Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Geography


The findings of Storying Sexual Relationships, a 3-year research project funded by the AHRC, have the potential to inform the delivery of a new Sex Education curriculum in secondary schools in England, in a manner that respects the religious sensitivities and rights of parents and children from faith communities.

Schools must consider the religious background of pupils when planning Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), though our preliminary research has shown that many are not sure how to do this, or how to deliver on their statutory obligation to explain to parents what they propose to teach. This establishes a need for (1) teaching resources adapted to the needs and rights of children from religious backgrounds, and also for (2) supporting schools and teachers who are attempting to engage with parents from faith communities.

The findings of the Storying Sexual Relationships project speak to each of these needs. Though concerned most directly with young British Muslims of Pakistani heritage, that project reached broader conclusions, relevant to other faith communities. We found that young people with religious backgrounds find it particualrly hard to talk about sex and love, and that this silence can be damaging. We also found that young people are breaking these silences, and doing so within the bounds of their faith, and that stories are an important vehicle for this. We propose to adapt these findings - about the possibilities of breaking silences about sex and love - to the delivery of religiously sensitive RSE.

This project revolves around two main impact and engagement activities: making and sharing RSE Teaching Resource Packs that are adapted to the needs of faith communities; and launching a Parents of Faith RSE Forum. The Teaching Resource Packs will draw upon the storying methods and a selection of stories, in print and short films, generated through the Storying Relationships project. The Parents of Faith RSE Forum will also draw upon the insights, generated through the Storying Sexual Relationships project, regarding the search for ways to broach issues that are widely regarded as private, sensitive and out of place in faith communities.

The impacts, arising from these activities, are designed to outlive the time horizons of the project. The teaching resource packs will be renewable, such that users will be able to introduce fresh and locally relevant content. Lessons learned from setting up the Forum will be distilled in the form of a Toolkit. The benefits of this impact and engagement work will be shared widely, beginning in the Sheffield region (including Doncaster) where these activities will take place, and then through wider networks. Teaching resources and the Toolkit will be shared through postal and online dissemination, through partner networks, and through CPD events, delivered face to face and online, free of charge.

This project will be conducted in partnership with two organisations: Faithstar, a Sheffield-based not-for-profit organisation that works with diverse faith communities to build 'understanding and cooperation whilst challenging prejudice and misconception'; and Sheffield E-Learning, an educational consultancy that has been commissioned to provide schools in the Sheffield region with teaching materials through which to deliver the new RSE. A postdoctoral researcher, employed by the project, will be seconded part-time to Faithstar, working as a community outreach worker, leading on the Parents of Faith RSE Forum. The project team will work with Sheffield E-Learning Team members to engage schools, pilot the resources, build the forum and run CPD events, through which initial dissemination of the resource packs will take place. The project will also be advised by a group of experts including representatives of the project partners and RSE teachers from diverse schools across the Sheffield region.


10 25 50
Title What is Relationships and Sex Education? 
Description Series of short films, produced by project team and project partners, created for the immediate benefit of teachers and schools, to enable them to better serve children of faith and diverse classrooms. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact Teachers have viewed these films, some in association with attending CPD events and downloading or receiving hard copies of other project outputs including classroom resources, reporting that this has benefited their teaching and enabled them to better serve diverse classrooms including children of faith (and thus their families and communities.) 
Description This project involved consultative research with key audiences of school students, parents of school students who identify with a faith or faith community, and teachers and schools professionals. This research was designed to explore experience of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), focussing on the new curriculum introduced in 2020,. The aim was first ot explore how members of faith communities (students and their parents) experience and regard a form of teaching and learning that is often seen as secular and/or difficult to deliver to communities of faith, and second to guide teachers and schools in making this part of the curriculum as inclusive as possible. We wanted to help schools to reassure and inform parents, such that they would be less inclined to exercise their right to withdraw under-16-year-old children from Sex Education lessons, and more positvely to secure their engagement and active support for RSE that would, by design, include and consider them.

This consultative research informed the design and delivery of CPD for teachers and schools, and also of teaching resources in the form of downloadable and hard copy texts, and short films for teachers to watch and work with. Ten CPD sessions were delivered, in a mix of online and face to face formats, for teachers at both primary and secondary level, in the Sheffield Region and nationally.

This project - in which we inform, design, pilot and share a set of teaching resources - illustrates one way in which RSE can be adapted to the postsecular classroom where faith is out in the open, but not necessarily explicitly covered in the lesson. We show that this need not mean diluting the agenda; on the contrary, considering the perspectives of faith communities can improve RSE for everyone in the classroom.
Exploitation Route The team are actively continuing to distribute the outputs in hard copy form and through the website, listed above. They are also contributing to Sheffield's Sexual Health Network and with relevant organisations and events such as SAYiT - a Sheffield-based organisation that supports young LGBT+ people - to realise the ongoing potential of the project outputs. The team are also writing an academic paper to further disseminate findings and engage key audiences, on the subject of 'Postsecular RSE', and will add details to ResearchFish when they become available.

The team are also active in exploring the relevance of this work on Relationships Education to interventions in youth loneliness. The PI has explored this connection in two invited talks, convened by the Campaign to End Loneliness, and is taking forward this work through a further research funding proposal on Inclusive Relationships Education and Loneliness. Details will be added to ResearchFish when available.
Sectors Education

Description Findings from this award have been used to develop resources for teachers and schools, to guide and inform engagement with faith communities, and to support RSE teaching in classrooms where some or more children have backgrounds in families or communities of faith. The findings, along with those of previous AHRC-funded research (preceding this follow-on-funding project) , are explicitly referenced and implicitly foundational to the resources developed and shared through this project, also to the texts and films shared online, and the CPD delivered through Learn Sheffield to teachers in the Sheffield Region and nationally in the UK, at primary and secondary level, through online and face to face CPD sessions, all of which were free to attendees and their schools.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Supporting Inclusive RSE - CPD and Learning Resources for Primary and Secondary Teachers in the Sheffield Region
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or improved professional practice
Impact Supporting teachers and schools in their delivery of RSE; supporting faith communities and specifically children from faith communities to ensure they benefit from mainstream RSE.
Description Inclusive RSE CPD for Teachers (10 sessions) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A total of 10 CPD (Continuing Professional Development) workshops were delivered to Primary and Secondary School teachers, both face to face (in Sheffield) and online (to national UK audiences). Workshops were recruited and delivered in partnership with Learn Sheffield. The focus was on adapting RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) to maximise inclusion of faith communities.

Note that the project listed below, though these were also listed on the Learn Sheffield website, though the latter changes and is updated constantly so would not be appropriate to add here.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022,2023