Gender Respect Project 2013-2016

Aiming to help children and young people to understand, question and challenge gender inequality and violence.


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Teacher Blog: Ade

RSE Policy

As a school, we knew that our SRE policy was becoming a little out of date and needed refreshing. The first thing that we did was to rename it so that it is now called RSE, with the emphasis on the relationship aspect. Although it is only a subtle change, the response from other teachers has been amazing! It’s the sort of thing that makes you ask why you never did it sooner. By simply swapping two letters, we’re now saying that we’re going to be learning about how we relate to one another;  what it means to be in a relationship; how we treat others, and yes, an element of what we’ll be learning about is sex, but as part of a relationship centred around love and respect. The idea has gone down well.

 

In addition, we decided to restructure what each year group will cover. Being an academy allows us some flexibility with this. Beforehand, I picked the brains of some of the members of the Gender Respect Project for ideas and then sat down to map out our RSE overview.  The new curriculum took shape and is now part of our policy. In brief, we begin in Y1 with a focus on naming parts of the body that can be seen on a clothed person e.g, head, hands, arms, legs, etc. During Y2 children are learning about the life cycles of animals. In Y3 and Y4 children use PHSE / P4C sessions to explore the concept of consent. This is a new addition to our curriculum and aims to bring awareness of valuing another person’s personal space, that nobody has a right to invade it in any way. Clearly, this is not a session in sexual consent – the children are too young to be discussing that – however, it does lay some foundations for such discussions at secondary school. Moving into Y5, children learn about the content associated with a typical SRE curriculum: puberty, menstruation, reproduction, etc. Formally, this had usually been taught in Y6, but we chose to move it so that the Y6 could focus on more thought provoking issues such as relationships and families, name calling, body image, bullying and self-esteem. This is also a new addition to our RSE curriculum, but an element that some would argue is the most important of all.

 

We have yet to try out our new structure. As I write this, letters have been sent to parents informing them of our changes and we have invited them to take a copy of our policy and / or attend a Q and A meeting to address any concerns. To date, (over a week since the letters went out), only one parent has responded and has asked to see the policy. The rest seem satisfied. I might be speaking too soon, but early indicators suggest the idea is popular with parents too. Maybe there is a collective understanding that to live happily alongside others in our modern day society, we need to dedicate time to learning about the values promoted by the Gender Respect Project. Let’s hope so!

 

Update: The policy has now been adopted by the school and a copy can be found here: Relationships and Sex Education overview


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Teacher Blog: Rebecca

How do we teach students about pornography?

In my school, Year 11 start the year with a PSHE topic about sex and relationships. They have already learned a lot of factual information earlier down in the school, topics like puberty, contraception, Sexually Transmitted Infections, pregnancy and parenthood, so we focus on relationship skills, consent and how the media can affect people’s expectations of a sexual relationship. We also talk to students about the impact of pornography.

Why? I can imagine a lot of teachers would be quite daunted by the idea of teaching young people about such a sensitive topic and unsure of how to go about it. But the NSPCC Sexting report of 2012 shows that accessing sexually explicit material is a real concern for young people. In a 2007 national survey 61% of young women said that they wanted teachers to raise the issue of pornography in lessons, 33% of young men said that they thought pornography was useful for learning about sex and over 90% of young men over 18 have viewed hardcore pornography. (Source- Sheffield Centre for Sexual Health training materials). I wanted to create a space where young people felt safe to ask questions about pornography and to discuss their views on it. As a school we wanted to send a message about the impact viewing pornography could have on a person’s expectations of sex.

I put together an idea of a lesson plan and got approval from the head and the school’s governors. Initially they were quite concerned about the subject matter but were quickly reassured once they saw the ideas for the lesson and understood the angle we were taking. We also sent letters home to parents to inform them that we would be covering issues such as consent, sexting and pornography. This is now the second year of running the lessons and we have had no parental concerns. The students have reported that after receiving the letter some parents have checked what their children are accessing via phones and computers, though!

The lesson starts with asking students to define what is meant by ‘porn’ and a discussion about the purpose of porn and how it is defined in law. We then complete a true or false quiz about facts and figures associated with the porn industry and the legal issues around porn. The main part of the lesson is a continuum style discussion about their own views on porn and this is revisited after watching a clip from a Channel 4 documentary where an ex-porn actor describes her experiences of working in the industry. The lesson ends with students self-assessing what they have learned and if their views have changed as a result of the lesson.

The main things that strike me are how mature students are with this lesson, after a few questions about whether or not I am going to show them a video of porn (!) they are inevitably really serious and thoughtful. They are shocked about the rise in plastic surgery for penis enlargements, breast augmentation and vaginoplasty as a result of unrealistic expectations as more young people watch porn. In most of my classes it has been a student who has pointed out that porn is often very derogatory towards women and the language used is often very negative.

I would thoroughly recommend considering developing a set of lessons around these bigger issues to do with relationships for older students (or use my resources!) in your own school and I hope sharing my experiences of how to go about this are helpful.

 

 


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Teacher Blog: Chella

periodpositive square jpgI’m an independent education researcher, comedian and designer with an MA in Education from Sheffield Hallam University, a PGCE in Drama and Media from Bretton Hall College and a BFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University. It’s been a real treat to be able to combine all my interests as part of the Gender Respect Project!

The research I undertook for my MA dissertation, Period Positive Schools, looked at ways that media literacy, art and drama could be used to challenge menstrual taboos in the classroom to support young people of all genders. It developed out of my comedy, art and fanzine project, Adventures in Menstruating, and continues as #periodpositive, in association with DECSY’s Gender Respect Project.

#periodpositive believes that menstruation education should be:

  • Free, unbranded, objective, inclusive of reusable’s (like menstrual cups and cloth pads), and easy to understand
  • Consistently taught by trained staff, factually accurate, up-to-date and well-researched, with learners’ needs in mind, and regularly evaluated with pupils and menstruation education practitioners, with excellent communication to other faculties, parents and community partners about the content of lessons
  • Able to scaffold and complement lessons on fertility, puberty and reproductive health, with an awareness of physiological differences and medical conditions related to reproductive health and healthy menstrual cycles as a vital sign
  • Supported more comprehensively across he curriculum, particularly in science and PSHE but also in media studies and design and technology
  • Aimed at different age groups, starting well before puberty (and ensuring to use the correct names for body parts, even with very young children) and revisited regularly
  • Inclusive of all genders, cultures, abilities and sexualities (the way all high quality SRE should be), with adapted resources where appropriate
  • Supportive of easy menstruation management in school and equipped to signpost diverse and effective ways of menstruation management in future

I’ve carried on my research with the support of colleagues from the Gender Respect Project, presented #periodpositive at the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference this past June, and have recently started working with some local youth homeless shelters. The research is based on a lot of awesome work that’s come before me – particularly the advertising research of Dr. Elizabeth Kissling (US) and the education research of Shirley Prendergast (UK). Some of the menstruation education lesson activities I’ve developed rely on drama techniques developed by Augusto Boal (Brazil) and Dorothy Heathcote (UK).

The most compelling bits of my research findings are the impact of advertising messages on the fears kids have reported about menstruation. Their concerns have been of shame, secrecy and leakage fear. There’s a history of language use and deliberate marketing in schools that demonstrates a clear link, and it all comes down to two things – secrecy-vs.-privacy, and shame. Privacy is fine – that’s a boundary you’re setting and it’s about safety, choice and consent. Secrecy, on the other hand, is not ok. Secrecy is someone else – whether that’s a parent, teacher, advertising message or society more generally – telling you that you need to be quiet about something – or that you need to do whatever it takes to make a part of you invisible. That’s no way to be, as anyone who experiences intersectional oppressions or whose gender identity, race or ethnicity, sexuality, or disability is not immediately apparent.

And that’s where shame comes in. No one has the right to imply that anyone’s identity, body, or bodily function (or dysfunction, for that matter) is shameful, makes people uncomfortable, or should be hidden or kept secret, and yet that is how menstruation education is most often approached (or avoided) in schools. By not taking more interest in the quality and purpose of the current menstruation education currently on offer in all but a handful of schools (and there are some where individual teachers are aiming to change this), there is a tacit complicity in the status quo, which #periodpositive serves to challenge.

The aim of #periodpositive is to serve as a benchmark for open and informed provision and information about menstruation and reproductive health, by anyone, in any country, but as a starting point, I’m focusing on UK settings that support young people.

I’ll be posting updates of my research throughout the Gender Respect Project, and sharing lesson resources. I’m also taking Adventures in Menstruating to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with the PBH Free Fringe.

For more information, please visit www.periodpositive.com, and check back here for updates in September.