Ofsted blog: striving for good or outstanding PSHE education

Janet Palmer HMI, Ofsted’s National Lead for PSHE education, writes for us here on the expectation for all schools to deliver PSHE education and the subject’s contribution to areas judged by Ofsted during whole school inspections.

We are very encouraged to hear Ofsted emphasising the importance of PSHE education in relation to such areas as pupil Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development, safeguarding and safety.

Ofsted inspectors are guided to consider how well a school’s curriculum helps pupils to protect themselves from drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, gang culture, child sexual exploitation, extremism, female genital mutilation and forced marriage among other things – and, as Janet says: ‘Where else but in PSHE lessons are these issues going to be effectively addressed?’

'Why should schools should strive to deliver good and outstanding PSHE education even when they don’t have to (or do they?)'

"My headteacher wants to know why we are still teaching PSHE when it is isn’t statutory and doesn’t really count for anything anymore"

Rather worryingly this is a question that has been put to me a couple of times recently when I have been in the company of a group of beleaguered PSHE subject leaders.

On these occasions I did my best to assure the teacher of all the benefits that a good personal, social, health and economic education can deliver but I’m not sure it was enough for them to persuade a reluctant headteacher, who was looking for a reason to free up some valuable space on the timetable.

So here is a more robust version that I hope might just do the trick:


PSHE education may be a non-statutory subject in itself but that doesn’t mean schools can get away with not delivering it:

This may sound paradoxical but it is a fact that the PSHE education curriculum makes a major contribution to a whole range of schools’ other statutory responsibilities, for example:

  • The responsibility to promote children and young people’s personal and economic well-being, and:
  • the responsibility to offer sex and relationships education

In addition to this, the new National Curriculum framework states that, ‘every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which:

Added to this, in September 2013 the Department for Education reminded schools that they must publish their school curriculum by subject, including their provision for PSHE education.

A strong PSHE department can also go a long way to helping a school fulfil its responsibilities to progress pupils’ good Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development (SMSC) and to ensure they are properly safeguarded:

In Ofsted’s section 5 inspections, although there’s no longer a separate grade for SMSC, it does appear in each grade descriptor for the school’s overall effectiveness so it will be inspected. Inspectors will explore how pupils are learning to develop and apply an understanding of right and wrong; for example, by their attitudes to, and use of, racist, disablist or homophobic language in and around school.

It is also difficult to see how safety and safeguarding can be good if PSHE education provision is poor:

If pupils are kept ignorant of their human, physical and sexual rights; or how to protect themselves and others, or know where to go to for help, they are not being adequately safeguarded. When inspecting whether or not schools are fulfilling their statutory duty to offer SRE, inspectors are guided to check that in secondary schools:

Inspectors leading Section 5 inspections have been guided to grade behaviour and safety separately from each other and to take whichever is the lowest grade as the overall grade for the Behaviour and Safety strand of the Section 5 inspection framework; and if Behaviour and Safety are judged to require improvement this is likely to affect the grade for overall effectiveness.
Safety and safeguarding are a priority for the Department of Education, Local Authorities and for Ofsted. Ofsted will be inspecting how well the curriculum helps pupils to protect themselves from among other things, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, gang culture, child sexual exploitation, extremism, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Where else but in PSHE lessons are these issues going to be effectively addressed?

Schools need to deliver good and outstanding PSHE education because of the tangible, lasting educational benefits this can bring:

Ofsted’s 2013 report on PSHE education indicated a close correlation between a school’s last section 5 grade, and their grade for PSHE. All but two of the schools graded outstanding at their last section 5 inspection were also graded outstanding for PSHE education and none were less than good. But unfortunately this message does not seem to be getting through to enough schools.

Here are some of the reasons why the Ofsted report on PSHE education was entitled ‘Not yet good enough’:

  • forty per cent of the teaching required improvement or was inadequate
  • twenty per cent of the teachers had received little or no training to teach PSHE and consequently too many lacked expertise in teaching sensitive or controversial issues
  • one third of sex and relationships education required improvement with serious consequences for pupils’ personal, physical and emotional safety
  • although about half of pupils had learned about staying safe, too few schools had also equipped their pupils with vital attributes such as self-esteem and resilience or those vital communication skills such as advocacy, negotiation and persuasion that would enable them to manage risk effectively, and:
  • one third of subject leaders for PSHE were inadequately trained for leadership; they had little time to meet their team, observe teaching or develop their department.

But it was not all bad news. In 20% of the schools PSHE education was outstanding, proving that it can be done. The great majority of these schools were not just outstanding for PSHE but outstanding overall and they shared the following characteristics:

  • PSHE was a priority of the headteacher and was at the heart of the school’s work
  • teachers and subject leaders were well trained.
  • the curriculum and the quality of teaching was constantly reviewed by teachers, pupils, parents and carers to ensure it continued to meet needs.

In other words, PSHE education these schools had all of the same good teaching and leadership features that you would expect of any other successful subject in the curriculum.

However, in too many schools PSHE was not given the same priority as other subjects. This may be because it is non-statutory or perhaps because outcomes are difficult to measure or seen as unimportant. But Ofsted’s own survey and recent research from the DfE has shown that strong PSHE is not only linked to the development of good personal, social and moral outcomes in children and young people but to good academic outcomes too.  The following quote from a recent DfE report sums this up rather well.

‘Children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social and school well-being on average have higher levels of academic achievement and are more engaged in school, both concurrently and in later years.’ 

So hopefully next time a PSHE lead is expected to justify the place of PSHE education in the curriculum they will have an irrefutable response and hopefully the next PSHE survey will be entitled ‘Finally good enough’.

Please also read:


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