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Statutory PSHE education – not a straightjacket for schools

PSHE Association | PSHE Association

3 min read Partner content

The PSHE Association calls on the Government to award Personal, Social, Health and Economic education statutory status as a school subject, to ensure substandard teaching of it is eradicated.

An unnamed Government source in this week’s Independent on Sunday questionedwhether PSHE education, the school subject which prepares children and young people for life and work in modern Britain, should be made a statutory part of the curriculum, arguing that pupil needs “are very different in Tower Hamlets than they are in Lincolnshire”.

This statement reflects a misunderstanding of what statutory status for PSHE education would entail. When the Commons Education Committee recommendedearlier this year that the subject should be given statutory status, it was clear that there should be “minimal prescription of content to ensure that schools have flexibility to respond to local needs and priorities”, a recommendation the PSHE Association completely endorses. Every week, the PSHE Association trains schools across the country to use local data, assess pupil needs and consult with parents, community leaders and employers in order to plan a programme which is right for them, and we would expect this approach to continue if the subject became statutory.

Statutory status is not, therefore, about a rigid curriculum imposed on schools but rather about protecting the only school subject which is both non-statutory and non-examined. This unique position means that PSHE education is often delivered by teachers with no training in the subject and sometimes falls off school timetables altogether. 2014 data from the Department for Education shows that PSHE education is allocated far less time than statutory subjects and in 2013 Ofsted reported that standards of the lessons which are provided are “not good enough”, an unsurprising position given the lack of training and curriculum space PSHE teachers have.

Campaigners for statutory status believe that no subject, particularly one as important as PSHE education, should be taught in this substandard way. Statutory status would not be a panacea, of course, but would provide a platform of high expectations for the subject from which professional bodies and schools can raise standards over the years ahead. The PSHE Association’s work under the Department for Education’s character grant programme will, for example, strengthen the pedagogy of the subject, focusing on the skills and attributes pupils need for life and work in modern Britain. Combined with statutory status, this development would inject more rigour into the subject, with higher expectations from Government and a strengthened pedagogical model for schools to draw on.

Statutory status is, therefore, not a straightjacket for schools but rather a clear statement that the same standards of rigour are expected for PSHE education as for other subjects and a commitment to lessons which are tailored to pupils’ needs. Such a move is supported by 88% of teachers and five of the leading teaching unions, including the National Association of Head Teachers. They don’t see it as a burden but rather as a vital step towards keeping pupils healthy, safe and prepared for life and work in modern Britain. We hope that their voices will be heard.

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Read the most recent article written by PSHE Association - Select committee chairs make unprecedented joint call for statutory PSHE