Press release: Relational and sexual education for young children

Date:
08-02-2011

Providing lessons on relationships and sexuality in primary school not only promotes knowledge, but also enhances the assertiveness of pupils. This has been proven in an effect evaluation performed under the authority of Rutgers WPF and CPS [Educational Advice Centre] of two teaching packages used in the last two years of primary school. It was noted that teachers and pupils also found the lessons enjoyable and worthwhile.

The research

The research gives insight into the effect and the assessment of the two most used teaching packages for relational and sexual education: ‘Relationships and sexuality’ (Rutgers WPF) and ‘Lekker in je vel’ [‘Feel good’] (CPS). The research was carried out by ResCon, an independent research bureau. Twenty eight of the schools that had used one of the teaching packages and 16 schools that had used neither took part (control schools). In total more than 1,400 children participated in the research.

Effects

At the start of grade 7 (pre-evaluation) pupils know little about bodily changes in adolescence and their knowledge on reproduction, in particular, is limited. If pupils have received any information on sexuality then it is the parents who have provided this. Apart from gaining more knowledge on adolescence, relationships and sexuality from the lessons, the pupils are also more aware of what sexual intimidation or sexual abuse entails. The acceptance of homosexuality has also been seen to have increased in certain groups. Communication ability and assertiveness of pupils also appear, in relation to the control schools, to have improved. Teachers also observe that the knowledge, attitude and skills of pupils have improved. Pupils are more able to deal with unwanted behaviour and the subject of sexuality itself has become more discussible. At the start of the programme the atmosphere was somewhat giggly or tense but the pupils then took the issue more seriously and became interested.  Structurally addressing this subject by using a specific teaching package has more effect than any other ad hoc attention given to the subject of relational and sexual education.

Timing of the lessons

More than three quarters of the pupils thought that the lessons were given at the right time. In particular pupils in grade 7 (the 2nd last year in primary school) believed the lessons regarding changes experienced during adolescence and relational skills to be important subjects. Pupils from grade 8 (the final year of primary school) were also interested in contraceptives and safe sex.
According to the research, most pupils in grade 7 had fallen in love at least once and more than half had been “courting” at some time. A third of the pupils in grades 7 and 8 had experience with kissing. A quarter of the pupils would have preferred to wait with kissing or were not ready for this experience. A few pupils in grade 7 had experience with French kissing and/or fondling a girlfriend/boyfriend.
The information on adolescence, relationships and sexuality had greater impact if the pupils still had little experience in kissing and courting. This argues for timely relational and sexual education. Teachers, pupils and parents believe grade 7 to be the most suitable time to address these subjects.

Assessment

Two thirds of the pupils found the lessons (very) enjoyable and (very) interesting. The pupils gave the lessons on average a mark of eight out of ten. The pupils found the information given by the parents as well as that given by the teacher very useful. The majority of the pupils had no problem in discussing relationships and sexuality in the class. A good atmosphere in the classroom and a feeling of trust among the pupils are important preconditions for lessons on this theme. In grades 7 and 8 from 75% to 80% of the pupils had spoken about the lessons at home. Children were also given, for example, the task of asking their parents’ opinion on certain subjects referred to in the teaching package Relationships and Sexuality.

Motivation of teachers

The reasons for focusing on relational and sexual education are diverse. Teachers themselves find this subject very important and believe it to be very much a part of their pupils’ development. Demands from parents, management, area health authorities, and/or school policy play a role too.  Teachers and management expected more negative reactions from parents but none followed. Teachers presume that some parents are glad that relational and sexual education is offered at school because then they themselves don’t have to discuss the subject themselves.

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Editorial note:
For further details on this research please contact the Communications Department of Rutgers WPF via 030-231 34 31 or communicatie@rutgerswpf.nl.