Supporting Young People's Sexual Wellbeing
Submitting InstitutionSheffield Hallam University
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Education: Specialist Studies In Education
Studies In Human Society: Sociology
Summary of the impact
Policy-makers, professional and public audiences interested in young
people's learning about sex and sexuality often approach discussions with
strongly-held, sometimes conflicting views. Research at Sheffield Hallam
University has contributed knowledge and understanding to discussions in
national policy and practice development, and public debate,
with impacts on education, service provision and support for young people.
Findings have been used in Parliamentary debates, by national
organisations lobbying for continued or improved provision in personal,
social, health and economic education (PSHE), and in discussions about
bullying in both lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT)-specific, and
also in mainstream, community contexts. This has led to increased
understanding about homophobia and LGBT wellbeing.
Research grants completed from 2008-2012 have generated evidence about
the content of the school wellbeing curriculum and service delivery, and
specifically LGBT wellbeing. DfE-funded research into PSHE (G2), and local
authority-funded research on sex and relationships education (SRE) (G3),
has evidenced the uneven nature of classroom-based provision supporting
young people's wellbeing (R2, R3, R5). It has demonstrated how the
prioritisation of `core' subjects in the curriculum is at odds with
professional understanding that young people's wellbeing directly links to
their attainment (R2). Curriculum demands have increased pressures to
justify and evidence the benefits of such provision to young people (R2).
The research has demonstrated the need for managerial and development
support to enable professionals address enduring taboos and fears about
supporting young people's sexualities (R1, R2, R5). This applies to
educators and to sexual health service providers in schools. The research
undertaken as part of G1, the first national study of its kind to examine
school-based sexual health services, highlighted a tension between
teaching and health-based approaches to supporting young people. For
instance, members of senior school staff were often unsupportive of
visible evidence of active youth sexualities, but in favour of
other/generic health provision on school premises (R1). For any
wellbeing-related provision to be effective, young people often report the
necessity of confidentiality and non-judgemental support (R1, R3, R6).
Research demonstrates that the common focus on a sex-negative,
risk-reduction agenda in school-based SRE inadequately engages with young
people who express interest in learning about sexual pleasure (R5).
Research focussing on LGBT wellbeing has provided insights into the
prevalence and impact of heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia in
aspects of the lives of LGBT people (G6, G7). G6 was the first study to
examine homophobia and transphobia in youth work settings as well as
schools, and to identify barriers to professionals addressing these issues
in their practice. Findings demonstrate LGBT invisibility in formal
teaching curricula, and differing professional perspectives on how to
address these issues (R6). Evidence also shows that current anti-bullying
discourses divert attention away from some teachers' and family members'
prejudicial attitudes towards LGBT identities and/or relationships, and
focus on the individual rather than the societal level (R6). G7 was the
first study to explore experiences of LGBT communities, and their role in
LGBT life and wellbeing. It identified the importance of safe space,
connections with other LGBT people, and peer support, to aid identity
validation and the avoidance of self-censorship in public spaces. Research
findings showed that LGBT health inequalities are linked to problems about
health service access, as fears about prejudice from professionals are
significant barriers to treatment or care for some people (R3, R4).
Findings also identified a link between ineffective risk assessment
practices within same-sex sexual decision-making and a lack of accessible
health promotion suitable for people in same-sex relationships/sexual
encounters (R3, R4).
All research was conducted by current SHU employees: Lucy Clague (nee
Shipton), Research Fellow from January 2007 to current; Mike Coldwell,
Head of the Centre for Education and Inclusion Research since October
2006, prior to this held posts as research fellow and senior research
fellow since starting at SHU in September 1998; Sean Demack, Senior
Lecturer from January 2000; Eleanor Formby, Research Fellow,
January2007-2012/Senior Research Fellow 2012 to current; Julia Hirst,
Senior Lecturer 2008-2012/Reader since April 2012, prior to this held
posts as senior lecturer and Public Health Hub leader since starting at
SHU in September 1989.;; Bernadette Stiell, Senior Research Fellow from
August 2006, prior to this held the post of research fellow since starting
SHU in January 2005. Academic staff were supported in this work by three
research assistants employed by SHU.. G1 involved colleagues from the
University of Sheffield (UoS).
References to the research
International peer-reviewed outputs listed here testify to the quality of
the underpinning research.
R1: Formby, E., Hirst, J., Owen, J., et al (2010) `"Selling it as a
holistic health provision and not just about condoms..." Sexual health
services in school settings: Current models and their relationship with
SRE policy and provision', Sex Education 10(4):423-435 DOI:
10.1080/14681811.2010.515099 [Draws on G1].
R2: Formby, E. (2011) `"It's better to learn about your health and things
that are going to happen to you than learning things that you just do at
school": Findings from a mapping study of PSHE education in primary
schools in England', Pastoral Care in Education 29(3):161-173 DOI:
10.1080/02643944.2011.599857 [Draws on G2].*
R3: Formby, E. (2011) `Sex and relationships education, sexual health,
and lesbian, gay and bisexual sexual cultures: Views from young people', Sex
Education 11(3):255-266 DOI: 10.1080/14681811.2011.590078 [Draws on
G3, G4, G5].*
R4: Formby, E. (2011) `Lesbian and bisexual women's human rights, sexual
rights and sexual citizenship: Negotiating sexual health in England', Culture,
Health and Sexuality 13(10):1165-1179 DOI:
10.1080/13691058.2011.610902 [Draws on G5].
R5: Hirst, J. (2012) `"It's got to be about enjoying yourself": Young
people, sexual pleasure and sex and relationships education', Sex
Education 13(4):423-436 DOI:10.1080/14681811.2012.747433 [Draws on
R6: Formby, E. (2013) `Understanding and responding to homophobia and
bullying: Contrasting staff and young people's views within community
settings in England', Sexuality Research and Social Policy
10(4):302-316 DOI: 10.1007/s13178-013-0135-4 [Draws on G6].
* = in the journal's "most read articles" since publication.
G1: School-linked sexual health services for young people mapping and
effectiveness study 2007-10, National Institute for Health Research,
£187k. Report released 2010: www.hta.ac.uk/project/1662.asp.
PI: Jenny Owen (UoS); under the leadership of Hirst, SHU staff led on data
collection and analysis (as described in the report).
G2: National PSHE mapping and effectiveness study 2009-11, DfE, £193k.
Report released 2011: www.gov.uk/government/publications/personal-social-health-and-economic-pshe-education-a-mapping-study-of-the-prevalent-models-of-delivery-and-their-effectiveness.
PI: Mike Coldwell.
G3: SRE audit and strategy development 2009-10, Leicester City Council,
£20k. PI: Julia Hirst.
G4: Gay and bisexual men's sexual health needs and experiences research
2007-09, NHS Sheffield, £18.5k. PI: Julia Hirst.
G5: Lesbian and bisexual women's sexual health needs and experiences
research 2006-09, NHS Sheffield, £8k. PI: Julia Hirst.
G6: Homophobia and transphobia in schools and youth work settings in
South Yorkshire 2011, Higher Education Innovation Funding, £9k. PI:
G7: LGBT understandings and experiences of `community', implications for
wellbeing 2011-12, Arts and Humanities Research Council, £29k. PI: Eleanor
Details of the impact
Research evidence has had national reach, informing policy and
practice development on PSHE and school-based health services -
significant priority areas within New Labour's `Every Child Matters'
agenda. The largest ever study of PSHE in England to date (G2) was funded
to inform government policy and has guided work in this area (described by
a DfE representative in April 2013 as "a key source of evidence", S1). The
research was cited in a Parliamentary debate by Schools Minister Nick Gibb
in March 2011 (see Hansard, S2) and has shaped a member of the House of
Lords' proposed Children and Families Bill amendment (via telephone
discussions with research staff, July-Sept. 2013). National organisations
lobbying for continued or improved PSHE provision and resources have drawn
on evidence about the variability and perceived importance of provision in
their responses to the government review (Nov. 2011), citing findings
about uneven/unsupported provision to argue for the statutory inclusion of
PSHE in the curriculum (see S3 examples). This research has also informed
briefings for Parliament on the Education Bill (June 2011), particularly
about the need for well-qualified staff (S4). Evidence about the need for
training for PSHE teachers, and to support good practice in schools, has
been utilised in CPD by the PSHE Association (June 2011, S5), and the
National PSE Association for Advisors, Inspectors and Consultants (email
correspondence, 17.4.2013, S6). Practitioners and advocates in local
authorities and charities have used evidence from G1 and G2 to establish,
defend or extend their PSHE and/or health service provision (email
correspondence, April 2013, S6). SRE research for Leicester City Council
(G3) which highlighted weaknesses in provision led to them recruiting a
Strategic Lead for SRE to support city developments; since then they have
recorded a reduced teenage pregnancy rate (Teenage Pregnancy Coordinator,
11.7.12). This work, and linked presentations by Hirst, has informed
national SRE resources on masturbation and sexual pleasure produced by the
Centre for HIV and Sexual Health amid much national and international
media interest (July 2009, see S7).
Nationally, findings about the nature and impact of homophobic and
transphobic bullying (R6/G6) have been utilised by practitioners to raise
awareness and to evidence the need to improve or target support: for
example, a specialist article commissioned by the British Association for
Counselling and Psychotherapy (in Children and Young People, March
2013) drew on research findings to suggest that individual counselling may
not be the most appropriate/appreciated form of support for LGBT young
people, arguing that broader inclusive education practices would be more
beneficial. This research has also been reproduced in teaching materials
used to raise class-based awareness (`Issues today' and `Issues: LGBT
equality' school resources: Independence Educational Publishers, 2012).
Findings from G6 have informed the development of new cyber-homophobia
resources following Formby's participation in an `experts seminar' at DfE
(Nov. 2012) where she presented critiques of bullying discourses and
associated counselling support to policy makers and practitioners. Because
this area of work frequently has to be defended or justified, this
research has had national reach and has been used by a range of public and
voluntary sector organisations since Nov. 2011 to support their work
and/or raise awareness: for instance, local authority staff have
distributed and discussed G6 findings with managers and colleagues to
underline the need to address homophobia and transphobia in schools (email
correspondence, April 2013, S8). G7 has also been cited by LGBT community
organisations in their delivery and planning, for instance in applying to
fund a `safe LGBT space' through community cafe provision (LGBT Youth
North West, March 2013) and feeding into workshops to identify community
needs at the launch of a community-led initiative, LGBT Sheffield (July
2013). In addition it has informed local authority LGBT hate crime
reporting and community safety planning (email correspondence, April 2013,
The research has also contributed to public interest and debate,
with national and international reach. Findings have contributed to media
and public debate about homophobia and transphobia in school, via
interviews and discussions (Nov. 2011) on BBC Radio Manchester (LGBT
Citizen show) and BBC Radio Sheffield (Drive Time programme) which have
highlighted issues beyond peer bullying in identifying the prejudicial
practices of some schools and/or teachers. An article in Pink News
(Europe's largest online gay news service) in November 2011 reporting
these findings was the `most read' and `most discussed' item on the site,
with 109 reader comments and 624 Facebook `likes' (see S9). This debate
also featured in practice-orientated publication (Children and Young
People Now, November 2011), and in international media coverage
(e.g. Huffington Post in the USA; Narobe in
Slovenia; XQ28 in Denmark, all Nov. 2011). It resulted in a
subsequent letters debate about LGBT (in)equality in the Sheffield
Evidence from G7 has improved knowledge about the meaning and experiences
of UK LGBT communities, and implications for LGBT wellbeing. There has
been supportive and enthusiastic feedback about the project report and
public engagement event from LGBT community members (see S10, 2012-2013),
as well as media interest (Nov. 2012) in the gay press (Sosogay),
international press (Rainbow Sudan), and regional media (Yorkshire
Times). The final project event (which was highly over-subscribed,
Nov. 2012) was designed to stimulate discussion about the meaning and
desirability of constructions of `LGBT communities'. It led to very
positive feedback from attendees (a mix of 80 project participants,
practitioners, academics, and the general public), with comments including
"inspiring" and "brilliantly informative". Practitioners emphasised how it
would inform their practice: "I found the conference very interesting and
it gave me some idea's to discuss with [an LGBT forum]"; "It certainly
gave me some food for thought regarding trans provision for young people".
The long-term impact of improved professional awareness and practice is
therefore on enhanced support for young people, though individual young
people have also benefited directly from involvement in the research
through being enabled to share their collective experiences.
Sources to corroborate the impact
S1: Email correspondence with former Research Manager at DfE
S2: Parliamentary debate:
S3: National charity Mentor's response to the government PSHE review
(November 2011): http://www.mentoruk.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/PSHE-review.pdf.
National Children's Bureau response to the PSHE review (November
S4: National Children's Bureau briefing for the House of Lords:
ng.pdf (June 2011).
S5: PSHE Association report of annual conference:
S6: Email correspondence with Director of Programmes, Mentor
(11.4.2013), local authority Healthy Schools Consultant
(11.4.2013), and Independent Educational Consultant (17.4.2013);
S7: Whoopi Goldberg and colleagues discussing resources:
S8: Email correspondence with local authority Healthy Schools
Consultant (11.4.2013), and local authority Equalities Officer
S9: Media discussion: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2011/11/17/south-yorkshire-study-gay-students-told-to-change-for-pe-separately/(17.11.2011).
S10: Email correspondence with LGBT report reader (2.1.2013), local
authority Cohesion, Migration and Safety Officer (12.4.2013), and
Blog entry by LGBT conference attendee: