The Real Obstacles to Statutory Status for PSHE Education

The Guardian has been running a series of education Q & As for each of the political parties.

This week it was the turn of Nicky Morgan to respond to some key questions from readers.

Nicky Morgan [1]

Here is the Q & A in full.

We’re particularly interested in her response to the question about PSHE education.

[Question] Children are being exploited and groomed, cybersex and sexting are on the rise, children’s mental health is suffering and our teen pregnancies are the worst in Europe. Why does the government still refuse to make PSHE statutory and train new teachers to support our children’s welfare?

Melonie Syrett, chartered PSHE teacher, London

[Nicky Morgan’s Response] I think good PSHE teaching is essential. I simply don’t think making PSHE statutory and forcing schools to teach it in a set way prescribed by me in Whitehall is the answer. Schools and teachers should design and implement their own programmes that are right for them and their pupils and flexible enough to adapt to the changing social factors of their communities too.

I prefer to help teachers deliver these lessons in the way they choose, which is why my department has agreed to work with the PSHE Association to ensure high-quality resources are available and to publish guidance that will help teachers do an effective job.

There are some ideas worthy of comment within this response. We’d go as far as saying that she has a point.

Nicky Morgan is correct to think that forcing schools and teachers to teach PSHE in a way prescribed by Whitehall is not the answer. Politicians aren’t teachers and should be reliant on a variety of ‘experts’ in each area to set a framework for learning. Schools and teachers should be free to “design and implement their own programmes that are right for them and their pupils” – in any subject.

They should also be free to “adapt to the changing social factors of their communities too”. This is why, when advising schools on the development of a scheme of work for PSHE, we work with the individual school rather than provide them will a standard template. This is because each school is unique, with specific personal and social development issues that are pertinent to them, which may not be the same as a school half a mile down the road.

We too “prefer to help teachers deliver these lessons in the way they choose” and we welcome the government’s commitment to working with the PSHE Association to develop high-quality resources.


We’ve seen what can happen when a subject is made statutory, especially when there’s been insufficient training prior to teaching a “new” subject to students. This is precisely what happened in many cases with “Citizenship” where various companies made a healthy profit from designing text books to teach a subject that was supposed to be all about active learning.

However, there’s a fundamental flaw in her thinking about statutory PSHE which we need to consider.

It doesn’t go far enough.

Statutory status and a prescription of what is to be taught don’t go hand in hand. You can give a subject statutory status without telling teachers precisely what to teach.

This is why we continue to campaign for statutory status for PSHE.

All any government needs to say is that children and young people are entitled to quality PSHE, and that every school is accountable to ensure this happens.

The current statement for PSHE in the National Curriculum front page says,

“All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice. Schools are also free to include other subjects or topics of their choice in planning and designing their own programme of education.”

All this government had to do was change one word within their National Curriculum to make this entitlement to learning statutory – changing the “should” to a “must.”


Yet a simple change of words isn’t really sufficient, because if you make a subject statutory, you have to ensure that teachers are proficient and able to teach the subject properly. This means that teachers would have to be trained and/or retrained to teach PSHE – and that costs money.


If you make a subject statutory, under the current system of accountability, you have to make it part of the inspection process, which means some pretty intensive training for Ofsted Inspectors – and that costs money too.

And this is the real crux of the matter and the problem that this and previous governments have had with PSHE education. It doesn’t “fit in” with their quantifiable accountability regime.

Ofsted logoYou can’t test children on their attitudes or values. You shouldn’t test children on their attitudes and values. They’re personal. There’s frequently no right or wrong answer.

Without a “test”, according to this and previous governments, you can’t ascertain whether a subject has been taught properly.

This, of course, is wrong. You can ascertain and “measure” whether PSHE has been taught well and learned well – it’s just that the measures are different and require time, training, energy and a new way of thinking.

Accountability in PSHE is more formative, more reliant on pupil feedback and evaluation, more long-term than immediate. None of this bears any relation to our current accountability system.

Here’s another issue. Due to the pressures of accountability on schools, if a subject isn’t statutory, if it’s only a “should” or an “ought to” teach, then it can be forgotten or conveniently side-lined to make room for the subjects that are accountable – the ones that contribute to a school’s league table position. This is precisely what happens to PSHE education.

Every Child Matters

Every Child Matters

The previous government would argue that accountability measures were put in place when Ofsted had to “account” for the Every Child Matters agenda in inspection reports, but it was the most classic example of lip service ever seen. It was a tick box exercise. It was trivialised and wasn’t integral to a school being judged as outstanding.

One could also argue that the “duty to promote wellbeing” in the 2006 Education Act or the Ofsted judgement on the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) development of the child gave PSHE a statutory status through the back door . Ultimately, neither of these has ever been truly accountable because, by Ofsted inspectors’ own admissions, that wasn’t ever their main or even subsidiary focus.

Neither did all inspectors have the skills or the knowledge to understand what they were looking for in their SMSC judgement or to review the promotion of wellbeing, which is why a school could receive an “outstanding” judgement for SMSC and wellbeing by having an excellent extra-curriculum activity offer but without having coherent and cohesive PSHE education.


3D Eye wants statutory status for PSHE but we don’t want prescription. We’d like to see a framework for learning for PSHE. We want every teacher who teaches PSHE to have adequate training. We want every undergraduate and graduate in training for teaching to have PSHE as an integral part of their initial teacher training. Being a teacher DOES NOT make you a teacher of PSHE. It’s too important a subject to be taught by untrained people.

We want schools to be truly accountable for the teaching of PSHE – and that requires a shift of thought in the best way to account for learning in this area.

Furthermore, we want to make it clear that statutory PSHE lessons are only one aspect of personal and social development (PSD), and more work needs to be done to ensure that the entitlement to learning for every child includes an absolute commitment to the development of the whole child and all of their intelligences, thereby ensuring that PSD is an integral part of every lesson taught. Social skills and emotional literacy are learned through what takes place in every hour of every day, not simply through the teaching that goes on in set PSHE lessons.

Nicky Morgan has shown her commitment to PSHE in recent interviews and speeches. This, we commend.

We now need a real commitment to change from her, or maybe it’s now over to Tristram Hunt.


See also:

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 or see our website at
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