A year on from the Parliamentary Education Select Committee’s recommendation to make PSHE and SRE statutory, Nicky Morgan has turned down its sensible, thoughtful,, evidence-based request.
Her timing is perfect – this being Children’s Mental Health week. This is beyond belief.
Her excuse, for what it’s worth, is that she wants schools to concentrate on “improving the quality of PSHE teaching in our schools”. [Yet again she doesn’t mention the quality of learning, or its impact on individuals and schools.]
Point 1: The quality of teaching and learning in PSHE won’t improve unless it is made statutory. Surely this is obvious? Even in the new Ofsted framework, where “personal development, behaviour and welfare” is now a judgement criterion, PSHE is barely mentioned. If our already over-stressed, over-monitored teachers and managers are not required to provide quality personal and social development it will obviously slip down the priority list. The “teaching” won’t improve. The learning will be negligible.
Point 2: If Ms Morgan is committed to improving the “teaching” of PSHE and SRE, why didn’t she reintroduce the CPD programme for PSHE as recommended by the Education Select Committee, or consider re-introducing the Healthy Schools programme that did so much to raise the profile of PSHE?
Point 3: It’s a false economy not to invest in PSHE. Every week, there’s a report about the poor mental health of our children and young people, or another sexual abuse scandal whereby young people didn’t have the ability or even the knowledge to recognise or do anything about the abuse they were enduring. Consider also obese children who are over-eating and under-exercising. Is this not a priority?
Point 4: With regard to her obsession with standardised testing, Ms Morgan and her government should take a look at the evidence that’s available on the link between outstanding PSHE and attainment. Children and young people learn better when they’re safe, calm, and given time to reflect and think for themselves, etc. It’s not rocket science. It’s common sense.
Point 5: Ms Morgan and our government continuously talk about “character education” or “British values” without considering the approaches required for a coordinated approach to such learning. PSHE would help. It’s not the entire answer, but it’s a part of it.
Point 6: Ms Morgan doesn’t seem to understand that making PSHE a statutory subject is only an initial step forward on a long journey to reposition personal development and wellbeing at the heart of education in this country. Take a look at what a predecessor said in 1944 about the purpose of education:
“It shall be the duty of the local education authority for every area, so far as their powers extend, to contribute towards the spiritual, moral, mental, and physical development of the community by securing that efficient education throughout those stages shall be available to meet the needs of the population of their area.”
An absence or a paucity of PSHE does NOT meet the needs of the population. Its omission from the curriculum does NOT support the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of every child in every school.
There are many schools that provide outstanding PSHE, and they should be congratulated for doing so, but there are not enough of them. In the years since Ofsted’s report on PSHE education, “Not Yet Good Enough” we doubt there’s been a positive shift. There’s been no legislation to convince or cajole people to change their practice. There’s been plenty of legislation to create an opposite effect and cause schools not to concentrate on PSHE.
The simple reality is that PSHE is not deemed as important as other areas of learning because it isn’t readily testable. A judgement on PSHE depends on the experience, skills and ability of the “inspector” – more so than for other subjects. It doesn’t have a clear set of tick-sheet objectives – and nor will it ever have a clear and agreed set of objectives if governments don’t put something in place to ensure this work is actually done.
We should make one thing clear. We don’t think that a lesson per week in PSHE is a panacea.
It won’t be.
Making PSHE statutory is one small step towards giving this area of work its proper place in schooling and education. A reinvention of our system is needed to create a 21st century education fit for purpose for 21st century children. We also need an appropriate pedagogy.
We welcome Ms Morgan’s commitment to work with “leading headteachers and practitioners, who are best placed to know what needs to be done within schools to transform and improve PSHE”.
[Interesting that she uses words such as “transform”. She doesn’t see that making PSHE statutory is a necessary step towards real transformation]
We only hope that the headteachers that she involves in the development of a “comprehensive PSHE toolkit” are people who have a strong record on teaching and learning in PSHE, and understand the philosophy as well as the subject. We also hope that PSHE practitioners will be chosen on their merit and their ability to make a difference, not the ones with the loudest voices, or those who produce the most impressive academic results.
The PSHE community are probably feeling downhearted today. Now is the time to unite, to remain focused and hopeful – for the sake of EVERY child.
As Nicky Morgan says,
“I want PSHE to be at the heart of a whole-school ethos that is about developing the character of young people. I want it to be tailored to the individual needs of the school and for programmes to be based on the best available evidence of what works. I want senior leaders to ensure that it has the time in the curriculum and the status that it deserves within school and I want it to be taught by well-trained and well-supported staff.”
In order to tailor PSHE to the “individual needs of the school [and the child]” we may well need PSHE to become a statutory subject – to ensure that sufficient effort is made to achieve this important goal.