PSHE education and social action: a mutually beneficial relationship


Personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education is the school subject through which children and young people acquire the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to manage their lives, now and in the future. At the core of PSHE is the ambition to develop the qualities and attributes our students need to thrive as individuals, family members and members of society.

Social action is about people coming together to help improve their lives and solve the problems that are important in their communities. It can include volunteering, giving money, community action or simple neighbourly acts[1] . Taking part in social action is also associated with higher levels of wellbeing, and can improve people’s confidence and skills .

While there are more obvious links between the Citizenship curriculum and social action, PSHE education also has an important part to play. Indeed, Ofsted inspectors have noted that social action was viewed in schools as ‘part and parcel’ of both PSHE and Citizenship aspects of the school curriculum[2] .Schools are expected to cover all three strands of PSHE education — health and wellbeing; relationships and living in the wider world — but it will be mandatory for schools to deliver health education and relationships and sex education (or ‘relationship education’ in primaries) by 2020. The draft statutory guidance suggests schools should provide “planned opportunities for young people to undertake social action, active citizenship and voluntary service to others locally or more widely”.

PSHE education is dedicated to preparing students to meet life’s challenges and make the most of life’s opportunities. Therefore, students can learn about a range of personal and social issues. This learning naturally prompts the question “what can I do about it?”. Social action has the potential to harness their passion and empathy for these issues into genuine good, both for themselves and their communities. Social action also provides opportunities for young people to put into practice (and build on) the skills and attributes that PSHE lessons explicitly teach and develop.

The PSHE Association Programme of Study identifies the range of knowledge, skills and personal attributes that the subject sets out to teach. This includes interpersonal and social skills and personal attributes, from resilience to self-organisation, and from empathy to team-working and negotiation (some of these are labelled ‘soft skills’, but as Education Secretary Damian Hinds said earlier this year “there is nothing soft about these skills”).

Social action projects not only provide a suitable vehicle through which young people get the opportunity to apply these skills and attributes, but also support PSHE teachers to meet many of the specific learning opportunities identified in the Programme of Study. For example, learning how “to make effective use of constructive feedback” (H3) and “how social media can offer opportunities to engage with a wide variety of views” (L6) or even “the role peers can play in supporting one another” (R29) — are a natural fit with the intentions of social action projects.

The mutually beneficial relationship between PSHE education and social action goes beyond the development and embedding of skills and attributes. Like PSHE education, social action projects have also been shown to support young peoples’ emotional wellbeing, reduce anxiety and promote self-esteem.

Visit www.iwill.org.uk to find out more about #iwill Week and get involved


  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/centre-for-social-action/centre-for-social-action
  2. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/540766/How_social_action_is_being_applied_to_good_effect_in_a_selection_of_schools_and_colleges.pdf

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