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PSHE education and social mobility – an opportunity we can’t afford to miss

Joe Hayman, Chief Executive, PSHE Association | PSHE Association

3 min read Partner content

PSHE Association Chief Executive Joe Hayman responds to research by the Sutton Trust & upReach contrasting social mobility between state school and independent school leavers.

Another day, another study showing how far we have to go on social mobility in Britain. Today’s researchfrom the Sutton Trust and upReach shows that graduates who have gone to independent schools earn significantly more than their state school counterparts. Only half of this pay gap is explained by prior academic achievement according to the report and the authors suggest that personal and social skills play a critical role in the difference in earnings.

This chimes with findings from other recent pieces of research. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commissionrecently demonstrated that disadvantaged pupils have fewer opportunities, both inside and outside school, to develop personal and social skills than their more advantaged peers. Research from the Education and Employers Taskforcehas shown that disadvantaged pupils also have less access to high-quality work experience than their more advantaged counterparts, meaning that poorer pupils miss out on opportunities to develop these skills in a workplace setting.

Employers have set out over and over again how important these skills are (see statements from the CBIand the British Chambers of Commercefor example) and one studyhas even suggested these skills have more impact on future earnings than academic qualifications. There is also a huge potential national economic benefitfrom developing these skills, putting an even greater onus on Government to ensure that the state education sector develops these skills.

There is good evidenceto suggest that, if delivered well, Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education can develop key skills and attributes while also raising pupils’ aspirations and building their understanding of the world of work. In many schools, however, that potential is not being realisedwith a postcode lottery as to whether pupils receive the lessons and whether their teachers are trained.

According to a 2014 survey, 85% of business leadersbelieved that PSHE education should be on the national curriculum to ensure that all pupils receive high-quality lessons. When they are asked, young people(and their parents) say that they want, in the words of the UK Youth Parliament, a curriculum which prepares them for life, including preparation for the world of work. Such a coming together of pupils, parents and business leaders on an area of public policy is rare, and must be seized.

The PSHE Association knows the premium independent schools place on PSHE education because of the large proportion of independent schools accessing our support and the advice offer by other bodies in our sector. State schools want to do this too, of course, and there are examples of outstanding practice, but statutory status would provide the framework to raise standards across the board. With it we need more training and support for PSHE teachers, while the PSHE education expert group called last yearfor education and business leaders to come together to develop and accredit a curriculum which schools can use to deliver this learning. This is a significant opportunity to both improve social mobility and have a big economic impact, one we cannot afford to miss.

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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


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