Consulting pupils about RSHE

Relationships Education, RSE and Health Education (RSHE) will become mandatory in schools across England from September 2020. Creating a curriculum that meets the needs of pupils is vital, and at the heart of changes to legislation.

New government guidance on the subject, which hadn’t been updated since 2000, gives breadth to the subject with new topics included such as fertility, menstrual wellbeing, mental health, healthy relationships and online safety. Too often, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) is taught hurriedly, using worksheets, a video and time snatched from free periods on the timetable. The new legislation creates a shift in status. Pupils are expected to progress in achieving educational outcomes in RSHE. This means the subject needs leadership and proper resourcing. With a subject lead in place the perfect next step is to ask pupils for their views about RSHE at the school and how it can be improved. 

National data

Being aware of national data on RSE puts what your pupils say in context. In a recent national poll from the Sex Education Forum, 1000 young people aged 16 and 17 were asked to rate aspects of their RSE at school and home. Only 41% rated their school-based RSE as good or very good, slightly lower than the 45% seen in a similar poll conducted in 2018. At the other end of the scale, 17% of young people rated their school RSE as bad or very bad. The remainder rated their experience of the subject as ‘OK’.

Ahead of the changes to RSHE this is the perfect time to benchmark provision at your school, perhaps using an identical question to the national poll, to enable comparison, and then track changes over time. Schools might also ask pupils in different year groups about which topics have been more or less well covered. In the Sex Education Forum poll, the topics that were most neglected were pornography, FGM and sexual pleasure. LGBT+ issues were another area of concern, with 18% of young people saying they learnt nothing about LGBT+ issues at school, and a further 28% said they had not learnt what they needed to about LGBT+ issues.

Some aspects of sexual health were well covered. For example, 86% of respondents said they had learnt all they needed to about condoms and contraception. Topics including fertility, pregnancy choices and how to access local sexual health services were patchier. Worryingly, 14% had not learnt anything about accessing local sexual health services. 

The curriculum content for RSHE is set out in the new government guidance, but leaves flexibility for schools to determine where to place emphasis and how to create a developmental programme across year groups.

Consulting pupils to develop a robust programme in your school

Surveying your pupils can help to inform your priorities. There are other methods too, such as focus group discussions, which can bring out more nuanced feedback and suggestions. It’s important to consider how a range of pupils can contribute safely to consultation activities. Here are some ideas:

  • Create ‘diamond 9’ cards displaying different RSHE topics. Ask pupils to work in small groups to arrange the cards in priority order. Include a blank card for pupils to add a topic of their own.
  • Hand out slips of paper and ask pupils to write down things that ‘jar’ them about RSE. Collect up the slips and give pupils a chance to hear and respond to what their peers have written down, and to suggest solutions.
  • Using the Sex Education Forum’s poster, ask pupils to comment on which of the 12 principles for good RSE are in place already and which need more work.

The data gathered from consultation with pupils has many uses. It’s valuable information to share with parents as part of parental engagement activities. The voice of pupils will bring curriculum planning to life, and highlights can be shared with governors. It also makes the process of updating the school RSE policy more meaningful and tailored to the needs of your pupils.


Pupil consultation can be easier and quicker than you might think. Here are some resources to get you started: 

Sex Education Forum:

Agenda resource:

PSHE Association:

Join the conversation!

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