PSHE Association welcomes Prime Minister’s Life Chances speech

The PSHE Association has welcomed David Cameron’s focus on young people in his speech on life chances yesterday, in which the Prime Minister addressed a range of key issues relevant to PSHE education, including improving mental health, building stronger relationships, reducing substance misuse and focussing on financial education, employability, character and resilience in schools.

Responding, Chief Executive Joe Hayman said:

“The Prime Minister addressed some of the most challenging issues facing communities around our country, and we were pleased to see that he put education at the heart of his response. As he said, schools can be places of ‘sanctuary, warmth, challenge and discovery’ which can help to ensure every child has the opportunity to thrive.

In the PSHE education community, we are keen to play our part in ensuring that all schools give all pupils that chance. There is clear evidence that the delivery of high-quality PSHE lessons can build healthy and stable relationships and break cycles of abuse, teenage pregnancy, alcohol, tobacco and drug misuse, unhealthy eating and lack of physical activity, removing these barriers to learning and improving life chances both for the pupils themselves and, one day, their own children. Similarly, PSHE lessons can reduce mental health stigma, teach pupils how to get help if they are worried about themselves or their friends’ mental health, and promote emotional wellbeing through, for example, resilience programmes.

As the Prime Minister said, employment is essential to breaking cycles of poverty. The skills and attributes we seek to develop through PSHE education, such as communication and negotiation, are also crucially important to employers, as the Prime Minister pointed out, and shows that disadvantaged pupils have fewer opportunities to develop these attributes than their more advantaged peers, making the role of schools in creating those opportunities all the more vital. This is why we are working under funding from the Department for Education’s character education grant programme to help schools focus their PSHE education on developing these characteristics while at the same time ensuring pupils continue to gain the core knowledge they need. As the Prime Minister also identified in his speech, character and persistence are also crucial to academic success, and we know that when delivered well, PSHE programmes boost academic attainment, particularly for the most disadvantaged. Starting PSHE education early is critical to this success, so we were pleased to see the Prime Minister highlighting the importance of financial education at primary level.

Yet in spite of valuable initiatives such as this, and exceptional practice in some schools, PSHE delivery nationally has been assessed as “not good enough” by Ofsted and is “deteriorating” according to the Commons Education Committee. While independent schools are required to have PSHE programmes that are effectively implemented, no such provisions exist in the state sector. As a result, non-specialist teachers or un-vetted external speakers are all-too-often asked to lead PSHE lessons, while PSHE co-ordinators get lower budgets and less curriculum time than other subject leads. Opportunities to maximise the potential of PSHE education to break cycles of intergenerational disadvantage and improve life chances have been missed as a result.

Making PSHE education a statutory subject would ensure that schools understood that it should be taught in regular timetabled lessons by trained teachers, in line with expectations for other subjects. While not a panacea, statutory status would be a clear statement of raised expectations for the subject, with the onus then on schools and education bodies to meet those standards. As the Prime Minister says, schools are crucial to pupils’ life chances and we hope government will put PSHE at the heart of its strategy.”

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