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Not a soft option: the case for statutory PSHE

PoliticsHome | PSHE Association

3 min read Partner content

PSHE Association Chief Executive Joe Hayman writes in advance of the Government response to the Commons Education Committee’s ‘Life Lessons’ report.

With the Government due to respond imminentlyto the Commons Education Committee's 'Life Lessons' report, it is worth reflecting on why the Committee’s key recommendation of statutory status for Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education is so important.

Too often in the past, PSHE has been seen as a soft option, but when delivered well it is anything but soft: the subject takes on the big issues pupils face, from low aspirations to debt to mental health, and helps them to develop the so-called ‘soft skills’ they need to succeed in education, life and work.

The evidence of the importance of these skills is overwhelming: an analysis of over 200 social and emotional skills programmesdemonstrated improved attitudes and behaviour in pupils and an 11% improvement in academic achievement. The Education Endowment Foundation now recommendssuch programmes as a way to improve literacy and numeracy amongst disadvantaged pupils.

These skills have benefits well beyond the classroom. A 2011 studyshowed that such skills are more important in determining life chances at age 30 than academic qualifications, and businesses want them too. As Neil Carberry, the CBI’s Director for Employment and Skills, puts it: “Developing the right attitudes and attributes in people – such as resilience, respect, enthusiasm and creativity – is just as important as academic and technical skills.’  

Nobel-Prize-winning economist James Heckman has conclusively demonstrated that these skills are not innate and that they can be taught, and the prize for improving such ‘soft’ skill development in schools could be significant: such skills could make an £109 billion contribution to the UK economy over the next five years.

There is a problem, however: research shows that just one in three business leaders think schools are doing enough to equip pupils with skills for work. The British Chambers of Commerce, the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses have all made this point too.

PSHE education is the place on the curriculum where pupils should develop these skills but according to Ofsted, PSHE provision is substandard in over 40% of schools. In response, the Commons Education Committee recommendedstatutory status for PSHE to ensure that it is taught in line with best practice by trained teachers. This approach is supported by 85% of business leaders according to a 2014 poll.

In a week when the national debate about social mobility has been reignited by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty’s Commission’s researchinto non-educational barriers to top jobs, the role of schools in ensuring pupils are ready for the world of work is crucially important. A guarantee of high-quality PSHE lessons focussed on skill development developed in partnership with business leaders could help to break the ‘class ceiling’. We hope that Nicky Morgan listens to business leaders in making her decision about PSHE: the soft option would be to ignore them.

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