At the end of the last government there was a hurried attempt to make PSHE Education compulsory. This was despite the fact that they’d had thirteen years in government, and despite an ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda – which made it perfectly clear that children and young people need knowledge and skills in all aspects of their lives, and despite numerous reports that suggested that it was an entitlement for all to receive a broad and balanced curriculum that promoted the wellbeing of all young people.
The subject was not made compulsory and neither will it be in the foreseeable future.
As someone who was supporting schools in PSHE Education as a Senior Adviser at the time, it was very difficult to encourage this wider perspective on education when schools were so pressured to concentrate on attainment due to league tables and the prospect of their next Ofsted inspection that would be largely focusing on quantifiable evidence – about examination attainment.
Today, the statute of “promoting the wellbeing of pupils” is still in place, even though its accompanying legislation, “Every Child Matters”, is no longer mentioned in the Department of Education. So one has to ask the question, how is this promotion of wellbeing carried out, and how is it “measured” or evidenced? How do we know that we are making a difference to children’s lives in a manner that enables them to enjoy childhood and prepare them for the rigours of adult life, and for some children the rigours of childhood? How do we know that we are promoting wellbeing for all?
We have always been concerned about an over-emphasis on making PSHE education a compulsory subject – since making it a statutory “subject” could create some significant problems.
Firstly, let’s look at what happened to Citizenship when it was made statutory. The programme, in its origins, was focused on active Citizenship and lent itself to linkage with PSHE, whereby young people could develop core skills of collaboration, compassion and consideration. There was a section about both local and national democracy. Yet a decade since its implementation, there’s a decline in the number of young people voting in elections and a deep concern about what a “Big Society” actually entails. In short, it became a curriculum area of knowledge rather than a means to develop a more considerate society where empathy, caring and engagement with others is of central importance.
Secondly, PSHE as a curriculum subject could become precisely that – just another subject; another one to add to an already crowded programme of schooling, that can be constructed in the same didactic manner as other curriculum areas, following a prescribed scheme of work that has to be completed according to the structures of the text book scheme that is being followed. If this seems far-fetched, let me assure you that it isn’t. Many schools had implemented such measures to tick a box to say that they were providing students with knowledge-based personal, social and health education, with the added bonus of economic management when that was added to the list.
Many schools were more thoughtful in their approach.
The issue is that if you make it a statutory subject in its own right, the real value and purpose of such learning may be lost.
This brings us to our third comment. Personal and social development is a key component of every school. Look at any school website or “mission statement” or “values framework” and you will see it loud and clear. No school ever suggests that they are there just to raise standards and pass exams.
Therefore, personal and social development should be an integral part of all lessons. Not only that, but it should also be an integral part of everything that goes on in school. It should be the thread that holds everything together from progress in the core subjects to the way pupils, parents, carers, teachers, management, support staff and anyone else in school communicates with one another. Personal and social development should be an integral part of how children behave and socialise in playgrounds, and at lunchtimes generally. It should be an integral part of the community focus in the school. The development of the child’s personal and social intelligences should be considered when purchasing resources for the school or choosing displays, and should also be considered in what happens when children are taken out of school, or attending after-school activities. It should guide a management and teaching team as to what visits they should provide, how their policies are implemented and how they work with those who come in to visit the school.
Personal and social development is not a subject. Wellbeing is not a subject but it is vital for the development of every child that it is promoted as part of our roles and responsibilities in school.
Here’s an analogy.
There are lessons in school that are called “English” or “literacy”. In secondary schools there are “English teachers”. In primary schools there are “literacy coordinators” but in essence, we are all teachers of English. When teaching history or geography you will normally use Standard English, and any worthy teacher will also develop the child’s written and spoken English throughout a lesson.
You can’t teach without using the English language in English schools. Every day, teachers and others who work with children talk, communicate, write, and encourage regular reading – all of which are essential parts of their work, irrespective of the subject that they are teaching.
The same should be said for personal and social development. You may well have a specific subject called “PSHE education” which is timetabled, but personal and social learning should also be an integral part of every lesson and every interaction within the school. Schools do this both formally and informally, but shouldn’t we consider the idea that every lesson has personal and social learning intentions as well as the specific subject focused learning outcome?
In history lessons, children encounter a mass of information about how people lived, how they interacted, events that took place, mistakes that were made, and what we can learn from these mistakes. It isn’t possible to teach the subject without considering the personal and social intelligences of people throughout history, and from this to consider our own personal and social intelligences.
In geography, we can’t consider the lives of others without engaging with the part of our social intelligence we call empathy. We can’t consider the needs of the planet through environmental education without considering plants and animals and also what their potential destruction means to us personally.
Every classroom is a small community in which people interact. The quality of communications and interactions within a classroom will affect wellbeing as well as learning. From the nursery onwards, children learn appropriate, positive behaviour and self-control. This learning continues throughout their lives in school and must be considered and nurtured by every single teacher. Good teachers understand that it’s part of their role to promote personal and social learning and wellbeing in every class, every day.
3Di Associates advocate a multi-intelligences approach to learning through which we consider all of the intelligences in every lesson in school. A first step towards this is PSD – Personal and Social Development – within the curriculum, across the curriculum and through the curriculum.
We could call PSD “life skills”, but it encompasses attitudes and values – not just skills.
If we use this expression as a starting point then it isn’t a bad one, for our main point is that we need to look more holistically at what our teaching is actually intending to achieve.
There is a problem in this area of work. There are so many acronyms – which can confuse and divide.
PSD, PSHE, PSHEE, SEAL, SEL, SEBs, PATHs – they are all concerned with social and personal development. How many people – teachers or parents – really understand the differences between them?
Perhaps we should consider ditching the acronyms and consider what it is that we are trying to achieve without veiling it through the use of acronyms – i.e. to develop all aspects of human potential, to educate holistically, to enable and encourage learning in all aspects of life – to develop all of our intelligences.