Northumberland County Council: the art of good communication

The council set up an online relationships education, relationships and sex education (RSE) portal to provide resources and quality assured information to teachers and parents. This case study is an example of the many pro-active and positive approaches which local authorities are taking to support inclusive RSE.


Key points

Online portal set up to provide resources and quality assured information to teachers and parents about changes.

  • Stonewall running courses on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) inclusion and relationships education.
  • All 165 schools offered training workshops
  • in partnership with the Sex Education Forum charity.

Good communication is key when it comes to preparing for the introduction of statutory RSE.

Northumberland covers a large rural area of nearly 2,000 sq miles, making it one of the biggest in England. As a result, it has more challenges than most in engaging schools and parents.

What was done?

The county council has sought to get round this by setting up a webpage with all the latest information and guides about the changes. It is run by using the online bulletin board service Padlet and allows approved users to update it on a daily basis.

The portal – linked off the main Northumberland Education website – currently contains information on everything from the latest official guidance on statutory RSE to advice and tips about sexting and cyberbullying, as well as links to Public Health England’s resources on puberty, alcohol and smoking.

The information can be promoted on social media and there is the possibility of setting up an online chat forum.

Meanwhile, their education and skills team is collaborating with colleagues in public health who are developing some bite-sized videos for the portal on everything from where to get condoms for class demonstrations to how to address issues relating to sexuallytransmitted infections.

Why?

One of coordinators of the work said: “Good communication is essential. We have not had any protests or objections yet, but by providing good clear information we would hope to ensure that people are fully aware of what this is all about and alleviate any concerns.

“Our schools are spread over a large area so we think this will be an effective way of distributing information and sharing ideas.”

What else is happening?

Northumberland has also been arranging some events and workshops for teachers working in the county’s 165 schools. Stonewall ran an open session in May on LGBT issues. The session focussed on the right language to use. One of coordinators of the event said: “This acted as a springboard to discuss wider issues. But language is often a much under-rated issue. Teachers may not know what language they should be using and that can make them less confident to address these issues with children and young people. “The emotional health and wellbeing of LGBT young people is a priority in our local transformation plan. Creating safe, inclusive learning environments and ensuring that all schools understand how to eliminate homophobic, biphobic and transphobic incidents or behaviour is part of that.”

The event is going to be followed up by another two sessions from Stonewall in the lead up to September 2020. The next one is on emerging best practice within the county. Meanwhile, Northumberland has partnered with the Sex Education Forum to offer schools workshops in the forum’s training programme, Get ready for statutory! The one-day course covers the new legislation, how to review current provision and best practice in the field. There are 60 places for primary schools, 30 for secondary and middle and 30 for special schools available during this academic year.

Places are being charged at £25 per attendee to cover the cost of lunch and venue hire. The coordinator said: “We’re already seeing lots of interest for the primary face-to-face training. Secondary schools tend to be harder to engage. There is such a focus on attainment and academy status which has diluted the links with local authorities. “It means we are looking at other ways to make sure we reach out to as people as possible. I want to set up some informal meetings that will not be so time-consuming. “We are also beginning to get a PSHE coordinator network going. We have 13 schools that are part of the DfE early adopters so it will be good to hear from them about the support they are able to access and use it as a forum to share best practice.”