testing and treatment for STIs, emergency contraception (as do pharmacies) and vaccination for Hepatitis and HPV infection. Sexual health clinics will see young people aged 13 and over. Most of the clinics have specific services for young people so there are only young people attending when they are there. Some clinics allow you to drop-in at certain times of the day and some require you to make an appointment which can be done online or by telephone.

Each of the health boards in Scotland have their own sexual health clinic websites. Some services also use:

  • Informative apps with sexual health advice and clinic information.
  • Apps that are for condom delivery by post.
  • Social media giving information on clinics, local outbreaks etc.
  • Online facilities where people can ask questions.

Get to know what is available in your own area so you can let your young people know about them and do not hesitate to get in contact if you have any questions.

Dr Abu-Rajab is Consultant Genitourinary and HIV Medicine Clinical Director for Sexual Health and HIV, NHS Forth Valley

Twitter: @NHSForthValley

*COVID19 update: As we publish, sexual health services are currently only providing urgent care. Young people or support staff can phone a local sexual health service to check what they are currently providing and how best to access support and information. More information and booking can be found here:

Back to school: ‘There are lots of feelings in your tummy’

As the school gates re-open, Children’s Parliament Co-director, Cathy McCulloch OBE, offers five questions to help with reflective practice and reminds us of the importance of staff-learner relationships.

For many children, the summer holidays are something to look forward to, a time filled with family and friends and lots of fun activities and free time. For other children, however, the summer holidays can be stressful; from a lack of structure, time spent with adults who have difficulties or anxieties of their own to not having enough to eat. Anxiety can also build at the prospect of the new school term; thinking about a new class, a new teacher or a move to another school, especially secondary school. Most children benefit from the better attention we give to transitions nowadays, but back at school, on day one, there will be children that need every staff member to be attentive and open to the behaviours that tell us, ‘I’m just not coping‘.  

Across Children’s Parliaments’ programmes, we acknowledge that some children struggle with school. One of our responsibilities is to capture and share their insight with educators. Some of the most powerful work children have produced is about going back to school and moving to secondary school.

There are those first day feelings: “I felt scared, shivery, worried”.  These feelings can change quite quickly: “By the end of the first day I felt more confident about myself”.  There are worries about coping with new systems and ways of doing things: “Getting to classes is really hard”; “I take too long to get ready after PE so I get into trouble”“It’s hard to fit in and be the same as everyone”. For some children, peer relationships in the new bigger secondary school environment are shaped by the fear and experience of violence: “There are so many fights”; “They are not quick enough at stopping fights. There needs to be more staff in the corridors”. 

There seems to be a growing awareness of the centrality of health and wellbeing to learning. At Children’s Parliament, we would wrap this in a view of childhood and education that is rooted in children’s human rights and the core ideas of human dignity, empathy, kindness, trust, and love. If there was ever a time when the mantra it’s all about relationships rings true it is in those first few days back at school: “It can be fun, but it depends on the teacher”. 

There is no denying that back to school might have some feeling of anxiety or dread for the educator too. High demands, feelings of stress, a real need to build personal and professional supports to sustain energy across the year. But as you learn to look after yourself, if you can, take some time to think about these questions.  Make it personal, and even better, do this with your colleagues.  

  • How do I pay attention to what might not be going well for a child? 
  • Do I know what is going well for each child, so that we can build on interests and achievements? 
  • What kind of adult do I need to be, so that a child can come to me with a question or a worry? 
  • Do I recognise and address the emotions or worries that change may bring about for the child? 
  • How is my professional practice informed by non-punitive, positive and restorative approaches? 

All the best to every educator out there. What you do every day matters.  

For more information about children’s views of life at school, Children’s Parliament has many helpful resources online that collate children’s voices from across Scotland, here are links to just a few:

Life at school (Blog post)

What kind of Scotland? Children influencing Scotland’s future (Publication)

Children’s Parliament Investigates Learning (Project)

Twitter: @Creative_Voices