Dr Colin Morrison is a partner in TASC (Scotland) and the lead developer of the national RSHP resource. He has a longstanding interest in children’s human rights, health and wellbeing. He has worked as a teacher, youth worker, play worker and adult educator. His doctoral study explored relationships and sexual health education for children and young people with learning disabilities.
Preparing for pregnancy (and parenthood) is usually regarded as whatever is done in the months just before conception. That’s true but incomplete. As Elizabeth Smith, Queen’s Nurse and Scotland’s Breastfeeding Education Lead demonstrated in her landmark work in schools and during the early years, it is never too early to influence attitudes and develop understandings that carry through to adulthood. The same principle applies to preconception health and education.
As an educator, I am always appreciative that Scotland’s education system gives parity of esteem to Health and Wellbeing, alongside the other core elements of Curriculum for Excellence, such as Literacy and Numeracy. These core curricular areas are supposed to be the responsibility of all educators. As we emerge from the pandemic, this national commitment to the health and wellbeing of learners has never been more important.
However, in truth, while there is much talk about educational recovery, learners are experiencing the education system’s response to recovery in different ways. While some are seeing practice that views relationships and mental health as a focus, others are more likely to emphasise ‘catching up’ on what is perceived as ‘missed learning’.
Talk of targets, attainment and an overt focus on examinations do not lend themselves to a notion of recovery that health practitioners might understand. That would be something along the lines of a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. …Recovery is person-driven and supported through relationships and social networks. This feels like a child-centred and rights-based understanding of recovery. It should be a manifestation of the understanding that teaching and learning are relational, not rote.
Unfortunately, it is the case that an important part of the Health and Wellbeing curriculum has dropped off the radar in many schools; namely, the part of Curriculum for Excellence devoted to Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education. Learning in this area has oftentimes been problematic, as schools struggle to find the space and time for RSHP lessons. This is sometimes exacerbated by teacher anxiety about the topic.
Facilitation of RSHP learning was previously aided by school nurses and other colleagues. However, solely teacher-led delivery has become the norm. To assist teachers and students, the RSHP national teaching and learning resource was developed. Launched for the 2019/2020 school year (and just embedding itself in Scotland’s education system pre-pandemic) it meant that, for the first time, educators, had holistic age and stage appropriate resources to support teaching and learning.
The resource offers a guide through RSHP learning starting in the early years, through primary school and into secondary school and college. The resource has always had an eye on making sure that materials are available for all learners. Despite COVID-19, more focused materials were created to support learners with more complex needs. The resource is also being translated in its entirety into Gaelic to support education in that medium and ensure its reach across communities.
The development of the resource has helped educators identify a place for some key learning that addresses broader societal concerns. There are sections on such sensitive topics as consent and pornography, as well as the right to experience personal relationships that are healthy, happy and safe. There is encouragement throughout to seek help from a trusted adult with questions or worries.
Parenthood education is included in RSHP. There are resources to support young people in terms of preparing for pregnancy and parenthood, see Senior Phase – RSHP. This is aligned with, and has been influenced by, QNIS’ Healthier Pregnancies, Better Lives programme.
There is concern that a pandemic-disrupted school experience means some children and young people have not engaged with this important learning about Health and Wellbeing. Parents are the child’s first and lifelong educators, but some parents don’t feel equipped and supported to address RSHP topics. Consequently, it is likely that many upper primary children have missed some key knowledge about puberty, as well as foundation learning about reproduction and sexual health. Similarly, some older secondary school learners have missed opportunities to learn about preparing for pregnancy and parenthood, along with signposting to resources and services for information and support.
It is time to pick up the RSHP baton again and to deliver on educational experiences that promote and support the Health and Wellbeing of children and young people. These are areas of learning they both need and want. Helping them get these crucial life skills and accurate knowledge about personal relationships is a job for all parents and other involved adults, alongside health and education professionals.
The RSHP national resource is open and free to access for everyone. Whatever your relationship with a child or young person, you can find age-appropriate content that can support everyday conversations about all aspects of relationships, parenthood and sexual/reproductive health. It is an entry point for asking and answering questions about preparing for pregnancy – whether or not that is a possibility in the foreseeable future. For community nurses, midwives and other health colleagues, the RSHP curriculum could be a valuable resource, especially when young people are missing basic knowledge and understanding.
Scotland is on the cusp of something really rather exciting; namely, the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law. Scotland will become the first nation in the UK to take this positive step.
I started this blog with the assertion that I am an educator, but that formal role isn’t enough at this special moment in our history. When it comes to the health and wellbeing of children and young people, I need to act as both an educator and an Unfeartie!
An Unfeartie is an adult who is brave in promoting and defending children’s human rights. In Article 29 of the UNCRC, we are all reminded that one of the purposes of education is to ensure the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential. Further, Article 24 says that just like adults, children and young people have a right to appropriate health services to protect and improve their health.
By supporting meaningful learning about relationships, sexual health and parenthood (in the comprehensive, lifelong manner embedded within the RSHP resource), we will be well on our way toward fulfilling our obligations to our youngest citizens. Community nurses and midwives throughout Scotland are also welcomed to take their rightful, and often very well-earned, place as Unfearties.