Exploring habitus and agency to inform training pathways for enhancing both delivery and quality of inclusive Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in an English Christian independent boarding school.

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    As Deputy Head in an independent boarding school, it is my job to make sure that the 2020 Relationships and Sex Education Reform (RSE) is not just a compliance activity, but a key aspect of pupils’ experience. At Lady Agatha’s Boarding School (LABS), none of the teachers delivering the 2020 framework are RSE specialists: colleagues at LABS are thus being asked to deliver material that is unfamiliar to them. It is perhaps unsurprising, that also because of this, teachers find themselves in a space of political, moral and personal discomfort. To them, this is a form of symbolic violence.
    This thesis sets out to better understand that discomfort, while also initiating a conversation between those implementing the reform, and those at the receiving end, the pupils. Relying on a case study approach this research shows that within an elite secondary school discomfort in delivering RSE can be found on several levels but is most keenly found in the intersection of the personal and professional aspects of the individual. This research suggests that a change in the approach of schools to RSE CPD moves away from pedagogies of exposure towards cultures of conversation, while simultaneously augmenting Initial Teacher Training programmes to ensure quality training for RSE is present for all colleagues new to the profession. This thesis goes further to suggest that Teacher Standard Three includes RSE as a core competency of the profession in line with literacy and numeracy.
    The implementation of state mandated educational reforms within independent boarding schools in England is remarkably under researched, so there are limited examples for LABS to use in implementing the reform. This thesis addresses that gap by using a Bourdieusian framework alongside the perspective of an insider researcher, to understand the social mechanisms involved in the implementation of the 2020 RSE framework. Relying on a case study approach, this research recognises the voices of LABS students as they demand teachers to be impassioned, skilful, knowledgeable, and aware of how complex their relationships, sex-lives, and gendered positionings are. This understanding of students needs is articulated within an exploration of the discomfort felt by LABS staff when delivering RSE, and confronted with personally and professionally embarrassing subject matter. I further my analysis by engaging with staff discomfort: LABS staff are unprepared to effectively and sensitively deliver complex and personal issues surrounding sex, pornography, sexuality, gender, diversity, and inclusivity. Moreover, discomfort relating to the spectre of child abuse, a culture of surveillance, the corruption of the innocent, and the fear of parents imagined, impact on colleagues as they respond to the RSE needs of LABS students. My argument is, ultimately, that such positioning, and the employment of mediated agency to reduce discomfort, has created a state of student sexual repression and hypersexual regulation within LABS. This has assisted in developing a hidden curriculum (Kehily 2002) of heteronormativity and female-held sexual virtue. Using the understanding of students needs and staff discomfort, I explore the use of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to reduce discomfort and improve delivery of RSE in LABS. The research identifies personal and professional resistance to RSE CPD, and finds that LABS should move away from pedagogies of exposure towards cultures of conversation. This thesis concludes by recommending specific changes to CPD policies and practices at LABS in the short to medium term. In the long term, this work identifies a need to expand current programmes for Initial Teacher Training in the UK to include a clear focus on RSE, and to offer specialised training to existing teachers.
    Date of Award29 Nov 2022
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Portsmouth
    SupervisorAlessia Tranchese (Supervisor) & Francesca Salvi (Supervisor)

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