Relationships and Sexuality Education

Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE)

Special Educational Needs (SEN)

The Importance of RSE

RSE is a priority for all pupils, and this includes learners with SEN who have social, emotional and mental health needs and learning disabilities.

Learners with SEN can be particularly vulnerable members of society. Perpetrators often target the most vulnerable people, who as a result may experience exploitation, abuse or bullying as they:

  • are often more dependent on others for their personal needs;
  • may not be aware that what is happening to them is wrong;
  • may not be aware that help is available; or
  • may have difficulty in communicating or expressing concerns about what is happening to them.

Therefore, it’s important that learners with SEN have the opportunity to understand what is right and wrong from an early age, through RSE that is appropriate for their age and ability.

Teachers should use everyday opportunities to teach their learners about consent and personal space. Learners also need to know who they can trust to go to for help and be in command of appropriate language or communication methods to voice concerns.

Where a learner has limited ability to communicate, school staff should be aware of potential signs of distress and/or abuse, so that they can intervene appropriately. School staff may also need to support parents and carers in recognising when their child is at risk.


RSE for learners with SEN should be accessible, appropriate and relevant to them and their life experiences. For example, RSE should help learners, in an age-appropriate way, to:

  • recognise safe boundaries and understand the concept of consent;
  • understand the components of healthy relationships in contrast with unhealthy relationships; and
  • learn how to avoid risk-taking behaviours.

School staff should support learners with SEN in dealing with puberty changes and personal hygiene. Learners with SEN should learn how to distinguish between friendship and romantic or sexual relationships, and have a framework to understand acceptable and appropriate behaviour.

Learners with SEN may display sexually inappropriate behaviours because they need help to understand social norms. Teachers should help them develop the ability to read body language and communicate around consent.

In today’s connected world, learners with SEN should be aware of the challenges of the internet and online identities, the influence of peers and peer pressure, and the influence of media including social media. Effective RSE should contribute to building confidence and resilience in learners with SEN.

High quality RSE teaching should be differentiated and personalised to meet learners’ needs and ensure accessibility to all. It’s important that RSE is a planned developmental programme of teaching across all key stages.

Appropriate Methodologies

Teachers should be able to approach RSE topics with confidence. Use clear language and be consistent throughout the RSE curriculum stages. Useful tools and approaches can include visual aids, diagrams, sentence starters, role-play, animations, films and visiting specialists.

If using an external organisation, ensure that the content and the way in which it’s delivered is appropriate for your learners and in keeping with the school’s ethos and RSE policy.

Teachers can use anatomically correct models to help visually impaired pupils learn about, for example, puberty, personal health, conception and contraception. It’s also important to be aware that for some pupils with learning difficulties, symbolic and abstract explanations will be meaningless. Teachers should give these learners clear imagery and examples of appropriate behaviour.

To consolidate learning, teachers should regularly revisit key topics. Where appropriate, teachers should also make links between RSE and the school’s safeguarding, equality, anti-bullying, behaviour and online safety policies.

Safe Space

Creating a safe space for learning can be challenging, but it’s necessary for developing the trust required to facilitate effective RSE. Developing trust will enable pupils to ask questions, both individually and in front of their peers.

Some pupils may have already experienced exploitation, abuse or bullying, so teachers should be sensitive to possible triggers and be aware of potential safeguarding issues.

School Leadership

It’s important that the school leadership team is closely involved with the school’s RSE curriculum and brings together a team of highly committed staff to support the effective delivery of appropriate RSE to meet all pupils’ needs.

A good starting point for planning the school’s RSE policy and curriculum is to ask:

  • Who are the individual pupils I am teaching?
  • What are my pupils’ learning needs to ensure that they can enjoy safe, healthy and fulfilling relationships?

Schools should incorporate RSE across the curriculum and revisit it in different contexts. This will help to embed pupils’ understanding of key concepts.

Involving Parents and Carers

Parents and carers have a vital role to play. Schools should involve them from the early stages, including consultation and review of the school’s RSE policy.

Schools should establish regular communication with parents and carers, so that they know which areas of RSE are being covered and when. In this way, they can be involved and consolidate key learning at home.