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Sexual health education for young people with additional support needs


Thirty young people, identified by their school as having more complex additional support needs, took part in the consultation.

Some of the young people gave reasons why they felt it was important that they received sexual health and relationship education:

“It’s good to know even if you don’t like it – it’s better to know than nothing.”

“I think it’s important to learn about all these things because …. sometimes girls are more weaker than boys so boys will make girls do it [have sex].”

“For example if the boy and girl were going out and the boy was more pushy and girls are more likely to go ‘ok I’ll do it’.”

The first activity was a group brainstorming exercise to find out from the young people which subject areas/topics they had covered in their sexual health and relationship education. The young people were asked to respond to the question: “What subjects have you covered in school sex and relationship education?”

“intimacy of getting to know someone”

“body changes/puberty”

“man and lady with their private parts”

“penis up the vagina”

“boobs”

“puberty and growing up”

“relationships”

“you can get diseases”

“a baby grows from a small egg in the mum’s tummy”

Some of the young people said they could not remember anything from sexual health and relationship education lessons, had missed class or not paid any attention in class:

“I kind of zone out”

“Nothing comes to mind”

Some young people found it too uncomfortable a subject, one which was not often spoken about:

“It’s not really spoken about”

“I know but I don’t want to say as it’s a bit embarrassing”

In the special education provision, 3 out of the 6 did not want to learn about most of the topics. They were happy to learn about e.g. keeping safe, healthy relationships, personal hygiene but did not wish to talk about the other topics because:

“I don’t want to learn.”

“It’s rude and horrible – I don’t want to do the sex stuff.”

“I don’t know what the pictures [visuals of topics] are”

One young person wanted to learn most things but didn’t want to learn about personal hygiene, putting on a condom, pregnancy and abortion as he felt he had been taught enough about these topics already. One young person was not able to explain why she didn’t want to learn about these topics but others said it was because:

“I don’t want to learn about teenage pregnancy because I don’t think it’s got anything to do with me- I don’t need to know about it because it’s not going to happen to me [because he’s a boy].”

“They [the topics] were disgusting, because I hate them- don’t like it, it makes me feel sad.”

The main issues were around trust and the quality of the relationship between the PSA and the young person; the young people felt that a PSA knew them better, had a more positive relationship with them than teachers and understood how to respond to and support their needs:

“PSAs take it [sexual health and relationships] seriously and we will understand them as young people and we won’t be confused…”

“It would be easier for us to understand.”

“They know us and know about special needs.”

“You could trust them more”.

Nurses were a popular choice for many of the young people who felt that a nurse would have the specific medical knowledge and expertise around sexual health and would be able to explain well to the young people:

“Nurses will have more experience … You can get more in-depth information as well as a professional opinion.”

“Because a nurse is medical and I would be comfortable as they would know what I am meaning. Someone who knows about it.”

The majority of young people wanted to be taught within the school ASN Department and some wanted to learn about sexual health and relationships in small groups or 1 to 1.

“I didn’t talk much [in the classes]. It’s hard when the teacher asked you questions – sometimes I take a couple of minutes to answer.”

“It’s embarrassing to talk in the class – I feel like walking out the door…”

“Smaller groups of young people who know each other.”

The young people felt that sexual health and relationship education was often rushed, that there were many topics to cover and there was not enough time dedicated within Personal Social Education (PSE) lessons. Some young people said they thought that lessons should continue throughout the school years, right up until S6.

“It’s important to keep having sex education in school because you might not know anything about it.”

“It’s probably best to do it longer so you won’t forget.”

For these young people with additional support needs large classes made it difficult for them to listen to what is being taught and they lacked the confidence to speak during the lesson:

“I think I would listen quite a bit if classes were smaller – I don’t really listen as the classes are so big.”

“I would speak more in smaller classes.”

The main improvements the young people identified in terms of the quality of the lessons were:

“They say they give you sex ed but they just give you the stuff you know already from primary school – you don’t get to know the important details such as condom sizes. It’s like schools are scared to tell us the right stuff.”

“They need to explain it a bit better. They needed to make it easier as I don’t understand it.”

“It’s maybe the way they teach it as every teacher at our school teaches something in a different way.”

The young people wanted to watch more, and better quality, DVDs. They felt that it is easier to watch a short film with clear messages and information. They felt this was better than only the teacher talking. Some young people felt that the ideal situation was to watch a film and then the teacher helps facilitate a discussion afterwards.

“We watched a clip – I won’t say about what – and the teacher stopped it and said something completely different from what the video said.”

“We watch films but don’t then talk about it – teachers should know more. I want a teacher to tell me about it and not just watch a film about it.”

Some young people said they would like to have had the option of sexual health and relationship education within the ASN Department. The main issue was that the young people were not asked where they would like their sexual health and relationship education to take place:

“If they asked us we would say yes [to sexual health and relationship education delivered within the ASN Department]

“I didn’t have the option about if I had it in mainstream or the Base.”