The long road to statutory PSHE education (almost!)

It very nearly happened in 2010

Statutory PSHE education was announced by the then Labour government in 2008 followed by a review into how to implement it, but the 2010 general election was imminent before legislation came before Parliament.

This meant that it was subject to ‘wash-up’ negotiations between Government and Opposition to pass outstanding legislation before Parliament was dissolved. These negotiations hit a number of snags, and the plans to make PSHE statutory fell through.

PSHE education wasn’t high on the agenda for the new Government though there were still pockets of support across all parties. There was a lot of work to ensure proper cross-party engagement with the issue but we had something to build on.

Building on a glimmer of hope

In order to raise standards in all schools we knew the subject would need a higher profile and to be taken seriously. So the PSHE Association massively stepped up our campaigning activities from 2010 onwards.

This involved building the case for statutory PSHE by highlighting its impact when taught well, and the level of support behind it from parents, teachers and pupils:

  • We collated evidence of PSHE education’s importance to children and young people’s safety, wellbeing and health (see our ‘Curriculum for life’ report)
  • We commissioned new research, including a major independent evidence review on the impact of PSHE on academic attainment
  • We commissioned YouGov polling which showed support from 92% of parents, 92% of young people and 85% of business leaders supported PSHE education. Polling by NEU and NAHT showed overwhelming support for statutory PSHE amongst teachers and school leaders.

And vitally, we had a passionate membership on our side that wanted to push for improvement in all schools.

We knew this work was vital given concerns over squeezed curriculum time and inconsistent standards — a 2013 Ofsted review of PSHE found standards ‘not yet good enough’ in 40% of schools.

Getting leading bodies on board

PSHE education is a broad subject and we knew there was widespread support across various sectors for education that supported health, relationships, wellbeing and readiness to make the most of the modern world. We decided to harness this support by getting over 100 leading organisations to pledge support for statutory PSHE.

This included two royal societies, five leading education unions, six royal medical colleges, the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Stonewall, Google, the British Red Cross, the Children’s Society, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, the Association for Chairs of Safeguarding Children Boards, the Children’s Commissioner, the Chief Medical Officer, Public Health England, the Faculty of Public and the national police lead for child protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey.

Making some noise

We used this evidence and support to inform numerous responses to Parliamentary inquiries and get more MPs from across the spectrum on board.

This helped to ensure major successes including:

  • The Education Select Committee called for statutory PSHE in its 2015 ‘Life lessons’ report
  • In 2016 the Chairs of Education, Health, Home Affairs, and Business, Innovation, and Skills Committees wrote to then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, calling for statutory PSHE
  • We coordinated letters to the press from 15 chairs of All Party Parliamentary Groups calling for compulsory PSHE

As education secretary, Nicky Morgan understood the value of PSHE education and was set to make positive moves regarding its status but change of personnel in Government following the Brexit referendum meant that we had to wait a little longer for change.

During this period, we continued to apply pressure by submitting evidence to all relevant enquiries, building further cross-party support and organising relevant Parliamentary activity.

We also continued to make plenty of noise in the press, and it was important to get press/media outlets on board beyond those that were typically supportive. By stressing the importance of PSHE education to keeping children safe from harm (online and offline) papers like the Mail and Telegraph were persuaded to write supportively of these lessons in schools; this was key to building a broad consensus.

Major breakthrough #1

Justine Greening said on her appointment as Education Secretary that relationships and sex education (RSE) was ‘top of her in-tray’, so we knew the message was cutting through.In March 2017 she announced the Government’s intention to make RSE statutory through the Children and Social Work Bill (‘Relationships Education’ in primary) and to consider the status of PSHE more broadly. This was our first major win and a historic step following years of campaigning by us and others in the sector.

We were concerned however that the DfE seemed to be concerned with RSE but not the broader subject. Our campaigning therefore switched to making the case for broader PSHE from the perspective that children need health education and economic wellbeing too, and RSE itself would suffer if taught in isolation.

Harnessing the power of our network

In December 2017, the DfE launched a ‘call-for-evidence on PSHE education, to establish how much of the subject — if any — should be statutory beyond RSE. We called on our national network to submit their own evidence to the consultation and get their students involved. We created a pack of lesson plans to help teachers facilitate these evidence gathering sessions with students considering the importance of their views.

Partners in the sector

In January 2018 we had yet another secretary of state to convince with Damian Hinds taking over at the DfE.

At this stage our work with a group of policy/public affairs specialists from major organisations and unions covering the breadth of PSHE, from health to economic wellbeing, was key.

This group’s main activity was to make sure statutory status extended beyond RSE, and was represented by the British Heart Foundation, NSPCC, St John Ambulance, Sex Education Forum, Young Enterprise, British Red Cross, Brook, Mentor and teaching unions NAHT, NEU and ASCL.

Our activities include an influential joint report on how making PSHE statutory was the most effective and efficient option for schools, considering DfE concerns over workload. We also organised a joint letter to The Times as well as a backbench business debate in Parliament.

Our campaign messaging stressed the need for PSHE education to be compulsory and taught:

  • Regularly… regular lessons on the timetable like other subjects
  • as a whole subject… from RSE to mental health, online safety to careers education
  • by trained teachers… covered in ITE with ongoing learning opportunities
  • in all schools… including maintained, academies, free schools and independents
  • to all pupils... from year 1 to finishing secondary school

Major breakthrough #2

Damian Hinds announces commitment to statutory Health Education in July 2018, in addition to previous RSE commitments. We strongly welcome this as another major step towards better PSHE for all and a testament to the argument and strength of support.

Draft statutory guidance for Relationships Education, RSE and Health Education is put out for consultation and we again get a huge response from our network and the sector at large to the call for evidence. The guidance has much to recommend it but a few areas for concern, which we outlined in our piece on ‘The good, the outstanding and the requires improvement’.

Though disappointing that economic wellbeing and careers are not included, there are elements included in the guidance and overall we estimate that 80% of PSHE education will now be compulsory from 2020, and we continue to make the case that any PSHE provision should include these vital elements.

Aye caramba!

Final statutory guidance was published in March 2019 and regulations overwhelmingly passed in the Commons in March 2019. With 538 ‘Ayes’ and only 21 ‘Noes’ the strength of consensus that we and many others had achieved on a sometimes contentious issue was overwhelming. Soon after the regulations passed through the Lords.

A major milestone achieved after many years’ hard work, and the beginning of the next chapter in the journey towards better PSHE education for all . . .