For many subject specialists and schools, PSHE and sex education are inextricably interlinked. Teachers are often taught to deliver sex education as part of broader training in PSHE.
“It’s about the practicalities,” says Lucy Emmerson, national coordinator of the sex-education campaign group, the Sex Education Forum. “PSHE is the vehicle for delivering RSE.”
The NEU teaching union survey asked teachers how sex education was currently delivered in their schools. Almost half – 48 per cent – of respondents said that sex education was taught as part of timetabled PSHE lessons.
Existing legislation allows for ministers to introduce compulsory PSHE lessons as part of the move to statutory sex education. But no definite commitment is given to this in the government’s consultation document, triggering further fears.
“The driving force for statutory relationships and sex education has been around safeguarding,” says Baggaley, of the PSHE Association. “But, if you just teach RSE without broader PSHE, you’re not underpinning skills involving, for example, relationships around drugs and alcohol. Then it’s not going to be effective in achieving the government’s goals for RSE.”
The Department for Education will only say that it is considering the future of PSHE education as well as the introduction of compulsory relationships and sex education.
A third – 34 per cent – of respondents to the NEU survey said that, in their schools, sex education is taught during drop-down days or similar sessions when the usual timetable is suspended. And 16 per cent said that it is taught during tutor or class time.
Campaigners believe the introduction of statutory sex education will not change this, unless PSHE is also made compulsory.
“You can’t just pepper relationships and sex education across the timetable,” says Emmerson, of the Sex Education Forum. “How much time should schools give to it? How much training should teachers have?”
Anne Heavey, NEU education policy advisor, says that off-timetable days, in particular, can cause problems. Anecdotal evidence from her members suggests that pupils are likely to take that day off school, thus missing out on all their sex education.
“A subject has status if it’s on the curriculum and timetabled,” Heavey says. “It’s not just 20 minutes at the end of the school day, and ‘Miss, can we go home now?’”
And, without designated slots in the timetable, Baggaley says, schools may decide to teach sex education through other subjects. “People might say, ‘Oh, but we’re exploring consent through Tess of the D’Urbervilles,’” he says.
“But are you actually talking about how you’d negotiate consent? Are you discussing contraceptives? Where are you signposting services you can go to for help with these issues?”