The new Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) Code – what it is and what it’s not!

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The forthcoming Curriculum for Wales has been well received for the way it will help our young people survive and thrive in a rapidly changing world. RSE will play an important part in delivering on the Curriculum’s aspirations. The draft mandatory RSE Code was laid in the Senedd on 23 November in preparation for members’ approval. It has been designed to outline core learning at developmentally-appropriate phases, introducing the learning sensitively, providing detail for schools and settings on what should be taught and when.

In this piece we want to help practitioner colleagues understand how the draft RSE Code was developed, the considerations and consultations along the way, and briefly how it should be used. In doing this we hope to provide the tools to dismantle any myth or misconception that might be faced in school or at the school gate. We also want to share the many positives that this forward-looking draft Code will bring.

So to begin at the beginning… 

The draft RSE Code has been developed by educational practitioners, in consultation with experts and interested parties who represent the rights of children, families, and community groups.  As a working group, we took an evidence-informed approach to developing the draft Code and supporting statutory guidance. We debated on a whole range of issues relating to RSE, health and wellbeing, rights and diversity, to name just a few! There were many rich and engaging discussions around the purpose of RSE and the role it needs to play in safeguarding, educating and empowering children to develop safe and healthy relationships, and make a positive contribution to society.

Whatever discussions there were, and whatever tangents we veered off on, invariably we would return to these three vital questions for RSE:

  • In what way can Relationships and Sexuality Education best support our learners to engage with their social world in a healthy, positive, and proactive way?
  • How can the RSE Code provide the mandatory learning needed for practitioners to develop a positive and protective curriculum; which sits within an emotionally-safe and supportive whole-school approach?
  • How can schools and families be supported to work together to ensure that learners get the best possible experience of RSE?

Proposals for the draft Code and statutory guidance were consulted on extensively and were subject to public consultation during the Summer term 2021. The draft Code does not promote, or actively encourage, any particular life-style choice, religious or values-based views, or specific activities; but aims to ensure that schools create safe and supportive learning environments’.

As well as being a cross-cutting element, drawing on different areas of learning and experience (Areas) and subject disciplines, RSE is part of the wider Area for Health and Wellbeing. To assist with the understanding of how each Area can contribute to RSE, further information is being added to the Curriculum for Wales online guidance. For example, life-cycles and reproduction will continue to be taught through the science and technology Area, which along with other disciplines, draws upon the discipline of biology.

To this end, practitioners’ approaches to RSE will encompass a variety of methods.  They will draw out RSE strands when considering other Areas. For example, the humanities description of learning ‘I can recognise and explain that my opinions and the opinions of others have value’ supports many aspects of RSE such as, ‘ability to act with kindness, empathy and compassion in interactions with others’; and ‘experiencing inclusive behaviours, language and role modelling that show respect for others, whatever their gender’.

Practitioners will also create opportunities for RSE to be taught discretely. As soon as children enter the social world they will be encountering and interacting with complex and often contradictory messages.  It’s important that all children are provided with opportunities to explore these ideas in a safe and supportive environment. Therefore, another way of presenting the strands of learning that make up the draft RSE Code, is to ensure that they are covered from within the context of the Health and Wellbeing Area. This will ensure the positive and protective nature of RSE is realised through the lens of emotional wellbeing and healthy relationships.

The RSE Code requires schools to design an RSE curriculum around broad interlinking learning strands.  These are:

Relationships and identity

Sexual health and wellbeing

Empowerment, safety and respect

The strands are presented as three phases.  Ages are attached to each phase as a general guide (from age 3, 7 and 11).  However, it is recognised that all children develop at different rates and practitioners are strongly encouraged to take account of everything they know about a learner’s cognitive, social and emotional development when introducing RSE strands.  One of the central ideas relating to these phases, is that they are never taught in isolation. For example, for the strand of learning linked to help and support, – phase 2 is to ‘be able to identify trustworthy sources of information and be able to raise issues and questions with trusted adults’. The phase which precedes this is ‘recognise trusted adults who can help…’  Therefore, we wouldn’t stop teaching about who are the reliable adults we can turn to for help from phase 1, just because we have moved on to the content in phase 2.  Similarly, the learning from both these phases would continue when we get to phase 3, ‘recognise and be able to use a range of support services to access information…’

Another very important thing to know about these phases relates to ‘developmentally appropriate’ content.  The learning set out in each phase indicates broadly when practitioners should start to consider whether learning in a phase is developmentally appropriate for their learners.  The principles of progression across the Health and Wellbeing Area underpin progression throughout RSE, and phases are designed in such a way as to help practitioners to identify appropriate prerequisites for learning about RSE.  For example, in preparation for adulthood, young people will be provided with opportunities to learn about ‘safe and pleasurable relationships and recognise the role consensual activity plays within relationships’. For the younger learner, or a learner in early stages of cognitive, physical, emotional or social development, the learning that takes place is around ‘…an awareness of the different feelings one can have, recognising other people’s feelings and how these may differ to your own’.  Whereas learners in phase 3 of the draft RSE Code will learn about sexual health, young children and learners in early stages of development will learn about personal hygiene and how we keep ourselves clean.

During the early phase of development, an effective focus on prerequisite skills is essential to enabling the learner to successfully respond to situations in a meaningful way. Before learners can successfully engage with learning around meaningful relationships they will need to have developed the knowledge that other people have thoughts and feelings that differ from their own, and the skills to socially interact in a positive way. During this stage, the emphasis is on how enabling adults can create emotionally-safe environments that support learners’ early self-expression and behaviour regulation. 

Therefore, schools will develop an RSE curriculum that truly reflects the experiences that our children and young people are having in the world around them.  This means that RSE will be designed in response to learners’ developing skills, knowledge, capacities and needs; as well as well as ensuring that they encounter RSE topics in a way that is appropriate for their chronological age.

Learner voice is essential to this approach and schools will need to develop their RSE in a way that takes account of the views and needs of learners and their families.  Authentic learner voice is about more than just canvassing views but involves schools taking a holistic approach to ensuring that the needs of all learners are met. This is why the draft RSE statutory guidance includes advice for schools to ensure clear lines of communication with parents; including the sharing of examples of resources they plan to use to support the different developmental phases.

The new draft RSE Code means that schools will be empowered to create their curriculum and whole-school approaches that are tailor-made for their pupils; ensuring that all learners can engage in RSE in ways that are appropriate, relevant and meaningful for them.

Post contributed by the RSE Working Group

National pilot now live: new school evaluation and improvement resource.

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A national pilot is now underway of the National Resource: Evaluation and Improvement. The Resource has been designed to provide schools with a means to evaluate and improve performance over time, in harmony with curriculum reform and Estyn’s evolving approach to inspection.

Over 100 schools have already taken part in a first stage pilot which was positive but also provided feedback that led to changes which have made the resource more user-friendly.

Now all schools are encouraged to test the Resource for themselves and feed back via an online form by February 8th 2022 at the latest. After that it will be revised, with a national launch in April 2022. The Resource will continue to grow and develop as additional case studies, guidance and other review toolkits are added over time.

The Resource represents a change in culture from previous approaches, focusing on improving performance in future rather than evidencing current achievements to external bodies.

Moreover this large resource is designed to be used selectively: after a top-level review of the four areas, schools can choose to focus on those they feel are in more need of attention.

Details of the resource, including its structure, case studies of usage, FAQs and more, are on this page:  The national resource: evaluation and improvement – Hwb (gov.wales)

New Podcast! The Minister answers your questions

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Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, was in the hot seat for this podcast. He answers tough questions from teachers about curriculum, additional learning needs, the school year and more…

Listen on our channel through your chosen platform below:

Apple podcasts 

Spotify

Spreaker

Or for any mobile phone, use this ‘magic link’

Questions were submitted via consortia but there wasn’t time to ask all in the podcast. See comprehensive answers below to those that could not be put directly to the Minister.

Q:   The baseline assessment doesn’t fit with curriculum steps. Will it operate independently? Do we create our own for Foundation Phase?

  • In the Curriculum for Wales, progression for 3-16 year olds will occur along a single continuum of learning. The new assessment arrangements will need to ensure that learners make progress at an appropriate pace along that continuum. As such phases and stages do not exist in the new curriculum.
  • Currently baseline assessments are undertaken within the first six weeks of a child entering Reception year. We do not believe that this approach is compatible with the new way of supporting and assessing progression from the age of 3 and are consulting on proposals to support and assess learner progress, which includes arrangements for our youngest learners.
  • In place of the baseline assessment, we are proposing an “on entry assessment” is undertaken for each learner on registration at a school or setting. For most this will occur in the term following their 3rd birthday.
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Developing Curriculum with our Cluster – Ysgol Bro Edern

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These honest, insightful videos about building curriculum at Ysgol Bro Edern show how they approached 3 – 16 curriculum development with their cluster.

The three films feature the leadership approach; how joint-working with cluster schools took place; and how the whole Bro Edern ‘family’ played their part.

Bro Edern are on their journey. But theirs is just one approach to curriculum development that works for their catchment, their cluster and themselves. Other approaches will depend on the location and context of your school.

The leadership approach:

Joint working with cluster schools:

How the whole Bro Edern family played its part:

Qualifications fit for future generations – why are some combined?

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The new Curriculum for Wales signals a big change in the way that young people will learn and that is why we are making changes to qualifications.

The changes we are making to qualifications in Wales are needed to align with the new curriculum. We also need to reflect the major cultural shift public bodies are making in Wales, thinking and working long-term for current and future generations.

As a regulator, we need to be confident that the right qualifications are available to meet the needs of future learners and future employees. As part of our decision making, we have decided to take a new approach to GCSEs in English, Mathematics and Sciences, by integrating each subject area. This will provide more space and breadth in learning across subjects and a more consistent approach for learners.

 Why combine qualifications?

Currently most learners take many separate qualifications in these key subject areas, which leaves little opportunity for them to focus on the other subjects.

We have tested our thinking with a wide range of stakeholders, and we believe combining qualifications will benefit learners and teachers, providing more flexibility to schools so learners can pursue a wider range of subjects.

These changes would reduce the number of assessments for learners to ease the pressures they face and further support their mental health and well-being.

Research shows that assessing language and literature together is a positive way for learners to develop linguistic skills so they can apply them to different situations and in different contexts. It also provides an opportunity for all learners to study literature which is an important part of learning and enjoying a language and addresses concerns about the reduction in learners studying literature.

The change to GCSE Science will include content from each of the three science disciplines and make it clearer how they link to each other. This reflects the new curriculum’s expectation that learners can make the links across their learning and offers a coherent approach that benefits all learners.

The benefits of combining subjects

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New podcast! Prof. Charlotte Williams talks realism, radiates positivity.

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Prof. Charlotte Williams OBE

An Independent review to advise on and improve the teaching of themes and experiences relating to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities across the curriculum was Chaired recently by Professor Charlotte Williams. The final report, published in March this year, included coverage of resources and professional learning. It was a ‘ground-breaking trajectory in curriculum reform in Wales’.

Now, in black history month, Charlotte talks about her work on the Review, her personal experiences of growing up and being educated in North Wales, and her optimism for changes that are underway. Honest and heart-felt, it’s an inspirational listen.

Listen on our channel through your chosen platform below:

Apple podcasts 

Spotify

Spreaker

Or for any mobile phone, use this ‘magic link’

The podcast was recorded early in October and also refers to the Professional Teaching Awards Cymru new category: The Betty Campbell MBE award for promoting the contributions and perspectives of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities. Nominations are still open, until 23 November.

She also mentions a new Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Initial Teacher recruitment plan and campaign aimed at reducing the imbalance in representation.

Introducing a new Curriculum during challenging times

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During the years CfW was being co-constructed, the prospect of the new framework and guidance (we’re careful not to call it a curriculum!) seemed to many of us a far-away thing, not something to get overly excited or concerned about for some time. 

Kath Lewis, Strategic Lead for Curriculum Reform

Over a four-year period, experts, academics, and teachers alike spent time grappling with huge philosophical questions, pondering ‘curriculum’ and what it could be in Wales.  The “wouldn’t it be great if…?”, “why have we always had to…?” and “why don’t we…?” philosophical conversations echoed through corridors, along with the sometimes-heated debates about what should make it into the national framework, and what should be for schools and practitioners to decide. 

These conversations however were happening for the ‘lucky few’ who had secured a seat at the pioneer table.  What then for the others? What for those who disagreed with what they were presented with?  What for those who didn’t want this new way?  The draft was published, the consultation period happened (with 2,103 responses received), the final framework and guidance arrived and regardless of whether you had been sat at that pioneer table, whether you had shared your views through the consultation, or had not been involved at all, 28th January 2020 became Day 1 for CfW; a reset for all, taking everybody to the framework, not to drafts or copies they may have seen or borrowed along the way. 

Before that day, many may have explored the four purposes and considered the pedagogical principles, but it wasn’t until the publication of the framework that we could all work reliably from the guidance and start making sense of it within each school context.  Day 1 marked the beginning of a process that could arguably be the most challenging that Wales’ school school practitioners had experienced since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988.

And so, we zoom ahead to the present day.  19 months on from Day 1.  In that time we would have been able to get to know the framework, to collaborate within school teams, clusters and networks; to unpick, to ask what might be possible for learners, to consider how to take this national framework – not curriculum – and transform it into a curriculum so befitting our learners that it be unequivocally better than what came before. But that was before the world was changed by Covid-19.  Who could have possibly imagined a pandemic throwing us off course? Stealing time away from us and disrupting lives as it has done?  From CfW being the biggest game in town, for many schools it has become the least of their concerns, the thing they’ll get to but not yet, not whilst they are functioning in crisis management mode. The pandemic has not been forgiving, it has not made allowances for those who hadn’t been part of the pioneer process and needed more time, for those with a huge mountain to climb. Covid has significantly affected all schools, and is continuing to do so, in many cases now worse than ever.  

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Reimagining GCSE qualifications

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Emyr George, Director of Qualifications Policy and Reform

Reimagining and reforming GCSE qualifications is crucial to create a new way of learning that will prepare learners for life, study and work in the 21st century.

To complement the new Curriculum for Wales, we are looking at how we can innovate qualifications to prepare learners to succeed in an ever-changing and uncertain world.

We have now agreed the subjects in which a new generation of fit-for-the-future GCSEs will be offered.

Over the coming months we will be listening and discussing ideas through our national conversation to co-create GCSE qualifications. New content and new assessment approaches are just some of the things we will be looking at as we shift to more flexible and agile ways of learning.

As part of our Qualified for the Future programme we are recruiting teachers and educational professionals to help us with this exciting challenge.  Anyone interested in joining us can apply through our website.

We want everyone with an interest in education to contribute to the national conversation so that we can meet the needs of our communities.

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New School Evaluation and Improvement Resource in Development – a Chance to find out more on 12th October

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A resource to help schools self-evaluate and improve has been developed over the past two years. It has been designed with practitioners, supported by Estyn, and has been tested by a group of 100 schools over the past few weeks. A national pilot will take place from November.

A chance to find out about the resource and get an early idea of how to use it will be open to practitioners on 12th October from 2:00-3:00pm. The ‘Policy Insight’ event will include a description of the features and how it can be used in the school context without increasing the burden of administration.

To join the session, register here. If you can’t take part in the event, the whole session will be available as an offline playlist resource and the link added to this page. See the session here.

‘Policy Insight’ events are organised by teachers seconded to Welsh Government and designed to keep practitioners up to date about professional learning, especially as it relates to curriculum implementation. An overview, list of events and booking form is here.

Forthcoming events include:

Professional learning update and National Professional Enquiry Project re-launch – 11th November

Digital Professional Learning Journey update – 9th December

Additions and Changes to Curriculum Guidance – 30th September

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New content has been added, and some alterations made, to the Curriculum for Wales Framework guidance.

The changes have been made for one of two reasons: as a response to consultation feedback that pointed to a need for more information in specific areas; or as a result of the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021 Act being passed by the Senedd.

What are the main changes?

Update to the ‘Introduction’ section – changed to reflect the passage of legislation, but also to keep it up to speed with new supporting guidance, hence the ‘preparing for 2022’ element has been deleted in deference to the new  Journey to curriculum roll-out’ guidance published on Hwb on 22 September.

Statements of What Matters and Principles of Progression – updated following consultation to reflect the draft Codes covering those mandatory elements currently before the Senedd.*

Education Other Than At School (EOTAS) – this now has its own section within Designing your curriculum  that sets out considerations for curriculum design for EOTAS.

British Sign Language (BSL) – Guidance for developing a curriculum which features BSL for deaf BSL users and for other learners and a   full set of Descriptions of learning for BSL now form part of the Languages Literacy and Communication Area of Learning and Experience. The guidance for EOTAS and BSL has been developed by practitioners through co-construction, supported by other experts including members of the Deaf Community.

The curriculum guidance revisions will be followed by a second set at the end of 2021 to cover:

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What are the main changes?

Update to the ‘Introduction’ section – changed to reflect the passage of legislation, but also to keep it up to speed with new supporting guidance, hence the ‘preparing for 2022’ element has been deleted in deference to the new  Journey to curriculum roll-out’ guidance published on Hwb on 22 September.

Statements of What Matters and Principles of Progression – updated following consultation to reflect the draft Codes covering those mandatory elements currently before the Senedd.*

Education Other Than At School (EOTAS) – this now has its own section within Designing your curriculum  that sets out considerations for curriculum design for EOTAS.

British Sign Language (BSL) – Guidance for developing a curriculum which features BSL for deaf BSL users and for other learners and a   full set of Descriptions of learning for BSL now form part of the Languages Literacy and Communication Area of Learning and Experience. The guidance for EOTAS and BSL has been developed by practitioners through co-construction, supported by other experts including members of the Deaf Community.

The curriculum guidance revisions will be followed by a second set at the end of 2021 to cover:

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