A Scottish government-led review of personal and social education has found that the subject needs to be “vastly improved” in the senior phase of secondary and is too often viewed as a “lesser element of the curriculum”.
The review – carried out by the Scottish government along with bodies including Education Scotland, Young Scot and Girlguiding Scotland – found that PSE in upper secondary was not preparing pupils for life after school. Pupils, it said, complained that the focus of classes was too often on substance misuse and that lessons were outdated and did not relate to the issues that they were concerned about.
Secondary pupils who took part in an engagement session said the top priority for PSE lessons should be mental health and self-esteem, along with sex and sexual health.
Fitness and alcohol and drugs awareness were ranked as the least important topics.
The review, while acknowledging some excellent practice in schools, called for young people to have more say in the design and delivery of PSE and recommended that senior pupils were given a role in delivering lessons to younger students.
Improving personal and social education
It also identified the teaching of sexual consent, particularly in primary, as an “aspect for improvement” and highlighted “the high caseloads that pastoral and guidance teachers are dealing with” – given that guidance teachers tend to deliver PSE in secondary.
Last year Tes Scotland revealed the “astronomical” caseloads of guidance staff uncovered by the review.
Inspection body Education Scotland, which carried out a thematic inspection of PSE as part of the review, found that the number of pupils for whom a single guidance teacher was responsible varied from 74 to 280. The average caseload was 200 pupils.
In all, the review makes 16 recommendations and the education secretary, John Swinney, told the Scottish Parliament this afternoon that he had accepted all of them. On the issue of sexual consent, he said that new relationships, sexual health and parenthood education guidance was currently being trialled in 40 schools and was expected to be rolled out in September.
Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray, however, pointed out that the aim was that the review recommendations would be implemented within the current parliamentary term, so by March 2021. Already, almost two years had passed since the education committee inquiry into PSE that sparked the review, he said, and now it would be another two years before the recommendations would be implemented.
Mr Gray also questioned whether the development of the PSE toolkit recommended in the review – which will aim to spread good practice and share resources – was what guidance teachers really needed and suggested increasing teacher numbers and, specifically, guidance teacher numbers.
However, Mr Swinney said teacher numbers were rising and the toolkit would help guidance teachers to identify and deploy good practice.
Mr Swinney said: “Personal and social education is critical to giving young people the knowledge, skills and resilience to navigate the various stages of their lives and reach their full potential.
“Pupils have told us that PSE needs to be more relevant, empathetic and informative and must reflect the issues facing young people today. Updated consent education will be stage- and age-appropriate, will involve young people in the design and delivery of classes and will deliver more consistent teaching at all levels.
“The recommendations will also ensure a high standard of learning and support in mental, physical and emotional wellbeing and will give pupils greater access to mental health support.”
An implementation group, jointly chaired by local government body Cosla and the Scottish government, will take forward the review’s recommendations.