In this case study we examine the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit Project to increase student engagement with RSHE lessons using Life Lessons.
In 2022 the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) commissioned Life Lessons to support 17 secondary schools in South Yorkshire to deliver outstanding Relationships sex and health education (RSHE).
This partnership is part of the VRUs prevention strand, with evidence showing that high quality RSE can lead to a reduction in violence.
Measures of impact for the project included improvements to teacher confidence in delivering lessons covering topics such as consent, healthy relationships and sexual violence. An improvement among students to be able to discuss topics in the safe space of the classroom. Respect towards those with protected characteristics and a general improvement in the engagement of students with lesson material.
The project runs until Dec 2023, and this case study shares the experience of one school involved.
South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit Project seeks to increase student engagement with Relationships and Sex Education (RSHE) lessons and materials. This case study examines how the use of Life Lessons’ resources and lesson library have helped them achieve this goal.
Background: Meadowhead School Academy Trust
Home to 1912 diverse students from year 7 to year 13, Meadowhead School is based in the south of Sheffield. They deliver RSHE during a specifically timetabled lesson named Ethics, for which they have two hours of delivery time for Ethics at KS3 and one hour at KS4 and KS5. Their ethics lessons covers RSHE, citizenship, careers, religious studies and living in the wider world in a curriculum that builds on student knowledge each year.
Meadowhead School has a team of 11 dedicated staff members, each with experience in delivering PSHE previously, however, some started as non-specialists in the department. The main focus on ethics is RSHE as that was deemed as the subject that affected students the most whether this be transitioning into secondary school, mental health, drugs and safe sex. The staff at meadowhead understood that this broad curriculum, which deals with many sensitive topics, needed to be approached with sensitivity and careful consideration of the issues that young people face. They also identified a need to make the material as accessible and engaging to their students as possible.
The Aims of the Violence Reduction Unit Project
The Government recommendation that schools need to provide RSHE to students aged 16-18 seemed momentous and time consuming considering that Meadowhead School had just started the creation and delivery of content to sixth form. The staff felt pressure to create or source appropriate resources and lessons as well as search for appropriate video clips that were not only age relevant to the students but also include subject matter they would relate to.
One of the largest challenges Meadowhead School school faced when delivering RSHE lessons was students’ reluctance to verbally engage with the topics that were being taught. Often, lessons felt more like lectures and students seemed nervous in engaging in conversations with their peers. This then became a main focus on the project; to improve oracy engagement during RSHE lessons.
Using Life Lessons Resources and Lesson Library
When the project first began, Meadowhead School school was extremely excited when given access to Life Lesson’s resources and lesson library. Life Lessons have created a vast array of high quality lessons that are accessible to students and age appropriate with accompanying videos featuring peers and experts.
Meadowhead were able to seamlessly integrate Life Lessons’ videos into their existing resources which added to the quality of the lessons being delivered. The library of lessons aided in future planning, alleviating pressures on staff to put time aside to prepare RSHE lessons and helping to focus and embed lessons that staff did not know how best to tackle such as media resilience, discrimination, inclusion and extremism.
Findings of the Violence Reduction Unit Project
The ethics department at Meadowhead school collectively feel that Life Lessons is a wonderful educational tool that provides high quality resources and lessons. From the moment Life Lessons was introduced, staff were excited to have resources that were age appropriate, high quality and engaging for staff to deliver and students to access. Staff have saved hours of time that would have been spent searching for content, tasks and relatable videos.
The expert videos in the video library were a highlight for the Meadowhead School team, especially the experts who spoke on difficult topics such as drugs, first aid, female genital mutilation (FGM) and contraception. These videos have been embedded throughout the schemes of learning from Y7-13.
Head of ethics, Natalie Shea, said “there is a great balance between being informative without being scary or patronising”. As a department, Meadowhead School felt supported by the videos to deliver the attached content, especially on FGM and first aid – “even as a specialist, it gives me reassurance that I am teaching it in a safe and factual way”.
There are some Meadowhead staff members who started as non-specialists, for whom the videos and the content provided in the lesson library has given the confidence to plan lessons. Using the Life Lessons videos and lesson library, these staff members now have the confidence to create a lesson that is fit for purpose and meets the needs of the pupils within their classroom. Having the ‘teacher support’ element of the platform has also allowed for meaningful support for staff who need additional guidance during tricky conversations or after a difficult issue has arisen.
Delivering Lessons to Vulnerable Students
Meadowhead School has also been able to use the Life Lessons in their on-site engagement centre. Having lessons that are fast paced, with opportunities for discussion and supporting videos has proved very useful in supporting not only students, but staff in delivering sensitive content in a safe way to the most vulnerable pupils.
Improving Student Engagement
One of the main focus points of the project was improving student oracy and engagement with the RSHE subject matter. Through the use of Life Lessons the ethics departments have been able to support and facilitate in-depth conversations. Having Life Lessons has improved student engagement and the depth of discussion between teacher, students and between themselves as peers.
The peer led videos have helped students to feel represented and supported; by seeing peers that look like them, have had similar experiences and are open to talking about these experiences, in turn has led to a wide variety of discussions and increased engagement in our ethics classrooms. As a result, staff have been able to use the ‘peer-led’ discussions as a starting point for students to be able to open up about their own experiences and talk about their own thoughts, values and morals, supported and guided by what they had seen in the videos.
Overall, Meadowhead School has greatly benefited from implementing Life Lessons. They have seen that Life Lessons have had a significant impact on student engagement across all year groups. Life Lessons have also supported their RSHE curriculum and enabled staff to extend their own professional learning and confidence on a variety of subjects, irrespective of teaching experience.