Nottingham City Council: diffusing tension

The introduction of statutory relationships education, relationships and sex education (RSE) can be contentious. The city council took on all the media handling for the school, allowing the head teacher to concentrate on communicating with parents and pupils. 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

  • Plan developed to handle flashpoints and protests.
  • Information distributed via social and mainstream media. 
  • Public statement made signed by councillors from all parties.
  • Part of wider package to promote , including annual celebration day.

The problem

The introduction of statutory RSE can be contentious. In Birmingham it has resulted in protests outside primary schools and children being removed from classes over concerns about the teaching of same-sex relationships and transgender issues. Nottingham has had a small taste of this. During the last academic year there were angry scenes outside one primary school when protesters objecting to the move clashed with counter-protesters. Police had to intervene and the episode attracted media attention in the city.

What was done?

The city council was prepared. It took on all the media handling for the school, allowing the head teacher to concentrate on communicating with parents and pupils. The council leader, gave interviews and could point to the strong backing of councillors from all parties. Just weeks before crossparty support had been given to a public statement signed by members supporting the introduction of statutory RSE and making it clear Nottingham was a city that ‘celebrates equality, inclusivity and respect’. Meanwhile, the council’s communications team was able to distribute information, myth busters, infographics and videos across social media. That material had been prepared months before and already circulated as part of a coordinated campaign to be open and honest about RSE.

Why?

The council leader said: “In Nottingham we do not wish to see the type of protest that took place in Birmingham. Such angry scenes have a negative impact on young children and pose a significant safeguarding risk to pupils who have to walk past protesters in order to get to their school in the morning. “RSE in schools is nothing new, for many years schools have delivered lessons. Teachers are experienced at managing RSE sensitively in an age-appropriate way and they make sure the right conversations are happening at the right stage in children’s lives.” The council’s RSE consultant agrees and believes Nottingham’s experience shows the importance of being proactive. “We recognised that there was a lot of misinformation circulating about the new guidance that was causing concern for some parents and community members.

“We have taken the approach that it is better to engage with people to ensure everyone has accurate information in order to alleviate concerns and encourage on-going dialogue.

What else is happening?

The council also holds an annual RSE day to celebrate good practice. Schools and community groups plan RSE activities that encourage people to talk about healthy relationships and positive sexual health. Following the first event in 2018, RSE day then went national in 2019 and was celebrated by schools and organisations across the country. The council has also created an RSE charter. Running for the last three years, schools sign the charter to commit to effective RSE, based on good practice. Schools audit their provision and receive support to improve policy, curriculum and delivery.

Signing the charter encourages schools to reflect on their RSE provision and involve key stakeholders in developing practice. The charter encourages engagement with parents and consultation with pupils to ensure content and delivery are relevant and effective. So far 82 per cent of schools are signed up.