Last November, along with many hundreds of colleagues with an interest in the development of PSHE Education, we submitted our response to the PSHE Education Review. Eleven questions, with subsections, were answered in intricate and informed detail that represented over thirty years of experience in the field. Submissions, according to the Department for Education were “significant” in numbers. Each submission must have taken hours to write.
The outcome of this review is this.
PSHE is an important and necessary part of all pupils’ education. All schools should teach PSHE, drawing on good practice, and this expectation is outlined in the introduction to the proposed new National Curriculum.
PSHE is a non-statutory subject. To allow teachers the flexibility to deliver high quality PSHE we consider it unnecessary to provide new standardised frameworks or programmes of study. Teachers are best placed to understand the needs of their pupils and do not need additional central prescription.
However, while we believe that it is for schools to tailor their local PSHE programme to reflect the needs of their pupils, we expect schools to use their PSHE education programme to equip pupils with a sound understanding of risk and with the knowledge and skills necessary to make safe and informed decisions.
Schools should seek to use PSHE education to build, where appropriate, on the statutory content already outlined in the National Curriculum, the basic school curriculum and in statutory guidance on: drug education, financial education, sex and relationship education (SRE) and the importance of physical activity and diet for a healthy lifestyle.
There’s no mention of what MUST be taught within the PSHE Education programme. There is no programme of work for PSHE Education that is statutory. All that remains is an excellent programme of study that was introduced in 2000 but is in need of an update.
Here’s a few facts from the most recent Schools and Students Health Education Unit (SHEU) report, 2012.
- More than half of girls are unhappy with their figures despite being healthy or underweight
- 8 out of 30 Year 6 pupils eat five portions of fruit or vegetables a day
- 5 out of 30 Year 10 pupils eat five portions of fruit or vegetables a day
- 5 out of 30 of Year 10 pupils will have had alcohol in the last week
- 4 out of 15 Year 10 girls will have no breakfast prior to coming to school
- 3 out of 30 Year 10 pupils have smoked cannabis
- Only a 1/3 of Year 10 pupils know what Chlamydia is and whether or not it can be cured
- 7% of males and twice as many females have received a chat message that has scared or upset them
- 34% of pupils in one local authority have looked online for pornographic or violent images, films or games
- 49% of females in Year 10 report taking painkillers at least once in the week prior to the survey being taken
- 36% of females in Year 10 feel afraid, at least sometimes, to go to school because of bullying
- Around 44% of Year 10 pupils are “fairly sure” or “certain” they know a drug user.
- Exams worry 57% of female 14 year olds
In addition to these facts, we also know that over 16% of children in the UK are obese with a further 14% being overweight. Teenage conception rates are reducing nationally but there are still geographical pockets where it is alarmingly high. Today, there’s been an announcement that there has been a significant rise in the number of young people who have started to smoke – the first rise since the ban on smoking in confined public places. Mental health figures are alarming with the unofficial figure of 1 in 10 children having a mental health problem at any one time, and self-harm being the highest in Europe.
We’ve had disaffected young people taking to the streets less than two years ago to violently complain about the state of society for them. We’ve groups of young people, and by no means the majority, who disrespect and abuse one another through so-called “social” networks. And this is before we even begin to mention the thousands of adults who haven’t received quality PSHE education, who have no control over destructive emotions – and don’t even realise what their own destructive emotions are, who don’t recognise or act on the feelings of others as well as themselves, who are obese, depressed, lacking in self-worth, etc.
The simple and alarming truth is that we need PSHE education. We always have and we always will need PSHE Education.
These societal problems are not going to go away without some serious consideration, and realistically, neither are these problems going to go away if there’s only a prescribed curriculum subject that is taught out of a textbook of facts and knowledge. But all decent practitioners of PSHE education know that this is not the way to teach PSHE. The skills of active learning that can be developed through PSHE education are as valuable as the content itself: working in groups, listening to others, enabling people to use their personal voice – orally or in writing, developing empathy, understanding themselves. These are all skills that should be part of any area of the curriculum and should be planned and nurtured, but in so many cases, this is not happening.
A dedicated PSHE Education subject allows the issues of relationships, drugs, healthy eating, safety to be discussed in a careful and considered way whilst simultaneously developing the skills mentioned but this is not the end of PSHE education. The personal and social development of every child should be an integral part of a school’s philosophy and values. This is written in law under the duty to “promote the wellbeing of all students” but how often is this accurately and carefully monitored?
Returning to the Department for Education’s statement about PSHE education, you find another alarming piece of information.
What is the status of sex and relationship education?
“Sex and relationship education (SRE) is an important part of PSHE education and is statutory in maintained secondary schools. When any school provides SRE they must have regard to the Secretary of State’s Guidance; this is a statutory duty. Academies do not have to provide SRE but must also have regard to Secretary of State’s Guidance when they do.”
So, if your child goes to an academy, there’s no legal duty to provide Sex and Relationships education, other than a minimal content within the Science National Curriculum.
Do schools have to teach about consent as part of SRE?
Yes – all schools should address issues relating to consent as part of SRE. The guidance makes clear that pupils should learn how the law applies to sexual relationships, and how to avoid being pressurised into unwanted or unprotected sex.
So, if your child goes to an academy, there’s no legal requirement to provide Sex and Relationships education and therefore no information given to potentially vulnerable young people about the issue of consent.
How can this be anything other than a dereliction of duty regarding “promoting the wellbeing of all students”?
It’s irrational and irresponsible of a government education department to leave these loopholes unaccounted for.
This quote from the Department also mentions the Secretary of State’s SRE guidance. On reading that paragraph, you could mistakenly assume that we are talking about this Secretary of State – as though he has personally rewritten the SRE guidance in the light of other curriculum changes that his expressed personal beliefs and wishes have shaped. In point of fact, this document was written over a decade ago – a decade where children and young people have significantly increased personal access to internet sites on their smartphones. This document was written before Facebook and Twitter had emerged, where we know for a fact that many children are experiencing cyber bullying and gaining access to inappropriate images.
Our entire society continues to change, and a decade-old guidance on something as important as relationships is just NOT good enough. It’s totally irresponsible.
We are disappointed but not remotely surprised that the Secretary of State has decided not to make any aspect of PSHE compulsory. We are disappointed yet not surprised that there hasn’t been any effort afforded to update key documents such as the PSHE programmes of work and the SRE guidance in the light of our ever-changing world. We know for a fact that PSHE education teaching is patchy and frequently non-existent, and that’s simply not good enough for our children and young people.
Our young people are entitled to quality PSHE. They are entitled to developing skills, attitudes and values that will support them through childhood and into adulthood. Our society would benefit enormously from more considered, empathetic young people and adults who actually do give a damn about themselves and others. That is why guidance on this subject is important and needs updating.
We welcome the idea that schools should be free to develop their own curriculum but this area of work has been so manifestly undervalued in recent years, nay decades, that this liberal freedom to do what you like is not going to help hundred and thousands of young people who themselves continue to ask for support and guidance in the areas of life that they understand and recognise as life-giving and valuable.
(We would recommend this http://www.gulbenkian.org.uk/publications/publications/46-PASSPORT.html to help any school in developing a programme of work for PSHE. Our advice and guidance service to use this and other documents in developing a programme of work is available through our website. Please contact us. http://www.3diassociates.com/contact.htm )
- National Curriculum Consultation: Part 2 (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- The Future of Teaching: The Future of Schools – Part One (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- Heads’ Roundtable Alternative to EBC (3diassociates.wordpress.com)