When planning online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, many schools will understandably focus their attention on key exam subjects such as maths and English. But with learning moving from classrooms to living rooms, and with pupils and parents alike facing new ways of working, personal social and health education (PSHE) also has a crucial role, and should not be forgotten.
Now more than ever, pupils need to be equipped with strategies to protect their mental health and emotional wellbeing, regulate their sleep patterns, ensure online safety, maintain positive relationships, and keep their physical health on top form.
However, PSHE also covers sensitive material and it is important to avoid certain topics that are unsuitable outside of the classroom context.
So how can schools continue to deliver high-quality PSHE during the current school closures, while also making sure that home learning is conducted safely?
Here are my tips.
1. Be realistic
While we want pupils to recognise the importance of learning, we need to be realistic in what can be accomplished in their new setting. Just like adults, children and young people will take some time to adjust to their new working environments and their new routines. Also, just like adults, they will likely have concerns about coronavirus which may make it harder for them to concentrate on learning for long periods of time.
It may be, therefore, that a selection of sequenced activities works better in some cases than the structured, hour-long PSHE lessons that work best in schools. This would also help pupils work through the topic at their own pace.
2. Ensure learning is safe
Ensuring safe and effective PSHE in a home-learning environment is key; lessons adapted for home learning should continue to follow best practice. A safe learning environment must be established and maintained. This includes checking that all lessons and resources "distance the learning" by not using the real experiences of pupils or people known to them, as this can be upsetting for pupils with personal experience of the topic, and can make them feel "put on the spot" and less able to engage with the topic effectively.
Similarly, without teacher facilitation it is more important than ever that pupils are signposted to safe, age-appropriate support, such as a list of carefully selected national and local support services.
Our guide to choosing PSHE resources highlights key considerations to ensure safe practice, applicable for home learning and for lessons taught in schools.
It is also important to note that a resource designed for the PSHE classroom is unlikely to be appropriate for home learning, which is why we are adapting some of our relevant resources to this environment and providing advice to teachers on how to adapt their own (see point 4).
3. Select topics carefully
There is a lot you can do remotely to deliver some aspects of PSHE education, but not all PSHE topics are appropriate for remote teaching or home learning.
While some topics lend themselves to home learning, others are complex and deal with sensitive issues, so should be saved for a later date. Suitable topics might include managing online friendships, maintaining healthy eating habits and careers education.
However, topics such as eating disorders and self-harm should be avoided as such topics should only be addressed through carefully and sensitively facilitated teaching and discussion. Pupils studying at home might also be encouraged to carry out their own research on such topics and could easily find unsafe websites and materials online.
For advice on choosing appropriate PSHE topics for home learning, see our free guide to teaching PSHE remotely during school closures.
4. Adapt activities
Many PSHE lessons contain group discussions, whole class feedback and paired work, but home learning lessons must take a different approach. Lessons and resources need to be adapted to ensure that discussions can be managed by a parent, or that pupils can complete them independently.
For example, instead of participating in a class debate, pupils might be asked to weigh up both sides of an argument and write a short conclusion. Similarly, research tasks should be restricted or carefully structured, as pupils might access unreliable, or even harmful, information online.
Home learning can provide an excellent opportunity to reinforce PSHE through household routines, for example, "relationships" education could include discussing the importance of "checking in" with friends, while "digital literacy" might include a conversation about the safe use of online tools that can be used to stay in touch during periods of social distancing.
For further suggestions for adapting activities or embedding PSHE into daily life, see our guidance on adapting lessons for home learning.
5. Know that help is on hand
Our online coronavirus support hub includes the various pieces of guidance highlighted above and will be updated regularly with tips and ideas for suitable activities to give pupils to work on at home, lessons that can be delivered online, guidance documents and support for using school closure to plan ahead for statutory changes within PSHE from September.
Elizabeth Laming works for the PSHE Association as a member of their subject specialist team