PSHE: Preparing for RSE and health education

Written by: Jenny Barksfield | Published:
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Government commitments to RSE and health education will help schools prioritise PSHE and build on what they are already doing well. Jenny Barksfield advises on getting PSHE ready for these new mandatory subjects

What are the new statutory requirements regarding the health education and RSE (relationships and sex education) aspects of PSHE?

The government confirmed in July that it will be compulsory for all schools (including academies, free and independent schools) to teach the health education and RSE aspects of PSHE education from September 2020.

The commitment to health education joins last year’s commitments to statutory RSE in all secondary schools, and mandatory relationships education in all primary schools.

Draft statutory guidance was also published in July, providing an overview of what the Department for Education (DfE) proposes should be covered. The guidance is open for consultation until November, and will be finalised following subsequent debate in Parliament (see further information).

It is expected that the new statutory guidance will be available for schools from September 2019 and compulsory from 2020.

There is much to welcome in the draft guidance, though we will suggest some changes to make it work best for schools and students. The PSHE Association is carrying out a detailed analysis of the new guidance and will use this to inform our official response.

However, our initial feelings are largely positive, in that it covers broad areas of PSHE of particular relevance and concern to young people today.

While it is disappointing that some elements of PSHE education remain non-statutory, it is great that every child, in every school, will be guaranteed PSHE that covers mental health and wellbeing, physical health (including healthy lifestyles and first aid), and learning about safe, healthy relationships, including understanding consent and negotiating life online.

Why is this so important?

These are major steps towards ensuring better PSHE for every pupil and have been broadly welcomed. PSHE is valued by schools, with more than 90 per cent of school leaders surveyed by the National Association of Head Teachers recently saying that they supported compulsory PSHE.

Having long campaigned for statutory PSHE we consider the introduction of mandatory RSE and health education as a green light for schools to give PSHE the priority it deserves.

When delivered well, PSHE has proven benefits to health, wellbeing and academic success. These developments increase the chances that all pupils can benefit from an education that keeps them safe, healthy and prepared for the realities of modern life – and this should be celebrated.

This strengthening of status has the potential to address concerns about lack of training, inconsistency of delivery and threatened time on the curriculum for a subject uniquely placed to prepare students for the modern world.

This also recognises the growing momentum behind PSHE for all. The PSHE Association welcomes these major developments given that we have led a campaign for compulsory PSHE for 10 years, supported by 100 leading organisations – including the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, a number of the education unions – and the vast majority of parents, pupils and teachers according to the June 2018 report Statutory PSHE Education.

How will schools be expected to meet these commitments?

Many schools are already delivering a comprehensive PSHE programme which includes the elements that are becoming statutory. In fact, 85 per cent of schools already teach PSHE that covers health, relationships and sex (NFER, March 2018).

The new requirements are about ensuring an equivalent experience of high-quality PSHE for all young people. The education secretary Damian Hinds was clear when announcing the new requirements that schools covering health and RSE successfully through PSHE should continue to do so. This will help ensure the new requirements and guidance are implementable for busy schools and teachers.

This includes ensuring robust policies are in place. All schools will be required to have a RSE policy, but we would strongly advise a unified PSHE education policy that includes RSE, health education and other aspects of the subject, such as those relating to economic wellbeing and living in the wider world. We have recently updated our guidance documents for members on writing your RSE and PSHE education policies, available from our website.

The draft guidance also states that “schools should have the same high expectations of the quality of pupils’ work” as for other curriculum areas, and that “a strong curriculum will build on the knowledge pupils have previously acquired, including in other subjects, with regular feedback provided on pupil progress”.

This point is important when considering models of delivery for PSHE. It is no surprise that as a non-statutory subject at a time when schools are under so much pressure, PSHE has increasingly struggled to compete for time on the timetable.

But as the vast majority of PSHE leads know, RSE is most effectively taught as an integral part of a broader PSHE programme. And for PSHE to be effective, it should be taught through regular, timetabled discrete PSHE lessons. This allows for continuity and progression, and the ability to assess progress and impact.

The evidence shows that one-off events and “drop down days” can only make an effective contribution when they are enhancing regular PSHE lessons, rather than replacing them. Visit our website for guidance on the pros and cons of various delivery models (see further information).

What about economic wellbeing and careers education?

It is disappointing that the economic wellbeing and preparation for work strands of PSHE are not to become statutory. However, we owe it to our young people to continue to include these important elements within our PSHE programmes.

Along with the Bank of England, Young Enterprise, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Education and others, we see PSHE as the most appropriate means to effectively deliver economic literacy and wellbeing, careers education and employability.

PSHE complements careers guidance and the financial education covered through citizenship and maths, but is the subject through which the personal aspects of economic wellbeing – for example understanding personal debt, managing peer pressure around spending, managing risk related to gambling, positive/negative debt, being entrepreneurial, and developing employability are covered.

Health, relationships, economic wellbeing and having the knowledge and skills for successful careers are all linked. PSHE is the glue that binds them together into a coherent curriculum subject. Schools shouldn’t feel any need to unpick what they are already doing well to prepare students for life and work.

What support is available?

It is important that schools begin to prepare now. The PSHE Association will continue to develop its CPD training (with new and updated one-day courses), bespoke INSETs, materials to help you plan, evaluate and assess PSHE, and support to help ensure all schools are ready to meet the new requirements. While there is no one-size-fits-all programme for effective PSHE, we will also help busy teachers choose from the wealth of material available, by identifying best practice through our Quality Mark for resources.

Remember, we are not starting from scratch but building on some great work in schools across the country; many schools in our national community are already doing a great job of delivering high-quality PSHE. We will support them to continue this work, and support other schools whatever their starting point.

Now that these requirements are in place, the PSHE Association looks forward to working closely with education unions, the Department for Education, national partners such as the Sex Education Forum, and our membership, to help ensure all young people benefit from quality PSHE delivered with confidence.

  • Jenny Barksfield is deputy CEO of the PSHE Association. Jenny will deliver a keynote address about the implications of these statutory changes and the road ahead at SecEd’s Second National Delivering Statutory RSE and Health Education Conference on November 23 in Birmingham: www.statutory-rse.co.uk

Further information


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