In this blog, PSHE Association Chief Executive Jonathan Baggaley writes about government commitment to improving the status of PSHE education from 2020 and the implications for schools.
Personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education is the school subject that supports pupils to be healthy, safe and prepared for modern life. The PSHE curriculum covers a range of pressing issues facing children and young people today, including those relating to mental and physical health, relationships, staying safe online and offline, economic wellbeing and careers.
Up to now however it’s only been compulsory in independent schools, and effectively optional in maintained schools and academies. Despite this, 93% of schools offer some kind of PSHE and many of them do a great job. In such cases it’s very popular with pupils and parents.
But in too many cases PSHE curriculum time is under pressure, or it’s delivered through occasional off–timetable days or other ineffective models. Quality also varies and teachers are often not given the support they need to teach it well.
That is all set to change if new statutory PSHE requirements meet their full potential.
The government has committed to compulsory Relationships Education in all primary schools, compulsory ‘Relationships and Sex Education’ (RSE) in all secondary schools and compulsory Health Education from 2020 across all schools – a major development that should help schools prioritise PSHE curriculum time and raise standards.
As the national body for PSHE education we’ve campaigned for statutory PSHE for over 10 years. These changes should go a long way towards ensuring every child in the country benefits from high quality provision.
What about the new statutory guidance?
The new statutory health and relationships education/RSEguidance outlines what schools must cover from 2020, but not all that schools should cover to ensure their PSHE fully prepares young people for the world we live in. That said, the guidance – though not perfect – is impressively broad in scope.
Keeping children safe is presented as its primary aim and it states that all schools and colleges “should ensure children are taught about safeguarding, including how to stay safe online, as part of providing a broad and balanced curriculum”.
There’s too much detail to get into here – but regarding health, we welcome emphasis on the importance of mental health and emotional wellbeing, including when (and how) to get help. Physical health topics such as the importance of sleep, first aid, cancer education and diet are covered, and it’s great to see the links between physical and mental health outlined, including how one can affect the other.
Drugs and alcohol are included as you’d expect, though it’s important to go beyond the facts and knowledge about drug types and the law, and (as with all aspects of PSHE) to ensure young people are equipped with skills and strategies to deploy when faced with potentially risky situations.
The guidance of course explores healthy, safe relationships– and stresses that pupils should understand consent as well as the importance of staying safe from online harm (a welcome update considering existing government guidance on SRE is now 19 years old).
We welcome clearer wording on LGBT+ inclusivity in this latest version of the guidance, including where it says that schools “should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a stand–alone unit or lesson”.
At the end of the day, this guidance provides a basic framework, which many schools will already be exceeding through their PSHE provision. Schools shouldn’t ‘teach to the guidance’ but incorporate it into their broader PSHE programmes in order to do everything they can to teach children and young people to be safe, healthy and prepared for the modern world.
Do busy schools now have to add ‘new subjects’ to the curriculum? (short answer: no!)
Schools may also be confused by reference in the government guidance to ‘new subjects’ to describe something they’re teaching already! However, they should be assured that the health and RSE requirements simply outline which parts of PSHE will be compulsory for all schools.
The last thing we or the Department for Education want is for schools to unpick what they’re doing well already or create extra workload. When introducing the guidance, the DfE clearly stated that “All elements of PSHE are important and the government continues to recommend PSHE be taught in schools”. Therefore, schools should continue to teach health and relationships education through broader PSHE, which also covers elements of economic wellbeing and careers. We’ve published a guide for schools on how to incorporate the guidance into their PSHE programmes. (www.pshe–association.org.uk/mapping)
The statutory changes present a great opportunity to level–up PSHE standards across all schools. Improvements won’t happen overnight, but we look forward to supporting schools with new resources, training and support to ensure their Health Education, Relationships Education and RSE meet the new requirements in time for 2020 and – more importantly– go beyond them, to provide all pupils with the comprehensive PSHE education programme they need to thrive.
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