Written evidence submitted by the National Body for Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE)
PSHE Association response to Education Committee inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services
- The PSHE Association is the national body for personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education. A charity and membership organisation, the Association works to improve PSHE education standards by supporting a national network of teachers and schools with advice, training and support.[i]
About out submission:
- Much of the call-for-evidence falls outside of our remit so we are submitting a short response focussed on the important role of PSHE education during school closures, and in preparing children and young people for return to school and beyond.
Children’s and young people’s mental health, physical health and safety
- PSHE education is the school subject dedicated to supporting pupils to be healthy, safe and prepared for modern life. The PSHE education curriculum covers a range of pressing issues facing children and young people, including those relating to relationships, mental and physical health, staying safe and aware online and offline, economic wellbeing and careers.
- These are pressing issues in normal times, but of even greater concern due to the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting lockdown and recovery challenges ahead.
- The Association has a national network of over 40,000 PSHE teachers, subject leads and other practitioners. We consulted this network about priority areas of support for children and issues of greatest concern included mental health, staying safe online, transition (both back to school and from primary to secondary) and aspects of physical health such as hygiene, healthy sleep habits, healthy eating and exploring bereavement.
- No other curriculum area focusses on these issues. It has been possible to cover some remotely, but some complex issues relating to mental health, sex and relationships are only safe to cover by trained professionals within a classroom environment. Therefore, all pupils returning to school must be guaranteed high quality, regularly-timetabled PSHE education.
PSHE education’s role in the ‘recovery curriculum’
- Pupils will have had unique experiences under lockdown and many will need tailored, pastoral support but all pupils will need a significant amount of help as they slowly return to school over the months ahead. The school curriculum, and PSHE in particular, must therefore play a central role.
- Professor Barry Carpenter (Professor of Mental Health in Education, Oxford Brookes University) has written about the need for a ‘recovery curriculum’[ii], focussed on supporting mental health, fostering relationships and dealing with loss of ‘routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom’.
- PSHE education is purpose-built for such a task and must be a priority across all schools. The subject can support pupils during this difficult period and prepare them for whatever challenges – and opportunities – lie ahead.
PSHE education’s role in academic attainment and levelling up access
- Professor Carpenter also highlights the considerable impact on the learning and development of children who have been through periods of trauma or crisis.
- Academic attainment, and equality of opportunity to achieve academically, is crucial. The Sutton Trust and others have raised concerns about the widening of this opportunity gap during school closures[iii], with less advantaged children more likely to miss out on consistent, high-quality education during this time.
- A 2017 Pro Bono Economics evidence review[iv] proved that PSHE education has a positive impact on academic attainment, in particular amongst the most disadvantaged. PSHE helps to remove barriers to learning associated with mental and physical health and relationships.
- There will be pressure on schools to ensure pupils to catch up academically but this must not come at the expense of timetabled PSHE. PSHE will be integral to achieving this aim.
Supporting children and young people to make sense of a complex situation
- The pandemic has been frightening and uncertain for children, and many have received confusing messages or disturbing rumours that exacerbate their anxiety or apportion blame to communities or technologies for starting or spreading the virus.
- PSHE education supports pupils to interrogate media messages and challenge fake sources of information. For example, the PSHE Association works in partnership with The Guardian Foundation and National Literacy Trust on NewsWise, an award-winning news literacy project that has shown results in helping primary children to understand and analyse news[v].
Statutory RSE and Health Education and the need for economic wellbeing and careers
- The statutory requirement schools to provide Relationships Education (primary), Relationships and Sex Education (secondary) and Health Education (primary and secondary) will allow schools to increase emphasis on these aspects of PSHE education and raise standards.
- Health and relationships are however just two of the three core themes of PSHE education. The third core theme – ‘economic wellbeing and careers’ – remains optional in state schools. This is despite the need for pupils to leave school prepared to thrive in a precarious work landscape and understand the importance of their economic decisions.
- It is unfair that PSHE education in its entirety – including economic wellbeing – is only a requirement in independent schools. State school pupils must receive the same benefits.
- The DfE is understandably focussed on RSE and Health Education implementation at present, but we recommend that the Education Committee urges the Department to commit to placing economic wellbeing and careers on the same, statutory footing.
[i] Find out more at www.pshe-association.org.uk