PSHE has been depreciated, devalued and all but destroyed.
In some schools, it is barely bothered with at all. I know of one where the only attempt at PSHE was a PowerPoint sent around giving advice on personal hygiene. Others choose to have a PSHE assembly once a month, delivered to as many bodies as you can squeeze in a hall – efficient, but not enough.
Another "solution" that schools have trialled is the "drop-down day"; a whole day devoted to PSHE topics. Alison Hadley, who led the implementation of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy for England, told Parliament that this approach is “clearly not sufficient” because you need “a progression model to get good learning”.
All this does our pupils a huge disservice.
So we decided to give PSHE the attention it deserved. We reintroduced it to the timetable and very quickly I realised just how vital PSHE lessons were. I was shocked at the lack of understanding that students had about a range of topics.
However, I was able to turn that ignorance into curiosity and engage my pupils in a subject that many of them had never really studied. I would say that the following five things were key to making PSHE lessons work in our setting.
1. Consistency is key
It sounds simple, but each lesson was structured in a way that was similar to all other subjects in the school. This was not only important in terms of the learning habits of the pupils, but it also gave PSHE the same credibility in their eyes.
2. The scheme of work should not be a sequence of standalone topics
PSHE should not be a wade through the same old topics but a live, intertwined investigation into the issues that matter to young people. You cannot silo these issues off: they all mix into each other and that is how we need to approach it. We looked at body image in the media, then considered fake news, then cyberbullying. Make the links between topics explicit to refer to prior learning.
3. Use PSHE to get your students talking
PSHE is a great subject to get students debating and talking about their ideas. I used it as a chance to improve my students’ academic oracy. This is not a subject where you should blindly talk from the front.
4. Plan with other departments
Regular PSHE lessons can complement the needs of core subjects if you plan and work with other departments and map the curriculum together.
5. Build a curriculum that serves your community
The reintroduction of PSHE lessons is vital to ensure that students are successful in school and in their life beyond in our local communities. What you teach has to respond to the issues they are facing and be driven by the gaps in their knowledge. Some of those things will be universal across schools, but many will not.
James Bennett is a teacher of English at Holloway School in North London