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Personal, social, health and economics education in initial teacher education : Why bother?

Victoria Pugh, University of Worcester

With the recent changes to legislation in relationship education and health education being announced as statutory within primary schools in England from September 2020 (Children and Social Work Act, 2017, s. 34), it is important that initial teacher education (ITE) providers review the provision of personal, social, health and economics (PSHE) education within their own programmes to ensure that students are best prepared to deliver the new requirements within confidence. The status of PSHE within schools has been a confused one over the years, with many schools seeing it as pastoral care or ‘the sex lesson’ in year 6. Research by Formby (2011) found that subjects such as relationship and sex education (RSE) or drugs and alcohol education are often ignored or marginalised within the curriculum. The chief medical officer’s 2012 annual report noted:

‘The promotion of physical and mental health simultaneously can offer great benefits for children, working dynamically to create a virtuous circle that keeps reinforcing overall health, wellbeing and achievement.’
(Brooks, 2013, p. 12).

The new guidance on relationships education published in June 2019 acknowledges the need to support children’s understanding of relationships in a broader sense, including relationships online, keeping safe and diverse families. The new health education curriculum promotes the importance of mental health, internet safety, health prevention and puberty education. The PSHE Association (2019) claims that the new legislation will see around 85 per cent of their PSHE curriculum programme of study being taught as part of the statutory guideline. But how, as ITE providers, can we ensure that our students have the knowledge they need to deliver quality PSHE education that includes both the new statutory content and PSHE Association-recommended content on ‘living in the wider world’?

The University of Worcester were fortunate to be part of a research project funded by Public Health England and carried out by the PSHE Association that explored the ways in which RSE and PSHE were integrated into ITE programmes. This study identified many important findings, including the fact that PSHE education is often thought of as pastoral provision rather than content and skills, which meant that training focussed on topics such as safeguarding and Prevent (PSHE Association, 2019, p. 4).

Within our programme, although there was already a strong ethos that promoted PSHE throughout other subjects within the primary ITE programme, we wanted to ensure that discrete sessions were also included. We felt that if we could not find time for PSHE in ITE, then what message were we sending to our students about the value of PSHE within the curriculum?

The use of ‘drop-down days’ within schools and universities is common and a convenient way to cover content that focusses on a particular subject in-depth and enhances the curriculum. However, this is not necessarily the most effective way to guarantee the ability to cover the pedagogy of PSHE education as well as content. We developed a programme that combined cross-curricular delivery, discrete sessions and drop-down days/half-days. We also provided a PSHE specialism allowing students to study the subject in-depth as part of their dissertation and to undertake valuable research projects within schools.

‘Our new model provides students with an opportunity to explore the new statutory content and PSHE pedagogy within a safe environment that allows for the sharing of ideas and confidence building.’

This model (available here) outlines the discrete sessions as well as details of conference day sessions. As with any model it is by no means perfect. However, it does provide students with an opportunity to explore the new statutory content and PSHE pedagogy within a safe environment that allows for the sharing of ideas and confidence building. An additional benefit of quality PSHE provision is the positive affect it has on our partnership schools who are welcoming onto their staff students who can share their up-to-date knowledge and therefore continue to support the teaching of high-quality PSHE within schools.

We will continue to develop our PSHE provision with the ultimate goal of education teachers who can plan, deliver and assess high-quality PSHE education for all pupils.


References

Brooks, F. (2013). Chapter 7: Life stage: School Years. In C. Lemer (Ed.) Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2012: Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays. London: Department of Health.

Children and Social Work Act (2017). Retrieved from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/16/contents/enacted

Formby, E. (2011). ‘It’s better to learn about your health and things that are going to happen to you than learning things that you just do at school’: Findings from a mapping study of PSHE education in primary schools in England. Pastoral Care in Education, 29(3), 161–173.

PSHE Association (2019). Trainee teachers & PSHE education: A snapshot. London. Retrieved from https://www.pshe-association.org.uk/ite