Life lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools - Education Contents

1  Introduction


1. In 2013, Ofsted reported that the quality of personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) and sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools in England was "not yet good enough".[1] In January 2014 the House of Lords debated amendments to the Children and Families Bill which would have had the effect of making SRE compulsory in all schools.[2] While the amendments were not made, the debate and Ofsted's report reignited a discussion of the role of PSHE and SRE in schools in England, its quality, whether schools should be required to provide it, and the sufficiency of the Government's actions in this area.

Our inquiry

2. We launched our inquiry on 23 April 2014, seeking written evidence on the following points:

·  Whether PSHE education ought to be statutory, either as part of the National Curriculum or through some other means of entitlement;

·  Whether the current accountability system is sufficient to ensure that schools focus on PSHE education;

·  The overall provision of SRE in schools and the quality of its teaching, including in primary schools and academies;

·  Whether recent Government steps to supplement the guidance on teaching about sex and relationships, including consent, abuse between teenagers and cyber-bullying, are adequate; and

·  How the effectiveness of SRE should be measured.

3. We received over 430 written submissions during our inquiry, including a large number from individual parents. We took oral evidence on four occasions, hearing from seven panels of witnesses including the Minister of State for School Reform, Nick Gibb MP, and we held a private seminar on 10 September 2014 to provide background information for our inquiry.[3] We visited Bristol on 27 November 2014 to meet teachers, young people and local authority advisers.[4] We also participated in a Twitter chat on 9 October 2014, hosted by UKEdChat,[5] and asked the NUS to include some questions on sex and relationships education as part of a survey relating to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into violence against women and girls.[6]

4. During this inquiry we benefitted from the advice of Professor Michael Reiss, who was appointed as a Special Adviser to the Committee for his understanding of sex and relationships education, and from the advice of Marion Davis CBE as one of our standing Special Advisers on children's services.[7]

What is PSHE?

5. The PSHE Association describes personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) as "a planned programme of learning through which children and young people acquire the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to manage their lives".[8] While there is currently no centrally prescribed curriculum for the subject, Ofsted explains that PSHE programmes typically cover "health and safety education, including substance misuse, sex and relationships education, careers education, economic education and financial capability".[9]

6. PSHE thus has the potential to be a very wide-ranging subject. Many different topics were proposed in written evidence for inclusion in PSHE, including:

·  Life-saving skills

·  Cancer

·  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues

·  Gender identity

·  Preparing students for parenthood

·  "Legal highs"

·  Mental health and emotional wellbeing

·  Healthy behaviour during pregnancy

·  Domestic abuse

·  Child abuse

·  Violence against women and girls

·  Gambling issues

·  Safety and risk

7. While the list of topics may appear long and diverse, Dr Graham Ritchie from the Office of the Children's Commissioner cautioned against seeing PSHE merely as a "list of the things that we are worried about".[10] Crispin Drummond from Explore—Students Exploring Marriage saw the "common point" as promoting "good, responsible behaviour in later life",[11] and Michael O'Toole, the Chief Executive of the alcohol and drug prevention charity Mentor, told us that "the role of good PSHE within schools is to enable young people to be more self-aware, to be able to be resilient to peer pressure, to be able to make informed decisions and to be able to reflect on what they understand […]".[12]

8. Sex and relationships education (SRE) is a topic within the broader subject of PSHE, and was a particular focus for our inquiry. The Sex Education Forum defines SRE as "learning about the emotional, social and physical aspects of growing up, relationships, sex, human sexuality and sexual health" and says that SRE "should equip children and young people with the information, skills and positive values to have safe, fulfilling relationships, to enjoy their sexuality and to take responsibility for the sexual health and well-being".[13]

9. While the biological elements of human reproduction and sexually transmitted infections are part of the National Curriculum for science at key stages 3 and 4,[14] Alison Hadley, Director of the Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange at the University of Bedfordshire, told us that PSHE and SRE were "completely intertwined", and that the skills that young people need to look after their sexual health are the same as those needed to manage alcohol and drugs issues.[15] Simon Blake, Chief Executive of the sexual health charity Brook, said that SRE within PSHE was "a bit like trigonometry in maths—you just have to have them as part of each other" and that SRE was "one bit of content in a curriculum subject that teachers can think about coherently".[16]


10. Witnesses told us that social media and near-universal internet access had changed the context for PSHE, and SRE in particular. For instance, Graham Ritchie, Principal Policy Adviser at the Office of the Children's Commissioner, told us that the increasing ease of access to pornography through the internet was shaping young people's behaviours and self-image:[17]

    We know that it affects them. It affects young women and their body image—self-objectification. It affects young men and the expectations that they have of sexual partners. Therefore, it is incumbent on schools to address that issue and talk with young people about it as part of PSHE.

These changes provide additional motivation for a fresh examination of PSHE and SRE in schools.

1   Ofsted, Not yet good enough: personal, social, health and economic education in schools (May 2013) Back

2   HL Deb, 28 January 2014, cols 1117-1153 Back

3   See annex A for details. Back

4   See annex B for details of the Committee's visit to Bristol. Back

5   UKEdChat's summary of the proceedings is available from Back

6   Joint Committee on Human Rights, Sixth Report of Session 2014-15, Violence Against Women and Girls, HL 106 / HC 594 Back

7   Professor Michael Reiss, Pro-Director: Research and Development and Professor of Science Education, Institute of Education, declared no interest relevant to the inquiry. Marion Davis CBE declared interests as an independent Chair of Solihull LSCB; as an independent adviser to the Safeguarding Board of Northern Ireland's Thematic Review of Child Sexual Exploitation; as a Trustee of a charity, Children and Families Across Borders; as an independent Chair of a Serious Case Review Panel into the death of a child, on behalf of the Sutton LSCB; and as a member of the Northamptonshire Improvement Board and mentor to the DCS. Back

8   PSHE Association, 'What is PSHE education and why is it important?', accessed 6 January 2015 Back

9   Ofsted, Not yet good enough: personal, social, health and economic education in schools (May 2013), p 9 Back

10   Q115 Back

11   Q197 Back

12   Q218 Back

13   Sex Education Forum (SRE 368) para 1 Back

14   Department for Education, Science programmes of study: key stage 3 (September 2013) Back

15   Q1 Back

16   Q2 Back

17   Q130 Back

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Prepared 17 February 2015