A Reasoned Debate: Why PSHE Education MUST be Statutory

PSHE and “Relationships and Sex Education” are continuously in the news.

PSHE [1]

Take a look at the Guardian website today (24th March 2015) and there are no less than 5 articles which are specifically concerned with the wellbeing and personal/social development of young people.

Former Secretary of State calls for statutory PSHE.

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/mar/24/personal-social-health-education-compulsory-schools-estelle-morris

Sexual health expert calls for the National PSHE CPD programme to be reinstated.

http://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2015/mar/24/sex-education-uk-teenagers-pregnancy-sexually-transmitted-infections

Rachel Williams reports on a disturbingly accurate view of SRE and the needs of all children as well as the alarming fact that young people with learning difficulties are often excluded from PSHE lessons.

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/mar/23/learning-difficulties-sex-education-abused

Appalling real term cuts in Mental Health funding for young people.

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/mar/20/youth-mental-health-is-the-government-doing-enough

Tristram Hunt addresses the ASCL Conference with a clear message that the aims and purposes of education need to be re-evaluated.

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/mar/20/labour-calls-time-on-exam-factory-approach-to-schooling

(If anyone thinks that the Labour Party calling for the end of exam factory approaches to schooling isn’t about wellbeing, then find a GCSE or A-Level student during the Easter holidays and ask them about their levels of stress.)

It isn’t only 3Di that’s hugely concerned about this.

Even Nicky Morgan, as we’ve recently reported, says schools should teach PSHE education.

https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/nicky-morgan-and-a-curriculum-for-life/

I’m writing this post whilst listening to BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour – and once again the guests on the programme are calling for statutory PSHE – because our young people need information, guidance and support to protect themselves from peer pressure and sexual abuse whilst simultaneously developing their self-worth.

Earlier this morning there was an excellent edition of Radio Four’s “The Life Scientific” in which cognitive neuroscientist Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore talked about the adolescent brain and the priorities of teenagers and young people – again, clearly giving a balanced reason for teaching and learning in PSHE.

https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/neuroscience-and-the-importance-of-pshe/

SJB

As we wrote in this previous 3D Eye post,

“The brain is still developing during adolescence and that this is probably a time when young people are most receptive to learning about social emotions – as their brains develop.

Therefore, isn’t this the time when we should be working with teenagers to make sense of themselves and others, where their synapses and connections are also developing – making room in the brain for youngsters to become socially and emotionally capable people?”

In today’s Guardian, Estelle Morris wrote,

“The government’s interest in PSHE arises from the national focus on the terrible cases of child exploitation, adolescent mental ill-health and online sexual imagery. Something needs to be done about it, and schools should take on some of the responsibility.

The search for answers to other social ills – obesity, drugs and alcohol, teenage pregnancies and youth crime – has in the past been laid at the classroom door. The faith in education’s power to change social mores and entrenched behaviour is not misplaced.”

This is an important reason for teaching PSHE but it shouldn’t be the primary reason.

The essential purpose for teaching and learning in PSHE is more positive than this.

It is, as the Education Select Committee said in its recent report, about “Life Lessons”. It’s about helping young people to develop the skills, attitudes, knowledge and values that they need, and have a right to, in order to live well – as a child, as a teenager, as a young person and ultimately as an adult who continues to live and learn well.

PSHE shouldn’t only be considered when life or society isn’t going so well. We don’t teach English because there’s a sudden influx of non-English speakers. We don’t teach Maths because we suddenly find our youngsters can’t add up. We therefore mustn’t teach PSHE purely as a reaction to negative and abusive situations in which children and young people find themselves. It’s far more integral to life than that – as integral as being literate and numerate and ICT savvy. Surely by now we all accept that ’emotional literacy’ and ‘life skills’ are essential to young and old alike?

Estelle Morris offers a strong case for making PSHE a “must” – a statutory subject. She also, quite rightly, points out that “Schools don’t only teach students through what goes on in the classroom”, which is why the personal and social development of children can’t be corralled one area of the curriculum, should it ever gain its much-desired statutory status.

This is a whole school issue.

Estelle Morris rightly points to the ludicrous situation of training too. As she says, “the government allocates no initial teacher training places to PSHE – although more than 33,000 teachers find themselves teaching it.”

Would we really tolerate 33,000 teachers teaching maths or English without adequate training?

SOS PSHE

Whilst Baroness Morris seemingly supports making PSHE a statutory subject, she – like all of her successors and predecessors – falls short of actually making the statement bold and clear. Throughout the article she doesn’t actually say, “I believe that PSHE education should be statutory”.

This may sound pedantic considering the supportive tone of the article, but it’s a very important issue.

She says the Conservatives blocked proposals to make PSHE Education statutory in the the run-up to the General Election of 2010. She rightly criticises Nicky Morgan’s rejection of the highly commendable recommendations for statutory status from the cross-party Education Steering Group. However, we wouldn’t be in this situation had New Labour listened carefully to advice from many seasoned professionals on this matter whilst they were in office.

They had the opportunity to make PHSE statutory and they refused to do so.

She said, “Over the past five years the government has skewed the timetable towards what it calls a “knowledge-based” curriculum – hard facts that can be learned, tested and measured. This is what now defines a school’s success and status – the consequences of failing against these criteria are well understood.”

The Conservatives built on the foundations laid by the previous government.

What this actually demonstrates, yet again, is that education policy should be deliberated upon and brought forward by professional educators, before being either endorsed or sent back for further consideration by politicians acting as elected representatives of the people, and as lawmakers. Policy should never be made according to the whims and fancies of individual Secretaries of State, heedless of the views of the profession as a whole.

The way in which policy is made currently is simply not good enough, which ironically is very similar to the title of the Ofsted Report into the teaching of PSHE: “Not Yet Good Enough”.

It’s beyond reason to exclude PSHE education from the compulsory subjects taught in our schools. The balance of reason has been wrong for years – and prior to 2010 too.

We need to consider teaching and learning in PSHE in far more positive terms than the reactive cries of concern and panic when confronted with unfortunate and frequently preventable horrors that have occurred over decades where our young people have been left without the know-how, the skills. the power or the resilience to protect themselves.

Change is needed now.

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About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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