On Friday, 26 April 2024, IAM convened an Education Round Table engagement focusing on the intersectionality of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and enabling teaching environments for learners with special needs, in the context of diverse gender and sexual identities.

IAM, through their CSE Schools Project currently being piloted in the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) Metro North District, realised that during the initial 2023 CSE Think Tank and follow-up task team discussions, there was a blind spot regarding learners with special needs; linking these learners to appropriate sexual reproductive health (SRH) services; and creating enabling environments in the school/ classroom where Life Orientation (LO) teachers can foster healthy and holistic CSE conversations.

The roundtable engagement was not only an intersectional conversation, but also an inter-sectoral platform bringing together LO teachers; school senior management teams; WCED LO officials and curriculum specialists; WCED psycho-social support staff; education specialist from academic institutions; clergy; and civil social human rights advocates.

The objective was to keep the engagement conversational to draw insights, creating a listening platform to surface areas of support for educators and specialists working with learners with special needs in the context of CSE learning and teaching. The intention was NOT to develop an implementation plan of activities for schools. 

Marlow Valentine, programmes manager for IAM and CSE project lead explains: “The objective was not to create additional resources or activities over-and-above the current LO curriculum lesson plans. The engagement was created to understand the context and challenges experienced on the ground by teachers working with learners with special educational needs with regards to the teaching and learning of CSE. We were particularly hoping to surface key learnings for IAM that would deepen the embodied wellness support and accompanying of teachers teaching CSE. 

Schools still experience push-back and resistance when raising awareness of the intersections of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex expression (SOGI-SE) and CSE; and, we haven’t even considered what this all means in the context of learners with special educational needs. Their bodies and sexual needs are made invisible or viewed through a heteronormative lens. Sadly, they remain silenced and unheard”.

Over 35 participants joined the conversation and offered insightful experiences and narratives from their own realities. The learnings surfaced will feed into the CSE Schools Support Project which concludes in 2025. The ongoing monitoring, evaluation and learning thread, together with the research component of the project will all be synthesised and captured for knowledge-sharing and best practice purposes within education.