children in classroom

by Catherine Hine, Chief Executive, Fastn and Marwah El-Murad, Programmes Manager, Mental Health Foundation

On Relationships and Sex Educaton in School Day, CEO of the Family Stability Network and Fastn and Marwah El-Murad, Programmes Manager, Mental Health Foundation explain why new data confirms that not only is it important for children to learn about healthy relationships in schools, parents want them to as well.

The benefits of learning relationship skills, at an early age, are unbounded. Relationships Education offers an exciting opportunity to support young people and to enable them to achieve their full potential and thrive, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Healthy relationships are a key protective factor to everyone’s mental health, whatever age, but relationships can also be a source of stress or anxiety. People who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer, with fewer mental health problems than people who are less well connected.

It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality and dependability of your close relationships that matters. Living in conflict or within a toxic relationship is more damaging than being alone. Giving children and young people the knowledge, examples and the vocabulary to recognise and nurture healthy relationships can improve their confidence and set them up to make positive decisions for their wellbeing throughout their lives.

Our survey of over 1,000 parents in England with school-age children shows a real desire for schools to engage on RHSE.

When asked how important it is for schools to help children understand and prepare for relationships:

• 96 per cent of parents said it was very or quite important in relation to friends
• 92 per cent said it was very or quite important in relation to family

Relationships are being formed every day. For children and young people unable to witness and experience positive, healthy, dependable, and nurturing relationships, making up for lost time can take a lifetime. During childhood and adolescence, we learn how to engage with others from our parents, families, and guardians. We mimic the behaviour and emotions of those around us, and this early socialisation shapes how we understand and model relationship-forming behaviour throughout life.

Changes in family circumstances, and increased levels of relationship and family breakdown, can act to interrupt the forming of positive bonds and have been found to impact negatively on academic attainment, as well as future attitudes to relationships. Many children don’t have a positive home environment where they have the opportunity to learn about healthy relationships. This leaves them at a disadvantage when it comes to building their own personal toolkit to look after their mental health.

That’s why it’s vital that schools take the lead in providing high quality, inclusive RHSE that represents the diverse makeup of romantic relationships, friendships, and families today.

Teachers provide important experiences, not just in RHSE linked lessons, but throughout the whole school environment and through modelling the kind of healthy, dependable relationships that help children thrive.

That’s why the new statutory Relationship, Health and Sex Education delivered in all schools matters and should be celebrated, today 24th June, #RSEDay.

Parents also recognise the strong connection that exists between the strength of relationships education in schools and life-long positive relationships ambition, with 90 per cent saying it was very or quite important to them.

The 12 Principles of Excellence in Relationships Education draws on the research of a wide range of partners including Tavistock Relationships to support teachers and parents in making the most of these new opportunities.

What goes on in families matters. Just as parents may need support within relationships, and to strengthen parenting skills, children need input beyond the family to develop relationships skills for life, and schools have the opportunity to be integral to these life lessons.

Relationships matter, and the good news is that parents and schools recognise it.