Curriculum guidance 

PSHE education is a school subject through which pupils develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to keep themselves healthy and safe, and prepare for life and work in modern Britain. Evidence shows that well-delivered PSHE programmes have an impact on both academic and non-academic outcomes for pupils, particularly the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Our Programme of Study for PSHE education aims to develop skills and attributes such as resilience, self-esteem, risk-management, teamworking and critical thinking in the context of learning grouped into three core themes: health and wellbeing, relationships and living in the wider world (including economic wellbeing and aspects of careers education).

The national curriculum also states that ‘all schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice'. PSHE education is contributes to schools' statutory duties outlined in the Education Act 2002 and the Academies Act 2010 to provide a balanced and broadly-based curriculum and is essential to Ofsted judgements in relation to personal development, behaviour, welfare and safeguarding.

PSHE education helps pupils to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to manage many of the critical opportunities, challenges and responsibilities they will face as they grow up and in adulthood.

By teaching pupils to stay safe and healthy, and by building self-esteem, resilience and empathy, an effective PSHE programme can tackle barriers to learning, raise aspirations, and improve the life chances of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils.

There is evidence to show that PSHE education can address teenage pregnancy, substance misuse, unhealthy eating, lack of physical activity, and emotional health. The skills and attributes developed through PSHE education are also shown to increase academic attainment and attendance rates, particularly among pupils eligible for free school meals, as well as improve employability and boost social mobility.

Our Evidence and Research section gathers together the growing evidence for PSHE education’s impact on these areas.

PSHE education is a non-statutory subject on the school curriculum. However, section 2.5 of the national curriculum states that all state schools ‘should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice'.

In addition to the national curriculum framework, the Department for Education guidance states that the subject is ‘an important and necessary part of all pupils’ education’ and that ‘schools should seek to use PSHE education to build, where appropriate, on the statutory content already outlined in the national curriculum, the basic school curriculum and in statutory guidance on: drug education, financial education, sex and relationship education (SRE) and the importance of physical activity and diet for a healthy lifestyle.'

Maintained schools are required to publish details of the curriculum by year group for all subjects, including PSHE education. This should be with the same level of detail as for all other subjects.

Academies, free schools and independent schools are not bound by the national curriculum, however all schools share the statutory duties outlined in the sections below. A school’s best approach is therefore to ensure that a comprehensive programme of PSHE education is in place. Independent schools inspected by the Independent School Inspectorate (ISI) are also required to have schemes of work for PSHE which are ‘implemented effectively’.

Under section 78 of the Education Act 2002 and the Academies Act 2010, schools must provide a ‘balanced and broadly-based curriculum’ which promotes ‘the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life’.

PSHE education makes a major contribution to schools fulfilling this duty.

Schools also have duties in relation to promoting pupil wellbeing and pupil safeguarding (Children Act 2004) and community cohesion (Education Act 2006). Paragraph 41 of statutory guidance on Keeping Children Safe in Education, the Department for Education states that 'schools should consider how children may be taught about safeguarding, including online, through teaching and learning opportunities. This may include covering relevant issues through PSHE…'

Relevant issues which may be covered in PSHE education include: child sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse, sharing of sexual images, the impact of online pornography on pupils, the dangers of extremism and radicalisation, forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation.

The Equality Act 2010 also places duties on schools not just to address prejudice-based bullying but also to help to prevent it happening, and in doing so to keep protected characteristic groups safe. PSHE education, with its focus on identity and equality, can help schools to fulfil this duty.

Maintained schools have further statutory duties to:

  • promote children and young people’s wellbeing (defined in the Children Act 2004 as 'the promotion of physical and mental health; emotional wellbeing; social and economic wellbeing; education, training and recreation; recognition of the contribution made by children to society; and protection from harm and neglect.')
  • promote community cohesion (Education and Inspections Act 2006; Education Act 2002).

Sex and relationships education (SRE) should always be delivered as part of a planned, developmental PSHE education programme. The status of SRE differs across types of schools, as shown in the table below.

In addition to the statutory Department for Education guidance for SRE (2000) referenced in the table above, the DfE has formally recognised the supplementary guidance document, produced by the PSHE Association, Brook and the Sex Education Forum. Schools designing their SRE provision should refer to both the statutory guidance from 2000 and this supplementary guidance.

In any school that provides SRE, parents have the right to withdraw their children from all or part of SRE (excluding withdrawal from learning about reproduction and human development within national curriculum science).

How does PSHE education contribute to Ofsted inspections

PSHE education can make a significant contribution to whole-school judgements under the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework, particularly in the areas of safeguarding, personal development, behaviour and welfare, as well as leadership and management. It will be significantly easier for schools to adequately evidence that they are meeting inspection criteria in these areas if they have a planned, developmental PSHE programme in place. For a more detailed outline, read our resource on the implications of the 2015 framework for PSHE education.

PSHE education and safeguarding are inextricably linked, as outlined in our briefing here. The Ofsted inspection framework makes clear that ‘the responsibilities placed on governing bodies, registered providers, proprietors and management committees include: 'making sure children and learners are taught how to keep themselves safe', with Ofsted's PSHE Lead Janet Palmer HMI noting that ‘it is difficult to see how safeguarding can be good if PSHE education is poor’.

If PSHE lessons are observed as part of a whole school Section 5 inspection, inspectors will expect the same standards of teaching and learning as they would in any other subject. Poor PSHE education lessons can therefore impact on a school’s overall judgment for quality of teaching, learning and assessment.

Before making a final judgement on overall effectiveness, inspectors must also evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development, with PSHE education playing a key role in this. As explained by Janet Palmer, Ofsted’s lead for PSHE education, in her blog: “It is clear from the range of inspection guidance for September 2015 that the evidence schools provide regarding the effectiveness of their PSHE and of pupils’ SMSC development is more crucial than ever to informing the judgements inspectors make regarding leadership and management, the quality of teaching and learning, personal development, behaviour and welfare, safeguarding and ultimately, the overall effectiveness of the school.”

Finally, the 2013 Ofsted PSHE report highlights the relationship between a school’s PSHE provision and overall effectiveness, noting ‘a close correlation between the grades that the schools in the survey were awarded for overall effectiveness in their last section 5 inspection, and their grade for PSHE education'. Our case study series explores this relationship in greater detail.

How does PSHE education contribute to independent school inspections.

Independent schools inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) are required to have schemes of work for PSHE which reflect the aims and ethos of the school and that are ‘implemented effectively’. These have to be available via the school website or submitted to ISI prior to an inspection.

Effective PSHE education provision will also contribute to the school’s evidence in inspection judgements on spiritual, moral, social, cultural development (SMSC), welfare, health and safety and safeguarding.

The Department for Education allows schools to design their own PSHE curriculum, to reflect the needs of pupils. We have produced a number of documents to help schools to plan their PSHE education curriculum, including

PSHE Association Programme of Study for PSHE education

The Government's 2013 PSHE education review concluded that they would no longer publish programmes of study for the subject. The Department for Education now recommends our Programme of Study, which is regularly updated, free to use and can be downloaded here.

Our Programme of Study covers key stages 1 to 4 and aims to develop essential skills and attributes based around three core learning themes: health and wellbeing, relationships and living in the wider world. It also demonstrates how schools can plan their PSHE programme with a view to fulfilling their statutory responsibility to support pupils’ spiritual, moral, cultural, mental (SMSC) development and prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life. 

Other useful documents and support

We have produced further guidance on designing your school’s PSHE and SRE policies. Unit 5 and 6 of our member-only online CPD programme cover creating a PSHE education policy, and we offer CPD training on planning your school’s PSHE programme.

We recommend that PSHE education should be taught in discrete lessons, supported by other learning opportunities across the curriculum, including the use of enhancement days where possible. This is the position taken by Ofsted.

A number of other models can be used to supplement discrete lessons with dedicated curriculum time. These include:

  • learning opportunities in other curriculum subjects (PSHE education provision integrated within other subjects)
  • whole school and extended timetable activities
  • cross-curricular projects
  • one-to-one or small group support and guidance on specific areas of learning and development
  • learning through involvement in the life of the school and wider community

These opportunities, wherever they occur, should be planned, coordinated, assessed, monitored and evaluated. Pupils should be involved in this process, influencing provision from the start as well as having a say in how learning develops.

To be successful independent learners, children and young people need regular opportunities to reflect on and identify what they have learned, what needs to be learned next and what they need to do to continue their learning. Teachers also need to be clear about the progress and achievements of the pupils they teach, and how their learning might be improved.

To enable this to happen, assessment has to be an integral part of the teaching and learning in all subjects, including PSHE education. However, the personal nature of PSHE education means that it cannot be assessed in the same way as most other subjects and it would be inappropriate for assessment in PSHE education to imply passing or failing ‘as a person’. It is however possible to recognise and evidence progress and attainment in the knowledge, understanding, skills and attributes PSHE strives to develop.

The model of assessment we advocate is that for each new topic, module, or series of lessons, an initial activity is carried out that gauges pupils’ starting point in terms of their existing knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs.  This is used to inform the teacher’s planning for that module. Then, at the end of the topic, module, or lesson an activity is carried out which allows pupils to demonstrate the progress they’ve made since doing the baseline activity. For example, pupils do a ‘mind-map’ of everything they know, think or believe and questions they have about the new topic, then at the end of the module they take a different coloured pen and revisit their original mind-map, adding to it, correcting previous misconceptions, answering their original questions and so on. This will demonstrate the progress they have made and can also be used to measure attainment against a set of success criteria identified by the teacher. 

You can find more information on assessment in our frameworks for planning and assessing PSHE and we also recommend our CPD training day on assessing learning and progression in PSHE.

We have produced a resource on ‘Handling sensitive issues’ which outlines our suggested approach. We recommend that teachers check policy documents and discuss with colleagues how to address these issues. It is also important to develop an understanding of the prior learning pupils are bringing to the classroom, with initial activities aimed at illuminating pupils thinking. The resource also provides guidance on developing a safe learning environment, including agreeing on clear ground rules and using techniques to distance the learning.

All state-funded schools are required to pay regard to statutory Department for Education guidance for sex and relationships education (2000). Independent schools, academies and free schools that provide SRE must also have ‘due regard’ to this statutory guidance.

Our supplementary guidance,'SRE for the 21st century', provides advice on emerging issues like online pornography, and staying safe online that are not fully covered within the statutory guidance. The guidance has been developed with charities Brook and Sex Education Forum, and has been welcomed by the DfE, and a number of prominent organizations. The advice complements our guidance for schools on drafting their SRE policy, and Unit 8 of our online CPD programme offers detailed guidance and a template to help schools review their policy.

It is important that sex and relationships education be taught as part of PSHE education which develops essential skills and attributes, such as self-esteem, managing risk and resisting peer pressure which pupils can apply to a range of areas; and which addresses related factors such as alcohol and drugs, media literacy, and equality and prejudice. It is therefore recognised as best practice for SRE to be taught as part of a broader PSHE curriculum, to help pupils to develop the skills, knowledge and personal attributes they need to manage their lives and is endorsed by leading SRE bodies.