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Schools have a duty to provide Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE), but this has historically been a “hit and miss” affair with students (and Ofsted) consistently reporting that in some secondary schools’ PSHE was “not good enough” (Ofsted, 2009). This has led to each of the 4 UK home nations making the subject compulsory; the latest being England where mandatory Relationships, Sex and Health Education was introduced from September 2020.
So why has it been like this for PSHE? Well firstly, this isn’t about apportioning the blame to schools. PSHE isn’t a subject like Maths, Geography or Science. It’s a subject full of nuances and social commentary as society changes and adapts, and it goes out of date very quickly. It’s full of ‘tricky’ topics which for the average teacher leaves them wondering how they would even begin to talk to students about such matters. Timetables are over-burdened, as are the teachers, so it’s easy to imagine why PSHE has been left untouched in some schools for years, leading to poor student experience.
Being ex-teachers ourselves, and PSHE Advisors in local authority roles, we’ve also seen the fear in colleagues’ eyes when we’ve asked them to teach a sensitive topic, such as sexual abuse to KS4 pupils. This additional barrier is very real as most teachers have had minimal or no training in how to teach PSHE as part of their Initial Teacher Training. No wonder they approach it with apprehension and run for the hills!
However, there is a need for schools to look at their PSHE provision again. Following the Sarah Everard murder, Ofsted in partnership with the Independent Schools Inspectorate are in the process of conducting a thematic review into allegations of misogyny, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse in secondary schools. This follows over 15,000 anonymous reports by students to the “Everyone’s invited” website.
Secondary schools are being asked to include sexual abuse, harassment, and misogyny within the PSHE curriculum, and schools who aren’t teaching about these themes may indeed find themselves being asked some difficult questions during their next inspection. This is especially true for state and independent schools in England because they will be expected to have a programme in place covering statutory Relationships, Sex and Health Education. This includes safety in relationships as a compulsory element.
No matter how sensitive a topic might feel, experience shows that once teachers have gained confidence and have supportive teaching materials to use, these lessons are never as awful as first imagined. But how do you get teachers over all of the barriers we’ve discussed so far and into a pro-PSHE headspace?
Staff training is crucial in this process not only to empower staff with skills and knowledge, but also to educate them about the worlds our young people inhabit, which may be far removed from their own experience. Then they may see the importance of PSHE and the need to do a good job with it. That’s why we were delighted to be asked to write a training module for our friends and colleagues at TrainingSchoolz about safeguarding and sexual abuse, harassment, and misogyny, where we included an assignment on the place of PSHE in this vital agenda.
In addition, we know that PSHE teaching materials, written for the non-specialist teacher, that provide plenty of engaging activities alongside detailed teacher notes give staff the confidence to try PSHE, but sadly there are limited materials available for secondary teachers that fit these essential criteria. Many freely available teaching materials are written by “experts” and are fantastic resources, but as most teachers are not PSHE experts, these lesson plans can feel way beyond their level of confidence and knowledge leaving teachers feeling disempowered as a result. This has been one of the many driving forces behind the PSHE resources that we write. Our materials support any teacher, specialist, or non-specialist alike, so they can teach a good PSHE lesson and have the confidence to do so.
Given the momentum of several current social issues; racism, sexism, hate crime, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, knife crime, to name a few, schools will be expected to keep including these themes within their PSHE programmes. With the spotlight on PSHE once again, maybe schools will look at their current provision and evaluate how it meets the needs of their pupils. We also want well-trained teachers who are passionate and enthusiastic advocates for PSHE, rather than the “run for the hills” mob disappearing over the horizon!
If we want to change harmful societal attitudes, PSHE is the subject that can make the difference in school if it’s delivered well. However, it’s up to individual schools to give the subject credence and put a plan in place, including appropriate resourcing, and staff CPD, so that pupils get the PSHE they need and deserve.
Chameleon PDE are experienced PSHE consultants. They offer up-to-date teaching resources written for non-specialist teachers, pupil voice surveys and staff training. Details of their resources and services can be found here or by enquiring at email@example.com
Working with Chameleon PDE, TrainingSchoolz has added a new training assignment to the Training & Policy Library.