Mandy Rogers is a former head teacher and trustee of Alternatives. Her time at Ketton C of E Primary School kindled a fiery passion for providing children with knowledge and skills to encourage self-confidence and the ability to recognise their own rights and responsibilities. I caught up with her on a wintery afternoon in Stamford just after she had spent the morning with the education team at Alternatives.
Q: So has your whole career been in teaching?
A: Yes, I started my career in special education and also worked in a variety of primary and secondary schools but the majority of my career was spent at Ketton Primary School. I loved my time there. Over the years I came to believe that it is essential to look at the whole child in terms of true educational development. Academic achievement is of course essential, but children’s social and emotional development is extremely important. It is crucial to build on each child’s sense of self worth and to promote the knowledge that everyone is unique and that we all have special talents.
Q: How did you get involved with Alternatives?
A: I was approached by Sara Mann, who is a Ketton based GP and a school governor as well as a trustee of Alternatives. I was about to retire so was happy to help in the local community. As my background is in education I have been delighted to see the excellent programmes the education team at Alternatives have developed for different age groups. I have recently been involved in creating a new programme for primary schools.
Q: Why do you think it is so important to provide Year 6 children with sex and relationships education?
A: Moving to secondary school is a huge step and children are suddenly exposed to views and behaviours of older children and teenagers. I feel that it is essential to equip children with facts about sex and relationships in order to increase confidence, help them make healthy choices and keep safe. Surprisingly, sex and relationships education in primary schools is not compulsory; although the government highly recommend that it is taught and provides some guidelines for curriculum content. At Alternatives we have recently developed a sex and relationships presentation tailored to the needs of primary pupils in Year 6. This is designed to support excellent PSHE work that primary schools are engaged in. We aim to work with schools in offering high quality sex and relationships education to help equip and prepare children for the next phase of their education and development.
Q: So how is the primary programme tailored to the age group?
A: The first session starts with the children establishing ‘golden rules’ which will always encompass things like respecting each other’s views, every question is valued, good listening. We then provide facts including changes during puberty, sexual intercourse, how babies are conceived, grow and are born. Lots of opportunities for questions are built in. We finish this session by talking about families and celebrating differences. We also have an anonymous question box. The second session deals with teaching ‘protective behaviours’; how to assess a situation and how to recognise signs of feeling uncomfortable, being confident in moving away from a situation and, if necessary, trusted people to go to if worried. We finish this session with discussing and exploring individual children’s hopes, dreams and aspirations. These sessions can be adapted and extended by request from individual schools.
Q: How do you think parents and teachers will react?
A: Based on my experience at Ketton, parents and carers are extremely supportive. These issues can sometimes be tricky for parents to broach, so a presentation in school such as this, delivered by teachers and health professionals from outside the school environment, can be helpful. We provide information for parents and carers prior to the presentations and also work closely with the school team, especially the safeguarding contact. We are currently showing the programme to health and education professionals to get their feedback. As a charity we charge a nominal sum to schools to cover our costs and are confident they will consider it great value.
Q: What about students in secondary schools? What pressures are they under?
A: There are so many more pressures for young people these days; social media is a great tool for connecting people but it means that isolation or ridicule can be public, and there is more pressure than ever for young people to conform to stereotypes. The team at Alternatives has developed presentations on topics including: cyber bullying; sexting; body image; alcohol and consent; social media safety; contraception; risky behaviour; sexual networks; sex and the media which they can adapt for different age groups. We can create bespoke programmes for schools around these topics – with small group presentations and workshops. Again there is a fee to cover costs. The feedback we have had from students and teachers at secondary schools we have worked in has been overwhelmingly positive.
Q: And what do you offer for the 16+ age group?
A: We work closely with New College Stamford and provide fortnightly ‘drop-in’ sessions with themed quizzes or activities around issues such as relationships, STIs and contraception. The team has recently researched, developed and written a presentation on Pornography – Fantasy v Reality? This was delivered to groups of students in November 2014 [over 450 students in total]. It was incredibly well received. The feedback from students showed what an impact the presentation had on their perceptions and the ‘rights and responsibilities’ session that followed had significant outcomes. Tutors also gave very positive feedback and we will be repeating the presentation in March 2015.
Q: What action do students take as a result of Alternatives education sessions?
A: At New College Stamford, the team at each drop in session can speak to up to 40 students on a variety of issues. Typically 5 to 6 students will request C-cards [free condoms] and on average 3 – 4 will request Chlamydia testing. We also get more individuals coming to see us at the Stamford site for a variety of issues, including pregnancy testing. We know from feedback and student actions that our education input is having a positive impact on knowledge of facts around healthy relationships, individual rights and responsibilities and self-esteem.
Q: And what is your role in Alternatives Education?
A: All the hard work in researching and developing the presentations and workshop content is done by Alison and Angeline. I support where I can and obviously have particular experience with the primary age group. Alison and Angeline are excellent presenters and build a great rapport with students, even when tackling tough topics. They are supported by a fabulous team of volunteers for the college presentations. It’s a privilege to work with them.
Mandy Rogers’ sheer enthusiasm for the work the Alternatives Education team is doing in Stamford and Rutland is infectious.
Update – 21 May 15: eight primary schools in the region have now signed up for the new Y5/6 programme
And if you’re a parent, teacher or governor and would like Alternatives to develop a programme for your local school then click here to contact us.