Why relationships education is important
December 14, 2021
Catherine Hine is CEO of Fastn, a charity which partners across the education, youth and employment sectors so that more children and adults can benefit from healthy, dependable, nurturing family environments throughout their lives.

You’re reading this blog on OnePlusOne’s site, so I am guessing you’re sold. You understand that relationships are vital. Today we are asking you to please play your part in prioritising relationships in our schools. The need has never been greater.  

Every year, Jess Phillips MP reads out a list of women and girls killed in the previous 12 months. This October, police stepped up protections for members of the LGBT community targeted with violence in Birmingham. Following the murder of George Floyd, there is more discussion than ever before about the imperative for us all to stand up to racism.  

Ask the question, “How are you?” to colleagues, friends, relatives, and service users and be prepared for some distressing responses this year. We’ve all lived through a tough pandemic and sometimes the challenges society is currently facing can feel overwhelming.  

But there is a modest silver lining.

The virus has highlighted the centrality of relationships in all our lives. Whether relationships are present or absent, healthy or harmful, they have been one of the great dividers and a significant driver of inequality throughout the pandemic experience. Our relationships to ourselves, to others, to the world around us, are at the core of all these key challenges for society today.

If you doubt this, take a look at some common themes in responses to Sarah Everard’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and homophobic attacks. These responses cite failure to really listen, empathise, recognise critical power imbalances, ask difficult questions of ourselves and others, show commitment and respect, and build trust through action.  

We learn our beliefs, underlying assumptions, and default responses at home, wherever home is for us. More than this, Harvard research demonstrates that our brains are literally wired by the relationships that we experience and that are role modelled to us, for better or for worse. While this brain programming takes place throughout our lives, it is in childhood and adolescence that we are all most malleable. Beyond the home, society’s key opening to address inequality is at school. By equipping each and every one of us with the relationship skills to deal with what life throws at us, we have the opportunity to raise our ambitions and expectations for how we relate to others.

The implications of this are radical and exciting. With the right role modelling and relationship experiences as children and teens, we have the power as a society and as individuals to make transformational change to the prospects for health, happiness, and material wellbeing of all children. And an intentional focus on relationships in all areas of school life is key to communities rooted in a commitment to enabling everyone to be safe and valued, and to thrive.  

This may all sound a bit Utopian, but a growing number of educationalists and relationship specialists are getting behind The principles of excellence in relationships education and supporting schools they work with to put them into practice. There are so many opportunities to make improvement, through the behaviour policies that schools adopt, the relationships witnessed between parents and schools or between governors and senior leadership teams and their staff, as well as the relationships education taught through Personal, Social and Health Education and other areas of the curriculum.

If you interact with a school in any capacity – whether as a councillor or commissioner, sports education provider, relationship counsellor, Parent Teacher Association member or educationalist yourself – you can make a difference. Pause on your to-do list for five minutes. Take a read of The principles. Share them with the schools you work and interact with. Consider and ask them how you can support the school’s relationship practice and remind yourself and those around you that this will help these school communities and young people to thrive.

The principles of excellence in relationships education were developed based on the latest research by educationalists and 20 organisations with expertise relevant to relationships, including OnePlusOne. Download The principles and accompanying resources here.

The Thriving pupils, thriving school community resource has been developed to support school leaders apply the principles of excellence in relationships education within their school communities. It will help school leaders to recognise and deliver excellent relationships education and improve the wellbeing of the whole school community by putting healthy and reliable relationships at the heart of everything they do.