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,

Teaching and learning Gem #26 – using Teams conversation space for student self-reflection and visible improvement on prior learning

Autumn Focus: Metacognition – students driving their own learning through reflection

Teaching and learning Gem #26  – using Teams conversation space for student self-reflection and visible improvement on prior learning

This Friday Gem comes from Andrea Croucher, Claire Baty and Suzy Pett, who all tried out this idea with their classes over the past two weeks.

  • Students start a ‘New Conversation’ in the general channel, writing down what they already know about a topic/answering a question.
  • At the end of the lesson – or a later lesson – students review and reflect on what they have written. They hit ‘reply’ and directly below their first comment they write a new comment, either thinking about how their learning has progressed, or improving upon their original answer.
  • You could use star emojis for students to rate how much their learning/understanding has developed.


This is effective because is because students are thinking explicitly about their learning:

  • Recalling prior knowledge is an important metacognitive skill.
  • Students evaluating their original understanding at a later point makes it clear to them what new learning has happened.
  • Students having a conversation with themselves allows them visibly to see their progress.
  • Thinking about what they still don’t understand or what they want to follow up allows them to drive their own learning and understand themselves better as learners.


Example from Andrea’s Year 10 RS lesson about Jewish beliefs and the nature of God. Students responded to an initial starter question. Then, next lesson, they reviewed what they had put and added to it with their new learning:

Example from Suzy’s lesson. Year 12 English students wrote down their initial understanding of what modernism means, and then after completing an independent project, reflected on how much their understanding had developed using star emojis. They thought about what they found particularly interesting, and what they would like to pursue further:

WHS Classwork Example

Example from Claire’s Year 8 French class. They wrote a sentence about where they live as a starter, and then improved at the end of the lesson:
WHS Classwork example

Friday Gem #1 – Silent Teacher

This idea comes from Helena, who observed Roz using this technique really successfully last term with a Yr11 class doing simultaneous quadratic equations. However, the technique can be used in lots of different subjects and contexts.

 Roz started by showing the steps to an algebraic solution without explaining what she was doing. Pupils had to watch intensely, work out for themselves the logic of the steps, and then give it a go or join in when they caught on. She said that by using this method, the class understood more quickly than if she had explained it.

Rather than overload pupils with visual worked examples AND teacher explanations, this is an opportunity for pupils to intensely focus on one thing…what you are showing them on the board. This reduces cognitive load, demands an intense focus and relies on independence as pupils have to work things out for themselves. It’s riveting and game-like!

This will work in subjects where there is logic, problem-solving, patterns and steps. I can also imagine it working in arts subjects – there are patterns and linked ideas within and across literary texts, for example. You could start by putting a text on the board highlighting particular words. Pupils have to work out the link and pattern and continue independently in their own texts, annotating their own ideas as they go.

So, in summary: