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School Curriculum: PSHE

Volume 760: debated on Thursday 19 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to make PSHE a statutory part of the school curriculum.

My Lords, high-quality PSHE education has a vital role to play in preparing young people for life in modern Britain. However, making it statutory is not the simple answer. We believe that all schools should teach PSHE in a way that is appropriate for their pupils, and we outline this expectation in the introduction to the new national curriculum. We are working closely with the PSHE Association to quality-assess resources and establish a new charter mark for schools that demonstrates robust evidence of high-quality PSHE provision.

I thank the Minister for his response. Does he agree that personal, social and health education is not—or should not be—a one-off topic in schools, that it is more about developing social and emotional skills, not just imparting information, and that such skills can improve behaviour and academic performance, as many schools have found?

I agree entirely with the noble Baroness. As the Secretary of State said last week, high-quality PSHE should offer people a curriculum for life as a planned programme of learning that is supported by a whole-school ethos covering all the knowledge and skills that young people need to manage their lives. I do agree with the noble Baroness’s point about character, which is why we have launched a £5 million innovation fund. Under our highly successful free schools programme, we have schools majoring on character development, such as the outstanding Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford and those in the Floreat group. I recommend that all noble Lords from across the House visit some of those schools before they jump to conclusions based on inadequate information.

My Lords, in the light of the fact that deaf and disabled children are three times more likely to be sexually abused, and four times more likely to be physically or emotionally abused, than other children, will the Government make sure that schools ensure that these children receive their PSHE education in an appropriate form of communication that they can understand and are not withdrawn from PSHE classes for one reason or another because it is the easiest class to take them out of?

My noble friend makes a very important point about deaf and disabled pupils. I am sure that the PSHE Association is focused on this, but I undertake to her to discuss it with the association personally.

My Lords, the Government argue that schools should have the flexibility to determine their own curriculum outside core subjects, but the result is that most schools are not teaching essential skills such as first aid, which not only gives students valuable life skills and confidence but would save many lives, as shown by countries where such training is mandatory. Does the Minister not agree that making PSHE statutory, including subjects such as first aid, and indeed citizenship, would result in students emerging much better prepared for their lives as citizens?

The national curriculum creates a minimum expectation for the content of a curriculum in maintained schools. Quite deliberately, it does not represent everything that a school should teach. It would not be possible to cover all that when there are so many groups wishing things to be included in the curriculum, but many schools already choose to include CPR and defibrillator awareness as part of their PSHE teaching. We will work with the British Heart Foundation to promote its call push rescue kit to schools, including through our social media channels and the summer term email.

My Lords, what work is being done with teacher educators to ensure that there is a good supply of properly qualified teachers to take this agenda forward, particularly in view of what my noble friend Lady Massey said about it being a whole-school enterprise and not a specialist subject?

The noble Baroness is quite right in her observations. High-quality professional development for teachers is an essential part of raising standards in schools. The PSHE Association has some excellent resources, which we signpost for schools. They include an online CPD course, which explores assessment policy writing, creating schemes of work and SRE education. Teachers can of course benefit from the national PSHE CPD programme.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that every child, as they pass through adolescence towards the world of work and raising a family, needs to acquire what are often called the soft skills: self-confidence, an ability to communicate, character and caring about other people? Can he make it clear whether these things are to be taught, are supposed to be taught or are being taught through the PSHE syllabus or somewhere else in schools, and whether the Government are concerned to ensure that every school provides a learning environment in respect of soft skills?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. These skills are particularly important for underprivileged children. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, made a very good point recently: that in order to have social mobility, you need social immobility. We need to give particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds these soft skills, which is why we have such a big focus on character education. We would expect this to be inspected by Ofsted as part of SMSC and as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.

As with other areas of the curriculum, PSHE and citizenship are not explicitly covered in the school curriculum inspection framework. However, in reporting, inspectors must consider how the school is meeting the needs of the range of pupils and pupils’ SMSC and cultural development to help to prepare them for life in modern Britain. Inspectors will also look at how effectively schools engage with parents in the development of their SMSC policy.

My Lords, the Education Select Committee, as the noble Lord will know, recently reported that PSHE requires improvement in 40% of schools, that the situation appears to have got worse over time, and that young people are consistently reporting that the sex and relationship education that they receive is inadequate. Surely the Minister is showing a large degree of complacency about this. Perhaps making PSHE statutory is, indeed, a simple answer.

The noble Baroness feels very strongly about it, but the Labour Party had 13 years to make it statutory and did not do so. We are currently considering the findings of the Education Select Committee report. We have launched a communications campaign to promote the selection of high-quality resources via our social media sites. They include PSHE Association programmes of study, “Sex and Relationships Education for the 21st Century” and various other products.

Will the Minister praise the previous Government’s success in reducing teenage pregnancy to its current low, while recognising that compared to the continent we are still well behind? Will he keep a very open mind about this issue of a statutory requirement for PSHE? After all, the Education Select Committee in the other House recently recommended in its report that there should indeed be statutory provision in this area.

The noble Earl knows that I always keep an open mind when it comes to young people. One of my proudest moments during my two years in this House was working with him to put the “staying put” arrangements in place.