Life lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools - Education Contents

5  Improving PSHE and SRE

The supply of trained teachers

92. A research report published by the DfE in 2011 noted that:[189]

    The practice of a subject being taught by teachers of whom upwards of 90% do not have a specialist qualification would rarely or never be applied to other subject specialisms, yet is commonplace, according to the survey data, for PSHE education. This may well contribute to perceptions (and sometimes reality) of lower curriculum status.

A lack of suitably trained teachers was also referred to during the UKEdChat Twitter chat:

93. Lucy Emmerson told us that improving the supply of appropriately trained teachers was important because PSHE was "a subject that requires a particular pedagogy, particular skills along with the knowledge, because it is different from some of the other subjects in the curriculum".[190] Ofsted's 2013 report noted that a lack of teacher expertise resulted in some 'difficult' topics such as sexuality and domestic violence being omitted from the curriculum.[191]


94. Ofsted told us that the non-statutory nature of PSHE "may be a contributing factor" to its low quality, as this means that "the subject fails to attract initial teacher training funding".[192] The Association of Teachers and Lecturers recommended that there should be an option to train in PSHE as a full subject in ITT.[193] Joe Hayman lamented that "as a non-statutory, non-examined subject, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is lower demand for PSHE-trained teachers than there is for teachers of statutory, examined subjects".[194]

95. The Minister explained that "the way in which ITT and recruitment in colleges works is as a demand-led system, determined by what schools say they need in terms of new teachers".[195] It is clear that any steps to affect the inclusion of PSHE in ITT will need to take account of this.


96. Improving the supply of trained teachers through the uptake of CPD has been attempted in the past. From 2004 to 2010 the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health funded a certificated national programme of PSHE Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for primary and secondary teachers and for school nurses.[196] The course was free to participants, and was subsequently expanded to include teaching assistants, youth workers, fire safety officers and police community liaison officers. The Government's intention in 2004 was for there to be a certificated PSHE teacher in every secondary school by 2006. Funding was withdrawn in 2010; but the programme still exists and is provided by Babcock 4S in partnership with the University of Roehampton, at a cost of £700 to participants for a three-day course.[197] Table 1 shows how the move to a market-based model—and the decision not to make PSHE statutory—has affected the number of participants on the course.Table 1: Participation figures for the National PHSE CPD Programme
YearRegistrations Completions
2007-08  1,723 1,356
2008-091,471 978
2009-101,937 1,331
2010-11334 282
2011-12202 170
2012-13175 145
2013-14175 141

Source: National PSHE CPD Programme (SRE 462) para 2.2

97. A survey for the DfE in 2011 found that 28% of primary schools and 45% of secondaries had one or more members of staff holding the national PSHE qualification, and that 38% of primaries and 32% of secondaries had members of staff who had undertaken non-accredited PSHE CPD.[198] No more recent figures are available, but it seems unlikely that the situation will have improved substantially given the participation figures above.

The supply of school nurses and other professionals working with schools

98. There were 1,209 full time equivalent qualified school nurses in September 2014,[199] and the DfE told us that this number has been stable over the past five years.[200] This is against a rise in the number of pupils in state schools in England from 6.93m in 2009 to 7.14m in 2014, and a projected increase to 8.02m by 2023.[201] Heather Robinson, a school nurse based in East London, told us that in her area there were 22 school nurses serving around 42,000 children. She estimated that a 20% uplift was needed in operational staff to cover the current school population.[202] The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said the school nursing workforce is "overstretched", and that "an increase in safeguarding and child protection work [is] preventing nurses being able to undertake health promoting activities".[203] The RCN reported in 2009 that on average a school nurse was responsible for 2,590 pupils.[204] Heather Robinson also argued that "people who may have considered becoming a school nurse find that there are no school nurse places in their trust or at the university, because they are being prioritised for the health visitors […] the opportunity is not there".[205]

99. A decline in the number of local authority advisers specialising in PSHE and SRE was also noted in written evidence.[206] Carol Jones, a headteacher at a girls' school in North London, suggested that there was a link between the previous levels of assistance from local authority advisers and the take up of CPD.[207] We saw in our visit to Bristol the benefits of local authority advisers: we were told that 95% of secondary schools and 83% of primary schools in Bristol now had at least one trained teacher in this subject.

Curriculum time

100. The National Aids Trust referred to schools currently providing "insufficient curriculum time" to deliver PSHE.[208] Few witnesses were willing to tackle directly the issue of what effect additional curriculum time might have on other curriculum areas. Michael Mercieca said that space in the curriculum was "an issue", but that PSHE was already in schools: "it is not going to be completely new, so maybe the space issue, although it is there, will not be that large".[209] Similarly, the PSHE Association told us that:[210]

    The primary issue [identified in Ofsted's report] was not lack of provision but rather poor quality provision, and there were many examples of schools which were able to find adequate time for PSHE provision and get outstanding whole-school inspections.

101. The PSHE Association provided the following advice in addressing this issue:[211]

    Overcoming the challenge of finding curriculum time for PSHE education means resisting the temptation to try to cover every single topic: just as schools would not seek to cover every historical event in history lessons, so in PSHE teachers should not seek to cover every current and future challenge, opportunity and responsibility pupils will encounter in life and in the workplace.

The Association also told us that PSHE education was a subject "through which the school ethos can be brought to life".[212] The link between PSHE and a school's wider ethos was also made in the context of creating a 'whole-school' approach to some elements such as mental health and wellbeing.[213]


102. Ofsted noted in its 2013 report that "the quality of leadership and management in PSHE was at least good in 56% of schools, required improvement in 42% and was inadequate in 2% of schools. All the schools that required improvement in PSHE overall required improvement in leadership and management".[214] Janet Palmer explained that "all of the schools that had good or outstanding PSHE and SRE had support from senior leaders and the head teacher; it came from the head and the senior leaders. In those schools where the head and senior leaders did not really value the subject, it did not stand any chance; it was not going to be good".[215] Spectrum Community Health told us that in Wakefield the provision of SRE "relies very much on the passion, drive and expertise of particular members of staff rather than being intrinsically embedded in the culture and values of the school", and that nationally provision was variable and depended on "the value the management place on health and wellbeing within their school community".[216] This was echoed in our conversations with teachers in Bristol.

Parental involvement, and listening to young people

103. Support for improving parental involvement in school SRE was very broad, irrespective of views on whether the status of the subject should change. Janet Palmer told us that "where schools really put the effort in with the parents, the parents go along with it and are very supportive and grateful for the work the school is doing".[217] Sarah Carter of the Family Education Trust said that:[218]

    To have parents more involved would be ideal—for every school to be able to liaise with parents. They could not just inform parents of the material that is being taught but liaise with them and get their buy-in as to their understanding of the maturity of their child. Parents could then support that in the home environment, working with the young person.

Similarly, Graham Ritchie told us "the content of PSHE lessons should be the product of a dialogue between parents, young people and teachers themselves".[219] Philip Robinson said that "in our community, you often get a lot of resistance from parents, but we found that in the schools that do this well, if you involve parents in the process from the beginning, that resistance decreases. They see that your intentions are good, and the outcomes of courses like this are very positive".[220] We heard similar advice during a Twitter chat with UKEdChat:

104. Teachers we met in Bristol estimated that on average around 10 parents per year might query a school's SRE policy but nine of them would subsequently be reassured by a conversation with the school. Philip Robinson added that it was clear that some parents were worried that SRE would lead to premature sexualisation of their children—whether or not there was evidence for this—and that a lack of engagement would increase that fear.[221] While the Catholic Education Service did not favour making SRE statutory, Philip Robinson told us that "if the statutory provision said that you were legally obliged to engage with parents, that might be a different matter".[222]

105. Several groups also advocated the involvement of young people themselves in setting a school's PSHE curriculum. Public Health England told us that "the whole school approach [to PSHE] should include active participation of young people to ensure PSHE education meets their needs. Research indicates that for SRE to be effective in meeting public health outcomes, young people's participation in the design and personalisation of the content is a key factor".[223] Similarly, the UK Youth Select Committee called for every school to work with its young people to shape the school curriculum,[224] and Simon Blake said that too much of a focus on evidence for outcomes from PSHE education would "miss the most important bit, which is the voice of children and young people".[225]

Accountability and the balance of incentives

106. Ofsted argued that "there are insufficient measures of accountability to ensure that schools focus on PSHE education".[226] Carol Jones, a secondary school headteacher, told us that:[227]

    Schools have had to prioritise, under the accountability framework, subjects that are going to be judged or where schools are going to be judged. That is just a fact, and it is also a fact that schools have prioritised core subjects, like English, maths, science and so on and, possibly, EBacc subjects, and have tried to find ways of managing curriculum models that enable those subjects to be taught at the same time as good quality personal, social and health education, and there is a tension.

107. A major form of accountability for schools is Ofsted inspections. Ofsted has ended its programme of routine triennial subject surveys, including in relation to PSHE, but as part of a standard school inspection "the inspection team may investigate provision in PSHE education in relation to broader issues such as bullying, e-safety, safeguarding and pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural [SMSC] development".[228] The DfE told us that the Ofsted School Inspection Framework requires inspectors to consider aspects of PSHE when forming judgements,[229] but the lack of future routine subject survey reports from Ofsted on the overall picture of PSHE education is regrettable.

108. Other systemic drivers of school priorities are exam results and their corresponding use in league tables. PSHE is a non-examined subject, and witnesses suggested that this resulted in less time being dedicated to it.[230] A small number of witnesses suggested that a new GCSE could alter the status the subject receives in schools.[231] Janet Palmer was sceptical about whether a GCSE would meet the needs of the young people taking it,[232] but Carol Jones described how this would affect the priority that schools give to PSHE:[233]

    I say, as a school leader, that we have to make hard choices in our curriculum time, and we have prioritised those subjects that are beneficial for the life chances of young people—i.e. they contribute towards progress into A-Level or university and so on or, indeed, apprenticeships. It is not insignificant, it seems to me, that Ofsted has done the same thing and now undertakes subject inspections on those subjects. So, yes, and I certainly know that in schools like mine and my previous school, where there was a GCSE in Citizenship and the entire Key Stage 4 student cohort took it, it had high status. It was well studied; the teaching was outstanding consistently.

Correct terminology

109. Ofsted argued in its 2013 report that young children's inability to name body parts represented a weakness in safeguarding, as "younger pupils had not always learnt the correct names for sexual body parts or what kind of physical contact is acceptable and what is unacceptable".[234] The ATL supported the principle of young children being able to name body parts for safeguarding purposes.[235]

110. In 2012, Nick Gibb wrote (as then Minister for Schools) to the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children to confirm that "neither the current National Curriculum [for primary science] nor the new draft programme of study requires the naming of internal or external body parts with reference to reproduction. The current National Curriculum level descriptions and the new draft notes and guidance make clear that this is not included when pupils are taught to name the main body parts in KS1/Year 1".[236] We asked the Minister, now back in post, at what age children should learn the correct name for the genitals. He told us that at key stage 2 there was "a requirement for young people to be taught the body parts in a very factual, non-emotional way, and I think that is important".[237]

111. Ealing Council's Sex and Relationship Task Group told us that the current wording in the National Curriculum that refers to naming "basic parts of the human body" can be "misunderstood to mean that schools do not have to teach children the correct scientific names for genitalia, thus potentially putting pupils at risk if they are unable to use commonly understood language".[238] The DfE later clarified that "while we have not specified sexual parts of the body at this stage, teachers will be able to cover this material if they think it is appropriate to the needs of their pupils".[239]

Focusing on relationships

112. Graham Ritchie told us that "From speaking with children and young people, and looking at some of the reports on child sexual exploitation that have been published recently, the conclusion is that young people say that too often relationships and sex education focuses on the mechanics of sex, rather than the relationships part".[240] Explore—a charity that provides a network of couples who can offer "authentic examples of lasting relationships" and an opportunity for young people to ask them questions about their relationships—was concerned that "the reality of long-term relationships" was not covered by SRE programmes, and that "even when an attempt [at addressing relationships] is made, it tends to cover short-term matters such as the preliminaries of consensual respectful sex".[241]

113. Lucy Emmerson, the Sex Education Forum's Coordinator, explained that 'relationships' education was:[242]

    learning how to treat each other as human beings. It is learning about friendships. It is learning about how to manage situations in the playground. It is learning about different families, which are made up of complex relationships, and that other people have different families from you. As you work through those steps in primary school, you are being prepared to manage the possibility of intimate relationships in your adult life.

114. Witnesses also discussed the extent to which relationships education would help young children to understand different kinds of families. Gillian Allcroft argued that:

    Teaching children that there are different family types is certainly something that should be happening, even in primary school. There will be children in primary school who have lesbian or gay parents and will be different; or, indeed, in today's society you have multiple families with half-siblings, step-siblings all together. We need to be teaching children at that age about the different range of families.[243]

Dr Zoe Hilton saw a connection between a focus on relationships and tackling safeguarding issues and online protection: "there are some technical issues that are important to know, such as setting privacy settings and so on, but on their own, those are simply the bare bones, and the richer education that needs to go on […] is about how to manage relationships and the sort of risk taking that children and particularly adolescents engage in".[244]

115. A name change from 'sex and relationships education' to 'relationships and sex education' was advocated in several written submissions, including that from the Office of the Children's Commissioner,[245] to emphasise the significance of the relationships part. The Catholic Education Service argued that such a change would "show the importance of relationships as the starting point for education in human love and sexuality".[246] Kate Persaud told us that a name change would more accurately reflect the status quo rather than change what is taught:

    Even when we have our three dedicated days for year 8 on SRE, the actual sex bit is about two hours and then the rest of the three days is about being safe in relationships, understanding quality relationships, respecting yourself and respecting the environment. [Sex] is a part, but it is only a bit, and it is all the safeness around it that we teach.[247]

116. A range of nomenclature is used for SRE even within the UK. In Scotland, the subject is described as 'relationships, sexual health and parenthood',[248] while in Northern Ireland the subject is called 'relationships and sexuality education'.[249]

Conclusions and recommendations

117. Ensuring that PSHE and SRE is delivered by confident and capable teachers is crucial to improving the quality of teaching. We recommend that the DfE restore funding for the National PSHE CPD programme, with the aim of ensuring that all primary and secondary schools have at least one teacher who has received specialist training in PSHE, and monitor progress towards this.

118. We recommend that the Government ensure that there are sufficient school nurses training places, and that the ratio of school nurses to children is maintained.

119. We recommend that Sex and Relationships Education be renamed "Relationships and Sex Education" to reflect the (existing) focus on relationships and to emphasise the importance of this part of children and young people's education.

120. There is clear agreement about the need for parents and schools to work together in the area of PSHE, and this is key to improving SRE in particular.

121. We recommend that all schools be required to run a regular consultation with parents on the school's SRE provision, in a way that allows all parents to participate.

122. We recommend that Ofsted inspect schools' engagement with parents on Sex and Relationships Education.

123. We recommend that Ofsted set out clearly in the school inspection handbook the way in which a school's PSHE provision relates to Ofsted's judgements on safeguarding and pupils' "spiritual, moral, social and cultural development".

124. We recommend that the Government commission Ofsted to produce regular subject survey reports on the quality of PSHE and SRE.

125. We recommend that the DfE clarify that children in primary schools should be taught the proper names for genitalia as part of the National Curriculum.

189   Department for Education, Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education: A mapping study of the prevalent models of delivery and their effectiveness (2011) Research Report DFE-RR080, para 3.4 Back

190   Q57 Back

191   Ofsted (SRE 443) para 11 Back

192   Ofsted (SRE 443) Back

193   Association of Teachers and Lecturers (SRE 250) para 34 Back

194   Joe Hayman (SRE 479) para 6 Back

195   Q391 Back

196   National PSHE CPD Programme (SRE 462) para 1 Back

197   National PSHE CPD Programme (SRE 287) para 2.2 Back

198   Department for Education, Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education: A mapping study of the prevalent models of delivery and their effectiveness (2011) Research Report DFE-RR080, Figure 5.1.1 and 5.1.2 Back

199   Health and Social Care Information Centre, NHS Workforce Statistics-September 2014 Provisional statistics (22 December 2014), Nurses Area and Level Tables Back

200   Department for Education (SRE 480) Back

201   Department for Education, National pupil projections: trends in pupil numbers-July 2014, SFR23/2014, Table 1 Back

202   Q73-75 Back

203   Royal College of Nursing, The RCN's UK position on school nursing (February 2012) p 3 Back

204   Royal College of Nursing, School Nursing in 2009 (May 2009) Back

205   Q73 Back

206   National PSHE CPD Programme (SRE 462) para 1 Back

207   Q56 Back

208   National Aids Trust (SRE 411) Back

209   Q191 Back

210   PSHE Association (SRE 466) para 15 Back

211   PSHE Association (SRE 466) para 16 Back

212   PSHE Association (SRE 385) para 16 Back

213   Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition (SRE 356) para 3 Back

214   Ofsted, Not yet good enough: personal, social, health and economic education in schools (May 2013) p 8 Back

215   Q66 Back

216   Spectrum Community Health (SRE 359) para 26 Back

217   Q66 Back

218   Q128 Back

219   Q179 Back

220   Q264 Back

221   Q308 Back

222   Q284 Back

223   Public Health England (SRE 454) para 5.3 Back

224   British Youth Council Youth Select Committee, A Curriculum for Life (2013) para 8 Back

225   Q9 Back

226   Ofsted (SRE 443) para 7 Back

227   Q54 Back

228   Ofsted (SRE 443) para 7 Back

229   Department for Education (SRE 364) para 9 Back

230   E.g. Swindon Healthy Schools, Swindon Borough Council (SRE 240) Back

231   E.g. Public Health Doncaster Council (SRE 328), Submit 2 Success (SRE 15) Back

232   Q102 Back

233   Q98 Back

234   Ofsted, Not yet good enough: personal, social, health and economic education in schools (May 2013) para 23 Back

235   ATL (SRE 250) para 23 Back

236   Letter from Nick Gibb MP to Antonia Tulley, 5 July 2012 Back

237   Q498 Back

238   Ealing Council Sex and Relationship Task Group (SRE 292) para 4 Back

239   Department for Education (SRE 480) Back

240   Q167 Back

241   Explore-Students Exploring Marriage (SRE 205) para 2 Back

242   Q51 Back

243   Q332 Back

244   Q347 Back

245   Office of the Children's Commissioner (SRE 442) para 18 Back

246   Catholic Education Service (SRE 478) Back

247   Q317 Back

248   The Scottish Government, "Relationships, sexual health and parenthood education", accessed 29 January 2015 Back

249   Department of Education, Relationships and sexuality education in schools (June 2013) circular 2013/16 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 17 February 2015