Good quality Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) is vital in helping children and young people develop many of the skills and abilities needed for modern life, such as emotional resilience, staying safe and managing finances. At The Children’s Society we work with the most vulnerable adolescents affected by poverty, abuse and neglect, helping them overcome trauma in their lives and empowering them to fulfil their potential.
From our direct work with young people we know that educational attainment alone is not enough to help children grow into successful adults. Emotional well-being, ability to understand and deal with risks, and financial literacy are equally important. Schools and educational establishments have a key role to play in equipping children with these skills, including through the PSHE curriculum. The current lack of statutory status for PSHE in the curriculum contributes to inadequate and inconsistent teaching of these subjects. We have long been calling for high quality statutory PSHE to be taught in schools and other educational settings in order to address this.
Mental health and well-being
Our Good Childhood Report 2015 revealed deep concerns about the school experiences of children in England, who are more likely than pupils in many other countries to say that they do not like going to school and to say that their classmates have excluded them. Negative school experiences contribute to lower levels of well-being in children. National data also shows that on average three children in each classroom have a mental health problem. Yet many children are left without adequate support to deal with their emotional or mental health - two thirds of primary schools do not have a counsellor based on site and 43% of colleges had no full time counsellor.
PSHE offers an opportunity to improve children’s satisfaction with their school life and well-being by providing children with an understanding of mental health and well-being issues and guidance on where to seek help.
Helping children stay safe from risk and harm
Young people we work with often talk about the importance of education to help them stay safe. Sadly, too many have learned about issues such as healthy relationships, online safety and grooming only after having been at risk of sexual exploitation or when they have run away from home or care.
“Young people should know what the risks are, they need to have them drilled down” – A young runaway helped by The Children’s Society
We believe a high quality, statutory PSHE curriculum – covering issues such as healthy relationships, risk of running away, online and offline grooming and exploitation, consent and risks of inappropriate imagery on internet – can play an important role in helping young people stay safe and prevent many of them becoming victims of sexual exploitation. There is a wide consensus on this issue - a number of House of Commons Select Committees, including the Women’s and Equalities Committee in their recent inquiry into sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, ask for this important change.
Promoting children and young people’s financial capabilities
Financial education can also form a crucial part of PSHE education, helping children and young people to develop vital skills in money management and to prevent them getting into debt when they become young adults.Our campaign, The Debt Trap, raised concerns about the level of financial education provided in schools, with nearly 9 out of 10 parents saying that schools should do more to teach children about debt and money management. It has found there are around 2.4 million children living in families with problem debt in England and Wales and has exposed the impact of debt on the mental health and well-being of children.
‘I think kids should be educated more about it in school, because I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into at 19.’- Parent interviewed for our Debt Trap report
Some vulnerable groups of young people, such as care leavers, are particularly at risk of falling into debt when managing money for the first time. Yet, we found that almost half of local authorities in England fail to offer care leavers financial education and debt advice.
The inclusion of statutory financial education in the secondary Citizenship curriculum is a welcome first step. However, the evidence suggests that children’s attitudes towards money are engrained at an early age – this should be recognised and effective financial education should start in primary school or even earlier. Also, as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Education report concluded, PSHE education covers the important personal and behavioural aspects of financial education that Mathematics and Citizenship are unable to cover in as much detail.
The Children’s Society therefore continues to add its voice to calls for the government to make PSHE education statutory on the curriculum in all state schools and at all key stages to ensure all pupils get these vital lessons for life.
Kadra Abdinasir, Policy Officer, The Children’s Society
Kadra provides specialist policy advice and analysis on issues relating to children and young people at risk. Her work currently covers a broad range of issues including child sexual abuse and exploitation and the unmet needs of vulnerable older teenagers. More recently, Kadra has been leading on young people’s mental health policy, particularly focussing on issues of access and treatment for vulnerable groups of children. Visit The Children’s Society website for more details on their work: www.childrenssociety.org.uk