Skip to main content

Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education

Volume 481: debated on Thursday 23 October 2008

The importance of good quality Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education—PSHE—has never been greater. PSHE has a major contribution to make to young people’s personal development and well-being—a key indicator of the success of a 21st century school.

The issues it covers are central to young people’s well-being:

Drugs, alcohol and tobacco

Emotional health and wellbeing

Sex and relationships education

Nutrition and physical activity

Personal finance


Careers education

Work related learning.

There has been progress in PSHE over the years as a result of: the National Healthy Schools Programme which requires schools to meet criteria for PSHE; the national PSHE CPD programme which has trained over 8,000 teachers; QCA units of work and assessment guidance; departmental guidance on SRE, drugs, safety and financial capability; work with ITT providers; research on why PSHE thrives; and the recent £11.5 million boost for financial capability support programmes for schools. Through their subject reports, Ofsted describe an improving picture. In 2005-06, primary school pupils’ achievement in PSHE was good in about four out of five schools. At KS3 and 4 achievement was good or better in over half of lessons.

However, we know that concerns about the quality of teaching and learning in PSHE persist, particularly around sex and relationships education. Teachers can be required to teach PSHE without any training. We must improve the skills and confidence of the teaching workforce. Young people are telling us provision is not meeting their needs, particularly in relation to the relationships aspect of SRE and drug and alcohol issues. Such evidence was most recently highlighted in the UK Youth Parliament report and in subsequent research commissioned with young people to inform the SRE review.

The SRE and drugs/alcohol reviews published today also provide evidence, including from young people themselves, that the quality of what is on offer varies significantly and is not meeting young people’s needs. We are grateful to all those who have worked on these reviews.

The reviews have made a number of recommendations. These include strengthening the reach and impact of the current PSHE CPD programme; developing an ITT route for training PSHE specialist teachers; updating the Department’s guidance to schools on SRE and drugs education; and including a measure of the quality of PSHE in the indicators that Ofsted will use to assess the contribution that schools are making to their pupils’ well-being.

In our overall forward work on PSHE we will be governed by the following principles:

all children and young people should receive a common core of information and practical skills, consolidating the current non-statutory programmes of study, to help them grow and develop as individuals, as members of families and society so that they can live safe, healthy, productive and responsible lives;

parents should be fully involved with schools on PSHE learning, and it should be taught in a way that reflects a school’s ethics and moral values;

there should be a national framework setting out this common core entitlement;

the quality of teaching and learning needs to improve, better to meet the needs of young people;

PSHE should be planned and delivered by trained, competent and confident teachers with support from expertise beyond the school;

effective provision should lead to improved outcomes for children in terms of knowledge, skills, understanding and behaviour.

The reviews have also recommended that PSHE as a whole should become a statutory subject in both the primary and secondary phases. This is already the case for some elements:

secondary schools must provide sex education (which is defined in law as including HIV/AIDS and other STIs);

all schools must have a sex education policy, though this does not need to include relationships;

all schools must have regard to guidance on teaching about marriage and inappropriate teaching materials;

all schools must teach pupils about the effects of drugs (including alcohol, tobacco, volatile substances and medicines) within the national science curriculum;

all schools must have a drug policy which outlines the school’s response to all drug matters;

careers education must be provided at key stages 3 and 4;

work-related learning must be provided at key stage 4.

Under existing legislation parents have the right to withdraw their children from sex education, except insofar as the sex education forms part of a national curriculum programme of study—for example, the biological elements of science.

However, all other aspects of PSHE are non-statutory.

There are strong arguments for making the whole of PSHE a statutory subject. This would underline the key role PSHE has to play in young people’s personal development. It is consistent with the emphasis in the children’s plan on schools developing young people in the round, as well as ensuring that they receive an excellent education, and with the priority we expect schools to give the issues that it covers. We have decided therefore that PSHE should have statutory status. In making this decision we want to work with schools and stakeholders to ensure that young people’s experience at school addresses their needs and supports them as they develop.

We also recognise three areas of concern:

first, that making PSHE statutory would increase the pressure on the curriculum. It will be essential to ensure that schools have flexibility to tailor a curriculum to suit their pupils;

second, there are concerns that a statutory programme of study for PSHE would cut across the existing rights of school governing bodies to determine their own approach in sensitive areas such as SRE;

third, we need to take into account the position of the very small minority of parents who already withdraw their children or those who might want to in the future.

These are complicated issues that need to be worked through thoroughly. I have therefore asked Sir Alasdair Macdonald to engage with stakeholders and report on how our intention to make PSHE statutory, and the legitimate concerns of schools and parents, can be translated into a practicable way forward. I have asked Sir Alasdair to report to me in April 2009.