How can we support teachers to effectively deliver PSHE education?

Hayley Sherwood tells us why PSHE education is important for everyone. 

One of the most pressing issues facing schools over the next 12 months is the need to finally make a decision on the future of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.

Having opted to make relationships and sex education (RSE) mandatory from September 2019, the Department for Education is currently shaping what this looks like in practice whilst also consulting with schools on moves towards compulsory PSHE.

For many in the education sector, PSHE is seen as the vehicle which will support the successful delivery of RSE and ultimately make it work for teachers and pupils. Although PSHE education is not presently statutory, Ofsted and local authority encourage schools to teach this subject. However, school leaders seem to be in favour of a more formalised approach. 

A recent National Association of Headteachers survey showed overwhelming support for statutory PSHE from 2019-20, with 90% of over 900 professionals saying that PSHE education, including RSE, should have the same status as other subjects.

Whether PSHE becomes compulsory or not, teachers must have appropriate support to be able to deliver it well.

In my experience of supporting over 150 primary schools in PSHE teaching, every child who receives age-appropriate PSHE lessons emerges as a better learner. In fact, every study published on this issue says the same thing.

But whether PSHE becomes compulsory or not – though clearly if it does this brings a requirement to address the issue – teachers must have appropriate support to be able to deliver it well.

When we think about PSHE there is a tendency to think about the most ‘visible’ example of where this can make a difference and also where there is already statutory monitoring and assessment.

That is why millions has been spent on safeguarding training which focuses on helping teachers, professional and administrative staff to recognise the warning signs of abuse and neglect. Whether this training is 100% effective is up for discussion, but the teaching of any wider ‘curriculum’ presents a new challenge.

PSHE covers a range of topics and arguably requires schools to have specialist training and/or specialist resources. Through some learning resources, schools can engage children in issues including online safety, differences within religion, same sex marriage, appropriate touch and peer pressure.

A key message for schools is that, actually, the effective delivery of PSHE education is not only about upskilling teachers. It is also about equipping children with the vocabulary, understanding and confidence to be able to explore what are often highly sensitive issues.

Why is this needed? Well, let us think about what has happened over the past year. Time and time again we have seen people coming out on abuse they have experienced as children. It is the same old media headlines.

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However, despite the publicity created the damage is done, and it is clear we need to do more to stop these things happening in the first place. Cases of abuse and neglect stem initially from children’s lack of knowledge of what is and is not acceptable. We need to empower and support children.

Only last month (December 2017), the National Crime Agency warned how live streaming is increasingly being used to groom, blackmail and abuse victims.

It is absolutely critical that teachers, parents and children themselves are aware of the potential dangers they face and we all need to be talking to our children about healthy relationships and staying safe online. Teachers need help to access effective and outcome-driven resources. This requires investment – investment from schools made possible by top-down investment and commitment from above.

Statutory PSHE is definitely coming, but my fear is that Government will call for it to be assessed to a certain standard in the same way as existing compulsory subjects such as English, Maths and Science. Yet PSHE is not easily measurable – it is about the individual.

The impact on one child is different to another. How can you compare progress for a child who displays violent behaviour to one that has no confidence? We need to assess pupils individually. One child’s progress may be considerably different in comparison to another. Teachers therefore need flexibility on assessment.

What they also need in terms of development is time for PSHE in the same way that time is given for other statutory subjects. At the moment, many schools I work with are simply struggling to find the time to ‘fit it in’ – and for the world we are living it now, and the issues we are faced with as a society, this cannot be right.


About the author

Hayley Sherwood is founder and CEO of 1decision, a PSHE programme for 5-11 year olds, and part of Headway learning resources.


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