18th November 1994 at 00:00
When I first became a governor we used to have social education as a proper timetable subject under the direction of a suitably-qualified and experienced teacher. Other staff who taught the subject had had in-service training and they all worked to a syllabus which had been the subject of long consultations. Only the upper age groups had special lessons but there was a syllabus for the lower school included in other curriculum subjects - for example, money management in maths, sex and health education in science.

This has all changed and we now are supposed to have PSE in tutor periods throughout the school. I suspect a few teachers try to skip sex education, and often the form period gets eaten into with other things.

Should governors have been consulted about this change? Isn't there any requirement to give proper lessons in, say, citizenship? Is this experience peculiar to our school, and how can we improve the quality - if it's anything to do with us, that is?

I know many schools have taken this step under pressure of the national curriculum and I would guess your experience is fairly common. There is no provision in the national curriculum for PSE, and although any good school would give it high priority, it is not easy to make room in the timetable any more. The new post-Dearing slimming-down of the curriculum should, however, open up a lot more choice in Years 10 and 11.

I am sure the tutorial-based teaching of this range of subjects can work well and there is an advantage in having issues which come near pupils' experience dealt with by a familiar person, but it takes much more rigorous management if the quality is to be kept high. It needs to be given high priority by senior management, year heads have an important task to ensure that the programme is coherent and faithfully carried out. There must also be constant liaison with suitable experts and in-service training.

The governors' responsibility certainly includes decisions about the choice of subjects outside the national curriculum and how, in broad terms, they are organised - I hope you have a curriculum working group.

Curriculum responsibility can't be delegated, but a group which looks at curriculum matters in more depth, and keeps itself informed on a Forth Bridge basis on every part of the school's work, is a great strength to the governing body. In this setting, you could easily ask to spend some time finding out how PSE teaching is organised and monitored, and your questions might well reveal areas which now need some maintenance. Parents are entitled to see the syllabus in any subject, so governors obviously must be able to do so.

Sex education is a responsibility of governors, underlined in law. The content and the method of delivery of sex education should be part of your written policy - delivery in your school sounds a bit hit or miss. Secondary schools are legally obliged to provide sex education, you must inform yourselves on this and satisfy yourselves that it is being well done and reaches every pupil.

Not all teachers are equally comfortable teaching sex education. Nevertheless, all pupils must have access to the same programme and you need to know how this is being organised: in some schools it is dealt with separately from other aspects of personal education, still compatibly with the tutor period as a base, but with dedicated staff moving into each group on particular days. Indeed, there is no reason why some specialisation can't be built in more generally even within the tutorial framework.

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