Healthy, happy relationships really begin in Early Years

Children’s learning about relationships, personal agency and emotional wellbeing is the responsibility of the whole community from infancy onwards, writes the Head of Junior School, Claire Boyd

It has been eighteen months since the Department of Education made the teaching of RSHE (relationships, sex and health education) statutory in all primary schools. Informed by a recognition that “today’s children and young people are growing up in an increasingly complex world and living their lives seamlessly on and offline”[1], it is now expected that, by the end of Year 6, children will be able to recognise diversity of family set-ups, appreciate the tenets of caring, respectful relationships and understand how to navigate life online safely. 

Following closely behind these changes to RSHE, Ofsted also published its Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges in June last year. A sobering read, the report found not only significant failings in the robustness of safeguarding frameworks in many schools, but also suggested that the teaching of Personal, Social & Health education frequently fell short of its intended purpose. The findings for girls were particularly concerning, with high numbers stating that they “do not want to talk about sexual abuse…even where their school encourages them to”, due to a fear of not being believed or being ostracised by their peers. Others worry about how adults will react and feel concerned that they will lose control of the situation in which they find themselves. Although most of the testimonies collected by the review focused on children of secondary age, children aged 11 and under were referenced as victims of sexual abuse and harassment in schools, often describing similar preoccupations as older girls about the implications of speaking up about their experiences.

Rising to the challenges

With these changes and recommendations from the DfE and Ofsted fresh in our minds, in the Junior School we have begun to evaluate the impact and efficacy of our approach to helping students navigate relationships. We are attempting to measure our success against broad and subjective statements, including whether a child is able “to recognise who to trust and who not to trust”, can “judge when a friendship is making them feel unhappy or uncomfortable”, and can “manage conflict [and] seek help or advice from others, if needed”[2].

Whilst there can be no doubt that high quality, systematic teaching of RSHE is imperative for twenty-first century schools, at WHS our reflections have led us to believe that real progress relies on much more than the rewriting of curricula and the upskilling of teachers on their safeguarding responsibilities.  Certainly, a nuanced, proactive approach – evident, for example, in the innovative Wimbledon Charter (the WHS-led response to Everyone’s Invited) – is urgently needed, and ultimately, sustainable and far-reaching change must start with the earliest childhood experiences.

A wholesale and deliberate realignment of how we – teachers, parents, families and communities – nurture our children from the Early Years onwards is essential. If the gold standard we want our young people to attain is self-knowledge that can be communicated with confidence and agency, then we must ensure we embed these skills in their everyday contexts from infancy. We must ensure that we place the principles of character development, emotional resilience and autonomous decision-making in the foreground of everything our children experience both at home and at school. This requires parents and teachers to fight the inevitable urge to smooth over and fix difficult situations for the children in our care. It means we must resist speaking on behalf of our young people, and must consciously fight against the gender biases related to the stereotypical behaviours of ‘troublesome boys and compliant girls’.

Schools as leaders and allies

Our ambition to release future generations from power imbalances such as those reported on by Ofsted depends on schools leading the way. Schools must support parents and families to engage, wholeheartedly, in giving agency to our girls to become comfortable with quiet assertiveness from a young age. We must prioritise opportunities to develop the skills which allow them to resolve conflict for themselves, even if this runs the risk of them experiencing some discomfort along the way. If our young children have not developed the voice to say no, to set their own boundaries and resolve the conflicts they have experienced during early childhood, how can we expect them to do so as teenagers and adults?

What our young people – and our girls in particular – require from us is the bravery to lead a step change; one that sees teachers and parents walking alongside them, coaching and empowering them to develop the resilience and character to be happy, successful and productive members of society.

[1] N.Zahawi, Department of Education, 2021, Statutory Guidance by the Secretary of State,

[2] Department for Education, Relationships, Sex & Health Education (RSE), Statutory guidance for governing bodies, proprietors, head teachers, principals, senior leadership teams, teachers, 2019, p20 –p22,

Do you have a ‘Positive’ toolkit at your fingertips?

Mrs Jessica Salt, Head of Year 8 at WHS, discusses the Positive Schools Programme and the impact it could have on your well-being.

Positive was set up in 2011 with the vision of using research in psychology and neuroscience to help individuals and organisations optimise their wellbeing and performance.

Positive started out in the business world before expanding into the education sector in 2016. The GDST created a partnership with Positive to provide all schools in the Trust with the Positive Schools Programme (PSP) – championing a whole school approach to psychological wellbeing and protective psychological competencies.

The GDST recognised that in order for the “girls first” approach to be to be successful they needed to prioritise the psychological wellbeing and health of its teachers. For example, normalising a teacher’s response to stress and pressure, increasing emotional literacy, self and social awareness and emotional regulation will have a cascade effect to the students. Teachers should use the Positive tools to help them tune into how they are feeling and move into a more positive mindset/build resilience, and then apply this knowledge and experience to teach their students to do the same.

Teachers are in an ideal position to help support and guide students through many crucial years where the brain is re-sculpting itself and neural pathways are changing. The PSP is a great way to further extend our evidence based pastoral care and give our girls practical and versatile strategies than can support them throughout their lives.

The primary aim of Positive is prevention. It is built around the four pillars of psychological health:

A Positive Toolkit in Brief:


  • The Emotional Barometer (EB) is a visual metaphor tool designed to track your mood state and emotions on a regular basis. Over time you may see a pattern of how your emotions impact your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Our moods and emotions are constantly changing so it is completely normal to move around all areas of the EB – being in the top right-hand quadrant at all the time is not sustainable. The key is to be able to recognise where you are sitting on the EB and why (particularly if we are feeling stuck on the left-hand quadrant) and then to actively deploy a technique that will bring you back towards the middle of the scale.
  • The Inner Coach is a tool that helps you to reappraise an event and develop a positive, reasoned inner dialogue, which offers a more rational approach to solutions during pressurised situations. The Inner Coach should offer constructive solutions instead of catastrophising and self-blaming. Over time and with practice, our Inner Coach becomes stronger and stronger, meaning we can call on them quicker and more effectively during challenging situations.


  • The Positive Switch is a tool designed to make you more aware of your focus and deliberately regulate your attention. The idea is that you have a switch in your mind which can be moved between three different positions: Task, Recharge, and Present. All three settings bring their own potential benefits and opportunities for your wellbeing. You need to use your Switch to ensure your day is balanced with protected task time, regular breaks and at least one opportunity to enter Present mode.  
  • The Worry Filter enables you to differentiate between “useful” and “useless worries”.  The filter aims to help break the cycle of rumination and decrease your stress response. It can be as simple as a list with two columns and a plan of action for any useful worries that you have a degree of control over. This will then help you declutter and focus your mind, freeing up cognitive resources and thus increasing your creativity. Worry is the most powerful of interruptions linked to the survival instinct. It is important to control our worry, so we do not get caught in a negative spiral, dwelling on imagined threats/catastrophising about the future.


  • The Positive Pinboard is designed to help you overcome the human negativity bias. It encourages individuals to notice and focus more on the positives. Over time this mindset switches the default neural circuits in the brain to more optimistic ones and reinforces positive mood-states and resilience. It is a virtual pinboard onto which you can ‘pin’ photos and notes of positive moments during your day capturing them via the Positive App. It is a similar idea to a gratitude journal, but you can add images in addition to thoughts. If you do not have the app you could create a private Instagram page just for you. Choose a trigger to help remind you to do this everyday and form a new habit.
  • The Strength Mirror is a tool with two main parts. The first part involves looking at yourself to identify your personal strengths and how you currently use them in your daily life. You should reflect on your recent experiences and try to pinpoint when you have used a strength most effectively. The second part involves looking into to a future scenario or situation and using imagery to visualise how you can use your strengths to tackle it. Visualising the entire process is the key to the second part of the Strength mirror, focus on the practical steps you can take.

The tools for the final pillar of Connection are yet to be released – watch this space!

At Wimbledon High School we are using the Positive Schools Programme and tools in a range of ways. There are numerous teaching colleagues who have now completed a multi-day course to train as ‘Positive Teachers’ to ensure they have an in-depth knowledge of the programme and tools. We have recently launched ‘Positive NOW’ as part of our staff twilight programme where over 40 members of staff have signed up to learn more about the science and evidence surrounding the four pillars. In our roll out to students we have adopted a gradual process including a range of tools into our Review and Reflection days, form times and PSHE sessions. We want to continue to help our girls shift unhealthy habits and bounce back from challenging times.