2016 has seen unprecedented recognition of the need for universal, high quality PSHE education. We would like to thank all of the PSHE practitioners, school leaders, parliamentarians, 100+ leading organisations, parents and young people that joined us in making the case so strongly for statutory PSHE this year.
Despite this and many positive developments, we end the year as we began. PSHE remains optional for schools and there continues to be real concern that curriculum time dedicated to it will continue to decline. Department for Education data shows the time spent teaching PSHE education fell by over 32% from 2011 to 2015.
There have been strong calls from across the political spectrum for Government to act to address this situation. Statutory PSHE and SRE have been the focus of numerous parliamentary questions this year and two joint letters from select committee chairs, the most recent of which was signed by three Conservative and two Labour Chairs.
Young people have been clear that education should be doing more to prepare them for life. The UK Youth Parliament recently chose ‘a curriculum for life’ – including statutory PSHE – as its main campaign for England in 2017. The Girlguiding Girls’s Attitudes Survey this year placed particular emphasis on the need to cover topics such as mental wellbeing, social media and sexual harassment through the school curriculum. Indeed many of the most pressing issues facing young people in 2016 fall within the remit of PSHE. From deep concerns over young people’s mental health and making sense of media messages to understanding the importance of staying safe online and having the skills and attributes to negotiate a potentially volatile labour market and increasing automation.
Yet there have been opportunities missed by the Government to strengthen PSHE’s status on the curriculum this year. Firstly, back in February in its rejection of the Education Committee’s recommendation regarding statutory PSHE and more recently in its response to the Women and Equalities Committee report on sexual harassment and violence in schools.
Recent Government statements on PSHE have, however, recognised that improvements are required to the quality and accessibility of the subject and we are encouraged that they are ‘considering all options’ to achieve this. These positive words must finally now turn to positive action on statutory PSHE for the sake of our children and our society.
We therefore ask the Government to make a commitment to statutory PSHE in early 2017. This is what will have the greatest positive impact on its quality and accessibility. We stand ready for this momentous decision and, if it’s made, will look forward to working with the DfE and partners to implement changes in a way that works best for schools and their pupils.
In the meantime, despite great efforts in the campaign, hundreds of thousands of pupils end 2016 without receiving an essential PSHE education that prepares them for life. Let us hope that we can look back on 2017 as the year this changed.
Jonathan Baggaley, PSHE Association Chief Executive