In February, the Commons Education Committee recommended that Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, the subject which teaches pupils to keep healthy and safe and prepares them for life and work, be made a statutory part of the curriculum in English schools. The campaign for statutory status has been going for many years with huge support, so there was much frustration when the Department for Education recently postponed its decision on what to do.
‘What more can we do?’ I asked myself, frustrated at the delay. Having thought about it, though, I realised that exasperation is unhelpful and there is a lot we can do – on evidence, on practice and on campaigning.
The evidence on PSHE is strong: an analysis of over 200 social and emotional skills programmes run predominantly through PSHE education demonstrated improved attitudes and behaviour, and an 11% boost in academic achievement. The Education Endowment Foundation now recommends such programmes to raise the achievement of disadvantaged pupils. Schools with outstanding PSHE are almost always judged as outstanding during Ofsted inspections.
such skills and aptitudes rank ahead of formal qualifications as priorities for business leaders
There is also evidence of significant potential economic benefits: according to a 2014 YouGov survey, 85% of business leaders support statutory status as a means to ensure that school-leavers develop the skills they need for need for the world of work. The CBI’s 2015 Education and Skills survey shows that such skills and aptitudes rank ahead of formal qualifications as priorities for business leaders.
So what more can we do? Well, we can show how the skills which boost attainment and employability can be built through PSHE – which is why the PSHE Association is working on building a new curriculum which focuses on the key skills and attributes we want pupils to develop. We also need to show how PSHE education contributes to outstanding Ofsted results – which is why the PSHE Association has collected 10 case studies of outstanding schools with outstanding PSHE education. And we need to demonstrate the hard outcomes of PSHE education, which is why I sit on the Advisory Board for the Healthy Minds project, a major randomised control trial study which, I hope, will demonstrate the potential impact of the subject.
We have gained huge support for the statutory status campaign: in addition to the Commons Education Committee, we have the support of over 90% of pupils, almost 90% of parents and over 120 leading organisations, including six royal medical colleges. Statutory status is supported by a range of bodies focussed on child safety including the NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner. Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum support the statutory status campaign and a recent motion on statutory status in the Commons was carried by 188 votes to 44.
Yet there are many more organisations we can engage, many MPs still to convince. In our efforts to convince them, we need to spread the word that PSHE education is no longer controversial: after all, getting almost 90% of the great British public to support any potential Government policy is pretty good going. We also need to reach audiences who would not typically have supported PSHE, persuading, for example, MPs with an interest in the economy that the subject could build the skills that employers are crying out for. I see no cynicism in doing this: a 2011 study suggests that such skills are more important in determining life chances than academic qualifications. If we care about outcomes for young people, being able to get and keep a job should absolutely be our concern.
We also need to engage with families and faith communities, building dialogue about the subject with those we haven’t yet convinced. Many faith and family bodies do support us already, but we haven’t been good at talking to those who disagree with us. Listening to those we might not agree with is a key tenet of learning in PSHE education: we should practice what we preach.
While we campaign to Government, we cannot just wait for Government. That’s why the PSHE Association is redeveloping its suite of resources to help schools to plan their timetables; it’s why the Association continues to offer support to initial teacher education providers in equipping trainees to teach PSHE and why we are expanding our CPD programme. We have to call for Government action, of course, but in the meantime we should use our expertise to support schools and be prepared for the announcement we are calling for.
campaigning for something which matters means never giving up
The case we have built for statutory status is strong, and the speed of the Government’s response is frustrating, but campaigning for something which matters means never giving up. ‘What more can we do?’ should not be a rhetorical question, with hands thrown up in the air in exasperation, but a genuine challenge to ourselves, an acknowledgement that there is always more that can be done.