Abby Gilsenan

Beyond 'Good Catholic Girls': Exploring young women’s lived experiences of statutory RSE in English Catholic Schools.

Supervisors: Dr Sophie King-Hill and Dr Sarah Hall

Abby GilsenanThis work bridges appraisal of the implementation of new statutory RSE measures within Catholic schools with critical analysis of the construction and understanding of girlhood within broader sex education policy discourse. Sex Education policy in England has levied significant sociological criticism, particularly from feminist scholars who suggest that sex education can uphold harmful norms of gender, class and race. As such, the introduction of statutory RSE within faith schools sees the socio-economic positioning of secular RSE intersected with theological perspectives on sexuality. Sex education can offer a significant form of support as they navigate these discourses, allowing them to make safe, informed and active sexual choices. However, the impact of current and developing RSE policy content within English Catholic schools on young women's lives remains unknown. By developing a policy analysis of statutory RSE that centralises the voices of young women, this work provides a timely assessment as to the lived impact of contemporary Catholic sex education.


Abby Gilsenan is a doctoral research student at the University of Birmingham, based in the School of Social Policy. She also holds a BA in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and an MRes in Sexuality and Gender studies both from the University of Birmingham. Abby’s research explores the impact of statutory Relationships and Sex Education policy in Catholic secondary schools on young women. This builds on research conducted with sex education teachers at faith schools during her MRes. Specifically, she considered how the intersection of public policy and Catholic sexual morality shape and inform young women’s experiences and perceptions of sexuality and the self. Alongside this, she has worked as a research assistant on the Rape Crisis Sibling Sexual Abuse project and is currently employed as a research fellow investigating the impact on COVID-19 on Child Protection social work. Previously, Abby co-led a module on ‘Changing Families’ and cultural representations of youth at Newman University and has worked extensively with Library Services as a Post-Graduate tutor. Outside of academia, she has worked with domestic violence services and youth sexual health provision.


  • BA (Hons) Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (University of Birmingham)
  • MRes Sexuality and Gender (University of Birmingham)

Research Interests

  • Relationships and Sex Education
  • Girlhoods
  • Youth studies
  • Harmful Sexual Behaviours
  • Education Policy
  • Health Policy
  • Social Care

Professional Memberships

  • British Sociological Association
  • British Education Research Association

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