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Emotional health: the biggest issue of our time for children and young people

Joe Hayman, Chief Executive, PSHE Association | PSHE Association

3 min read Partner content

PSHE Association Chief Executive Joe Hayman reflects on recently published surveys offering insight into the lives of children and young people growing up in Britain today.

It has been an important few weeks in terms of research on children and young people’s behaviours and attitudes: three major surveys (the Health and Social Care Information Centre’s smoking, Drinking and Drugs survey, the School Health Education Unit (SHEU) Young People into 2015 studyand the Children’s Society’s Good Childhood 2015 report) provide a detailed insight into the lives of children and young people today, while a Cabinet Office analysis of risk behaviours amongst young people, also released in recent weeks, provides valuable insight into policymakers’ thinking on the big issues facing young people.  

The reports suggest that while some risk-taking behaviours, such as smoking, drinking, drug use and youth offending, appear to be declining, there has been an apparent increase in children and young people suffering from poor emotional health. Key emerging issues linked to pupils’ emotional health, summarised in a synthesisof the research studies which the PSHE Association has published today, include self-harm, low self-esteem, concerns about body image, safety online, relationships with friends, stress and anxiety about the future.

The reports back what PSHE teachers across the country consistently tell us: that these issues relating to emotional health are the most pressing challenges we face in PSHE education. They are also beg questions for us as a society: why, we might ask ourselves, does the emotional health of children and young people appear to be declining, as the SHEU report and Cabinet Office Analysis suggest? And why are English children and young people apparently less happy than their peers in other parts of the world, as the Children’s Society report indicates?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do know this: in 2013, Ofsted said that schools often leave emotional health off the PSHE curriculum because teachers haven’t had adequate training in the subject. That is not to criticise schools: PSHE is not a statutory subject meaning that teachers are often untrained and are understandably worried about doing more harm than good when teaching about emotional health. But the result is that pupils miss out on learning that they really need: just yesterday, early results from Girlguiding’s annual Girls’ Attitudes Surveysuggested that less than half of young women are getting the education they want on emotional health.

PSHE education is not a panacea, but dedicated lessons about emotional health taught by trained teachers have the potential to reduce stigma, promote resilience and help those children and young people who need specialist help know where to go to get it. If we are serious about promoting the wellbeing of children and young people growing up in this country, statutory PSHE education, guaranteeing lessons from trained teachers in all schools, would be a great place to start.

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Read the most recent article written by Joe Hayman, Chief Executive, PSHE Association - A curriculum for life: the case for statutory PSHE education