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Why statutory status for PSHE education is so important

PSHE Association | PSHE Association

3 min read Partner content

PSHE Association Chief Executive Joe Hayman writes in advance of this afternoons Caroline Lucas 10 minute rule motion on statutory PSHE education

As debate about Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education returns to Parliament, thanks to a 10 minute rule motion from Caroline Lucas MP, it is worth remembering why statutory status for the subject is so important.

PSHE education is a subject which helps pupils to keep themselves and others healthy and safe and prepares them for life and work in modern Britain. The subject is too often seen as a list of topics, and while there is some key knowledge which needs to be covered in relation to key such as personal finance, online safety, sex and relationships, healthy lifestyles and careers, what ties PSHE education together is the development of key skills and attributes to manage a range of situations pupils will face now and in the future. These skills and attributes – including negotiation, empathy, self-management, critical thinking, communication, working with others, dealing with setbacks – are critical for their future success socially, academically and economically.

We know, for example, that 85% of business leaders support statutory status for PSHE as a means to build these skills and just this week, the CBI’s annual Education and Skills survey showed that attitudes and aptitudes rank ahead of formal qualifications for business leaders.  A 2011 study showed that such skills are more important in determining life chances at age 30 than academic qualifications, and the economic prize for improving so-called ‘soft skills’ has been placed at over £100bn by one survey.

Of course the classroom isn’t the only place where pupils develop these skills, just as schools are not the only place where children learn to read. But Nobel-Prize-winning economist James Heckman has conclusively demonstrated that these skills can be taught in schools, while an analysis of over 200 social and emotional skills programmes run in schools, predominantly delivered in PSHE education, demonstrated improved attitudes and behaviour in pupils and an 11% improvement in academic achievement. The Education Endowment Foundation now recommends such programmes to support disadvantaged pupils.

Yet the potential of PSHE can only be achieved if provision improves. Ofsted has said that PSHE education is ‘not yet good enough’ in schools, with the subject often taught by untrained teachers with inadequate curriculum time. At least 40% of schools need to improve their provision according to Ofsted: this equates to millions of pupils missing out on the education they need. In response, 120 leading organisations, 87% of parents, 88% of teachers and 92% of young people are calling for statutory status for the subject to bring it in line with the status of other subjects.

Statutory status would not be a panacea, but it is a necessary first step if we are to improve provision. Teacher training providers would need to ensure that trainee teachers understood the subject, while schools would invest more in training for their staff and give the subject the curriculum time it needs. This kind of ‘system change’ is essential if the position is to improve. The consequences of inaction – both for individual pupils and for the economy – will be significant. 

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