Life lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools - Education Contents

4  Recent Government actions and the supplementary advice

Recent history

72. In 2009, Sir Alisdair Macdonald's Independent Review of the proposal to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic education statutory recommended that PSHE should become part of the National Curriculum in both primary and secondary phases, albeit with the parental right of withdrawal from SRE maintained.[143] In the event, the proposal was lost at the end of the Parliament and no change was made to the status of the subject.[144] In July 2011, the Department for Education launched a review of PSHE but explicitly ruled out making PSHE as a whole a statutory subject within the National Curriculum.[145] The results of this exercise were published 20 months later in March 2013, with a statement from Elizabeth Truss MP, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, that "PSHE overall will remain a non-statutory subject. To allow teachers the flexibility to deliver high quality PSHE we consider it unnecessary to provide new standardised frameworks or programmes of study. Teachers are best placed to understand the needs of their pupils and do not need additional central prescription".[146]

Actions taken in 2013-14

73. Prompted by a debate in the House of Lords in January 2014 on amendments to the Children and Families Bill which proposed that SRE should be compulsory in all schools, Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, wrote to the proposers of the amendments to set out the steps that the Government was taking to ensure that schools could meet its "expectations of high quality PSHE teaching". These were as follows:[147]

·  Reaffirming the importance of PSHE in the introduction to the new National Curriculum;

·  Sending an email to all schools with a "very prominent reminder" that "all schools must publish their school curriculum by subject and academic year, including their provision of personal, social, health and economic education";

·  Establishing a new subject expert group for PSHE, mirroring the approach taken with National Curriculum subjects;

·  Continuing the use of DfE digital channels to steer teachers towards high quality PSHE resources;

·  Extending funding for the PSHE Association for a further financial year, to support the development of a set of case studies to illustrate excellent PSHE teaching; and

·  Preparing revised statutory guidance on Safeguarding Children in Education, clarifying schools' statutory responsibilities concerning opportunities in the school curriculum, for example PSHE, to teach children about safeguarding and personal safety, including online.

These are considered in turn below.


74. The text that Lord Nash refers to in the introduction to the new National Curriculum is as follows:

    All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice. Schools are also free to include other subjects or topics of their choice in planning and designing their own programme of education.[148]

In PSHE guidance published alongside the new National Curriculum in September 2013 PSHE is described as "an important and necessary part of all pupils' education", and the Government states that "we expect schools to use their PSHE education programme to equip pupils with a sound understanding of risk and with the knowledge and skills necessary to make safe and informed decisions".[149]


75. We asked the DfE to provide a copy of the email to all schools to which Lord Nash had referred. Although Lord Nash described this as containing "a very prominent reminder", the email itself did not refer to PSHE specifically, but provided a link to a timeline of various policy changes being introduced in schools. The requirement for a school to publish its curriculum online, including their PSHE provision, appeared as part of this timeline among many other changes to qualifications and the curriculum.


76. The PSHE Expert Group was set up in February 2014, with a budget of £2,000 to cover meeting expenses.[150] The group was asked to "clarify the key areas on which [PSHE education] teachers need further support and identify the topics that can present the greatest challenge when discussing with pupils, engaging their interest and enabling their understanding", and subsequently liaise with providers to "commission or develop and produce new resources where necessary".[151] The Group's report was published in November 2014, with its "strongest recommendation" being that PSHE education should be a statutory entitlement for all school pupils, "as a means of ensuring that the subject is always delivered by trained and supported teachers, with adequate curriculum time".[152] The report set out a further 50 recommendations for a range of audiences including regional schools commissioners, governors, headteachers, directors of children's services and providers of CPD and initial teacher education.[153] The report stated that "moving forward, the [Expert] group will continue to meet independently of the DfE, under the auspices of the Expert Subject Advisory Group network", and that:[154]

    [The Expert group] will be available to work with groups to whom we have made recommendations to support them in putting these into action; we will produce responses to government and other national policymakers' consultations and policies, and we will have a forward agenda of matters we believe it will be critical to discuss and develop ideas on.


77. The DfE grant for the PSHE Association in 2014-15 was £75,000, having fallen from £350,000 in 2012-13 as part of the PSHE Association's move towards being self-sustaining as a membership organisation.[155] The DfE told us that funding was provided to enable the Association to "develop, publish and promote a set of case studies on effective PSHE teaching; to roll out further their Chartered Teacher Framework; and to provide briefings for teachers on key thematic issues".[156] The case studies are currently in preparation. The PSHE Association is not pressing for more funding; Joe Hayman, Chief Executive of the PSHE Association, argued that the decrease meant that the Association now had a more sustainable business model, and that discussions about the level of DfE funding could prove to be a distraction from more fundamental problems facing the subject.[157]


78. The revised statutory guidance on safeguarding was published in April 2014, and contains one reference to PSHE and SRE:[158]

    Governing bodies and proprietors should consider how children may be taught about safeguarding, including online, through teaching and learning opportunities, as part of providing a broad and balanced curriculum. This may include covering relevant issues through personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) and/or—for maintained schools and colleges—through sex and relationship education (SRE).


79. Although not explicitly couched in terms of improving PSHE, during our inquiry the DfE announced a £5m fund to support eight projects that develop pupils' character, self-confidence, respect and leadership by promoting a "military ethos", and a £425,000 "Character Awards" prize fund for 28 schools who promote innovative character education.[159] Subsequently the DfE announced it was providing £1m for research into resilience and a £3.5m fund for projects for schools to develop character education projects "to make England a 'global leader' in teaching character, resilience and grit".[160] The total funding for all these projects together stands at almost £10m.

2014 Supplementary advice from the voluntary sector

80. The most recent Government advice on teaching SRE was published in 2000,[161] and many witnesses commented on how the world has changed since then, including the advent of social media and the passage of legislation relating to same-sex marriages.[162] Nick Gibb MP, the Minister for School Reform, conceded that parts of the 2000 guidance needed to be updated, "such as references to Acts", and that it "needs more on online issues, which have developed considerably since 2000", but he considered that the guidance was "still very pertinent today"[163].

81. In response to the Government's unwillingness to update its official guidance, the PSHE Association, Brook and the Sex Education Forum in 2014 published Sex and Relationships Education for the 21st Century as "supplementary advice" to the Government's 2000 guidance.[164] This was welcomed by Lord Nash in his letter to supporters of the PSHE amendments.


82. Nick Gibb described the 2014 advice produced by the voluntary sector as "very high quality", and told us that "if schools adopt it and implement it, it will result in very good SRE in schools".[165] Similarly, Janet Palmer described the document as "excellent",[166] and the Catholic Education Service saw it as "very helpful".[167] A small number of groups objected to the new advice, on the basis that the role of parents had been "played down" in it; the Family Education Trust argued that it "represents the perspective of organisations advocating a highly controversial approach to sex education",[168] and recommended that the Government distance itself from the document.[169]

83. Despite the DfE's email to all schools, a survey of NUT members in 2014 found that only 20.9% of respondents were aware of the new supplementary advice.[170] Janet Palmer was "surprised" that the figure was even this high, and said that "if you do not know where it is, you do not know it is there, and I have spoken to schools that have no idea about it and have never heard of it".[171] We heard similar accounts during the UKEdChat Twitter session:


84. While the DfE's timeline described above included a link to the new advice, Brook argued that the advice has not been formally endorsed by the Government, and that this demonstrates "the lack of commitment the current Government has to intensify efforts to improve SRE".[172] The National PSHE CPD Programme told us that although the supplementary advice was "a much needed document", "it does not have the status a DfE logo would provide".[173]


85. Several witnesses cautioned that advice alone was not sufficient, even if it were better promoted or formally endorsed. Alison Hadley described the document as "an interim help for schools", but felt that it was "not the solution to the challenges we face".[174] Simon Blake, who was involved in producing the advice, told us that the supplementary advice "cannot be sufficient, since it will not reach enough people and it will not reach the governors and those who are not looking for advice".[175] He argued that while the Government's 2000 guidance "feels like it is from a different age", it was more important to seek "system change" than further guidance at this stage.[176] He added that:[177]

    […] ultimately, it is only things that affect the training of teachers and improvement of schools' ability to work out what they do, when they do it, and where they do it, with children and young people at the heart of it—along with some form of inspection—that will make the sort of difference we need to make in the context that we are working in.

Ofsted told us that "without high-quality training in how to use the guidance, teachers may not have the skills or confidence to apply it effectively".[178]

The Government's broader strategy for improving PSHE

86. Nick Gibb told us that the DfE saw PSHE as "a huge priority"[179] and that it was "an absolutely fundamental part of the school curriculum".[180] He told us that statutory status for PSHE was "an option" that was kept "under review", but that there were other ways of ensuring that PSHE improved, including the use of destination measures for schools, Ofsted inspection, parental choice of schools, and the requirement for schools to publish details of their curriculum online.[181] We have examined these elements of the Government's strategy.

87. Schools have been required since September 2012 to publish their curriculum online.[182] The Minister described the importance of this in terms of helping to steer parental choice of schools:[183]

    Parents will be looking at websites. That is the ultimate aim. They can look at the websites and see whether a school takes PSHE seriously. They might think, "There is nothing here about making sure my child understands the importance of relationships and the risks involved in engaging with the internet inappropriately and unsafely", and they will not send their child to that school. You will argue that they are probably just looking at the maths and the history, but I think parents regard this side of education as very important as well.

Whether or not parents are currently using the information available, it is clear that not all schools fulfil the requirement to publish their curriculum online: the Minister admitted that the requirement was currently "more honoured in the breach than the observance".[184] He explained that he had written to all local authorities and "the main academy chains" to ensure that their schools comply.[185] It became clear after our evidence session that his letters refer only to the general requirement for schools to publish their curricula online, and do not mention PSHE specifically.[186]

88. The Minister also told us that destination measures were "a very good reflection of the overall quality of both the academic and the wider school curriculum, including PSHE",[187] but he conceded that the data did not directly capture outcomes such as teenage pregnancies or drug problems.[188] Destination measures currently provide information on the numbers of young people progressing to further and higher education, and employment including apprenticeships. Although good PSHE is correlated with good academic outcomes, we believe that destination data is unlikely to provide a sufficiently direct or timely incentive for schools to improve PSHE.


89. The Government's current strategy for improving PSHE and SRE in schools is weak, and the recent actions taken by the Government are insufficient to make much difference. Destination measures, parental choice and schools publishing their curricula online will not in themselves lead to the required improvement in PSHE. There is a mismatch between the priority that the Government claims it gives to PSHE and the steps it has taken to improve the quality of PSHE teaching.

90. We recommend that the Government formally endorse and issue the 2014 advice produced by the voluntary sector, and promote this advice more actively to schools and governors.

91. We recommend that the Government monitor schools' compliance with the requirement to publish information about their PSHE and SRE curriculum on their websites.

143   Department for Children, Schools and Families, Independent Review of the proposal to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic education statutory (April 2009) Back

144   Wash up 2010, Research Paper 11/18, House of Commons Library, 11 February 2011 Back

145   Letter from Nick Gibb MP to the Education Committee, 21 July 2011 Back

146   HC Deb, 21 March 2013, col 52WS Back

147   Letter from Lord Nash to Baroness Hughes and Baroness Jones, 24 January 2014 Back

148   Department for Education, The national curriculum in England: Framework document: for teaching 1 September 2014 to 31 August 2015 (September 2013), para 2.5 Back

149   Department for Education, "Guidance: Personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE)", 11 September 2013, accessed 13 January 2015 Back

150   Department for Education (SRE 480) Back

151   Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education Expert Group, Report and Recommendations (November 2014) p 1 Back

152   Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education Expert Group, Report and Recommendations (November 2014) p 4 Back

153   Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education Expert Group, Report and Recommendations (November 2014) p 4 Back

154   Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education Expert Group, Report and Recommendations (November 2014) p 9 Back

155   Department for Education (SRE 480) Back

156   Department for Education (SRE 480) Back

157   Joe Hayman (SRE 479) para 6 Back

158   Department for Education, Keeping children safe in education: statutory guidance for schools and colleges (April 2014) para 36 Back

159   "Measures to help schools instil character in pupils announced", Department for Education press release, 8 December 2014 Back

160   "England to become a global leader of teaching character", Department for Education press release, 16 December 2014 Back

161   Department for Education and Employment, Sex and relationship education guidance (July 2000) DfEE 0116/2000 Back

162   E.g. NSPCC (SRE 316) para 27, British Humanist Association (SRE 333) para 23 Back

163   Q415 Back

164   Brook, PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum, Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) for the 21st Century (2014) Back

165   Q415 Back

166   Q82 Back

167   Catholic Education Service (SRE 432) para 13 Back

168   Family Education Trust, "New sex education advice not fit for purpose says national family charity", 28 February 2014, accessed 26 January 2015 Back

169   Family Education Trust (SRE 465) Back

170   National Union of Teachers (SRE 334) para 26 Back

171   Q82 Back

172   FPA and Brook (SRE 399) para 4.3 Back

173   National PSHE CPD Programme (SRE 287) para 1 Back

174   Q23 Back

175   Q25 Back

176   Q25 Back

177   Q20 Back

178   Ofsted (SRE 443) para 11 Back

179   Q389 Back

180   Q389 Back

181   Q452 Back

182   Q409 Back

183   Q472 Back

184   Q409 Back

185   Q409 Back

186   Department for Education (SRE 480) Back

187   Q419 Back

188   Q476-478 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 17 February 2015