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What young people want from relationships & sex education in schools

Updated: May 7

What issues do young people face today related to relationships and sex?


Life for a young person today is increasingly complex. There is a seamless connection between online and offline worlds and as a result, relationships, sex, gender and identity are constantly changing. There are lots of conversations happening about issues related to diversity, identity and equality and many of the old certainties of sex and relationships are being challenged by things such as women’s rights, sexual harassment, LGBT+ rights. Young people may have the language to discuss these complex topics but that doesn’t make them easy to solve.


Research shows that effective RSE helps better prepare young people for the world today. Since September 2020, it has been mandatory for most state maintained schools in England to deliver Relationships and Sex Education (DfE 2019). Statutory commitment does not, however, guarantee success; RSE must be designed and delivered in a way that is effective and responsive to learners (Limmer, 2010).


What do young people think about sex and relationships education?


Young people want relationships and sex education! However, at the moment they find it disengaging and not relatable to their daily lives. They find that it's mostly factual, risk-averse and that it focuses on the negative aspects of RSE which they find less helpful. Young people want to be involved in the learning process, they want to discuss, debate and participate and they want opportunities to reflect.


They also want realistic education that speaks to the realities of their day-to-day lives and experiences. However, the above is currently lacking and as a result most young people consult friends and the internet as their source of information about relationships and sex.


53% of young people rated their RSE ‘OK’ to ‘very bad’.

Young people felt that some topics had been covered sufficiently in school such as puberty and bullying. However, other topics that they felt they wanted more on were sexual pleasure and pornography.


Life Lessons

Co-founders, Jamie O’Connell and Nicole Rodden started Life Lessons 2 years ago at the time when the government had announced that Relationships and Sex education was to be made compulsory in schools from Sept 2020. Talking to countless teachers, young people, experts they came up with an innovative idea to revolutionise sex education, to make it relatable, diverse and engaging. The Life Lessons approach includes:

  1. Providing the ingredients for discussion about important issues

  2. Raising the profile and the importance of PSHE and RSE in schools

  3. Bringing diversity and inclusivity to RSE

  4. Supporting schools and teachers to deliver the breadth of what is needed

  5. Providing schools with a means to demonstrate impact with PSHE/RSE

  6. Trying to change attitudes and behaviours to create a more equal future

What does Life Lessons do?


Our main aim to normalise the most important conversations. RSE is a great way to build skills such as critical thinking, reflection and resilience. We film the authentic experiences of young people from a range of different backgrounds, lived experiences, sexualities, genders etc. to allow other young people to discuss, learn and challenge their own thinking. We also provide teachers with the tools to facilitate these discussions in the classroom.


Our pilot schools focused on two key modules: Mental wellbeing post lockdown and consent and communication.




Our pilot findings


From September 2020 to January 2021 we ran a pilot with 4 schools across the UK, involving over 700 pupils and 50 teachers.


What young people said:

  • “The people in the videos were authentic”

  • Over 70% said it helped them to hear about different perspectives and consider other points of view

  • One pupil, for example, said that they enjoyed learning about how a transgender person felt and what is “going on in their head” even though it was not personally relevant to them because they are not transgender.

  • Over 60% said they had learnt knowledge and skills that will help them in day to day life

  • Most felt that they helped them consider the issues raised further

  • 70% of young people also felt there was opportunity for discussion and debate within the classroom however there was a desire for more time for classroom discussion and different formats within the videos, for example role-play and group discussion between speakers.

What teachers said:

  • They felt the videos were appropriate, relevant and showcased a variety of perspectives, their pupils engaged well, learned and developed their knowledge.They felt that the videos and activities helped to generate two-way discussion and they felt confident in facilitating those discussions. The resources also helped them deliver safe and inclusive lessons.


It is clear that for RSE to be effective, it needs to involve open, active and interactive teaching and learning that reflects and engages with learners’ diverse situated realities and lived experiences of the topics. This needs to be facilitated by a skilled and motivator educator. It is crucial that the content is connected to young people’s everyday lives and diverse perspectives and experiences and that it is honest and realistic.


For more information about Life Lessons visit www.lifelessons.co.uk

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