The government has been put on notice that a failure to make personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education a compulsory part of the curriculum would be to ignore the public mood.
Jonathan Baggaley, chief executive of the PSHE Association, made the case for the subject as ministers decide whether to make it mandatory.
Speaking at a PSHE Association conference in London today, Mr Baggaley pointed to societal cultural shifts that he said have “bubbled to the surface” this year and brought PSHE subject areas into the mainstream.
He said: “Which way will they go? Statutory status, or a path which we believe will be less effective to implement?
"I would argue that if they walk the wrong way, if they don’t go for statutory PSHE, they will be walking away from the mainstream. They will be walking in the other direction…The evidence clearly shows that compulsory PSHE is in line with the public mood.”
Under the 2017 Children and Social Work Act, a new subject of relationship education will be made mandatory in all primary schools from September 2019, and relationship and sex education will be mandatory in all secondary schools.
A power under the Act also gives the education secretary the option to make PSHE or elements of the subject mandatory in all schools, which is currently still under consideration.
The PSHE Association is lobbying to make the subject statutory in its entirety, which it argues will be a far more effective and efficient route than committing to compulsory RSE alone.
A recent Teacher Voice Omnibus survey revealed that 85 per cent of senior leaders found their schools are already teaching PSHE and RSE together.
Mr Baggaley said current trends in popular culture that have surfaced in the past year resonate with the teachings of PSHE and demonstrate the subject's relevance to the classroom.
“Whether we are talking about #Metoo and challenging sexual harassment, whether we’re talking about the gender pay gap…the rising awareness of young people’s with mental health. All of these have been central themes in mainstream media, in society, in conversations in the pub over the past year, and all of these have been issues we’ve been exploring through PSHE. This is mainstream.”
A recent report published by a coalition of teaching organisations and children's charities, Statutory PSHE Education: meaningful change supported by busy teachers & school leaders, showed widespread support for PSHE to be given mandatory status.
This included 85 per cent of business leaders, 88 per cent of teachers and 92 per cent of parents. Unions, Public Health England, and several parliamentary select committees also support the move.
Mr Ian Bauckham, a headteacher and academy leader who is working as a Department for Education adviser on PSHE and sex education, told the audience that the DfE is currently assessing consultation submissions.
A formal consultation on the draft regulations and statutory guidance will be published “shortly”. This, he said, “will make clear what the proposed mandatory content will be”. It will be followed by a debate in parliament.
“While that process is in train, schools are encouraged to continue teaching age-appropriate PSHE, which is sensitive to the needs of their pupils and their communities,” said Mr Bauckham.