News Digest 15 January – 16 February

The DfE call for evidence on PSHE and RSE closed on 12 February and there was a lot of activity leading up to this deadline. This included a 6 February Parliamentary debate on PSHE which showed support from across parties for improving the status of the subject and a joint Times letter from 20 leading organisations and individuals calling on the government to grant statutory status to PSHE in its entirety. 

In other news, the Women and Equalities Select Committee opened an inquiry on sexual harassment of women and girls in public places and The children commissioners of England, Wales and Northern Ireland warned for the pressures of social media.

Parliamentary debate on PSHE education
A debate on PSHE education took place in Westminster hall on 6 February.  Teresa Pearce MP opened the debate and highlighted the important role PSHE plays in supporting mental health, drugs and alcohol education, first aid, financial ability and employability skills.

MPs from across parties then spoke in favour of PSHE education and making it statutory. Member of the health committee, Conservative Andrew Selous highlighted how PSHE lessons can spread learning on cancer detection. Will Quince discussed the importance of weapon awareness education and Sarah Champion spoke of the importance of sex and relationships education with the aim of teaching how to recognise grooming and sexual exploitation. Justin Tomlinson and others spoke about the importance of PSHE for delivering emergency life-saving skills and SNP MP Gavin Newlands said that: “PSHE not only helps children and young adults live healthier physical lives, but it also promotes better mental health”.  

Shadow minister for children and families, Emma Lewell-Buck, urged the Government to clarify its intentions since “no date has been given for the roll-out of statutory PSHE, nor has any commitment been given that PSHE will include SRE.” Nick Gibb confirmed that the Government has committed to making relationships education and RSE compulsory in all schools and that it is considering doing the same for PSHE, subject to review. The recent call for evidence on PSHE will help inform this decision.

Commenting on the debate, PSHE Association CEO Jonathan Baggeley said: “the debate demonstrated levels of cross-party support for high-quality, statutory PSHE for all pupils in all schools” and that “It was also welcome to hear Minister Gibb reiterate DfE expectations on schools to deliver PSHE well, while recognising need to raise standards. This can only happen if PSHE is a statutory curriculum subject from 2019, including but not limited to relationships and sex education.”

Joint letter urging for statutory PSHE published in Times
On 9 February, The Times published a joint letter from  20 leading organisations and individuals calling on the government to make PSHE education statutory from 2019. The letter points out how evidence shows that PSHE has a positive impact on health, safety, academic attainment, employability prospects and life chances and that disadvantages pupils gain the greatest benefits.

It adds that statutory PSHE would be “the best way for the government to fulfil its commendable commitments to relationships and sex education (RSE) and pupils’ learning about mental health”, and that to be effective, RSE must continue to be taught as part of broader PSHE.

The letter was signed by Peter Wanless, CEO, NSPCC; Anne Longfield OBE, Children's Commissioner for England; Chief Constable Simon Bailey (QPM), National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) Lead for Child Protection Abuse Investigation / Norfolk Constabulary; Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion, The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH); Professor Dame Sue Bailey, Chair, Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition; Martin Houghton-Brown, Chief Executive, St John Ambulance; Kate Collins, Interim Chief Executive, Teenage Cancer Trust; Simon Gillespie, CEO, British Heart Foundation; Claire Stevens, British Society of Paediatric Dentistry; Helen Marshall, CEO, Brook; Joe Richards and Victoria Waldersee, Co-Directors, Economy; Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, CEO, Institute of Health Visiting; Michael O'Toole, CEO, Mentor UK; Paul Whiteman, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT); Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries, National Education Union (NEU); Dr Peter Green, Chair, National Network of Designated Healthcare Professionals for Safeguarding Children; Jonathan Baggaley, Chief Executive, PSHE Association; Janet Davies FRCN, Chief Executive and General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing; Jane Lees, Chair, Sex Education Forum; Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of YMCA England & Wales, YMCA

Shared vision for high quality PSHE that benefits all
The PSHE Association published a briefing on 12 February on behalf of a coalition of national organisations which outlined a shared vision for PSHE.  With statutory RSE due to be introduced from 2019, this briefing outlines why RSE should form part of broader statutory PSHE education for reasons of effectiveness and ease of implementation for schools. Applying statutory status to the whole of PSHE would also address the fact that a high proportion of pupils continue to miss out on learning to stay safe (online and offline); healthy (physically and mentally); and prepared for life and work.

This briefing is supported by British Heart Foundation and St John Ambulance (Every Child a Lifesaver coalition); Brook; Career Development Institute; Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition;  Economic, Business and Enterprise Association (EBEA); Economy; Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare; Mentor UK; National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT); National Education Union (NEU); NSPCC; Sex Education Forum; Young Enterprise (incorporating Young Money, formerly pfeg) and the PSHE Association.

Women and Equalities Select Committee opens new inquiry
On January 15 the Women and Equalities Select Committee opened an inquiry on sexual harassment of women and girls in public places. This follows the Committee’s report Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, which called for statutory Relationships and Sex Education.

Children’s commissioners call for schools to address views of body image
The children’s commissioners for England, Wales and Northern Ireland said they believe that increasing social media pressures put immense pressure on children over their body shape, causing an alarming number of boys to use anabolic steroids.

Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, said: “I’d be very concerned with any young person using steroids to enhance the way they look. The real solution is to tackle early on issues around body image and the desire of some young people on social media desperate to match celebrities’ images. Teaching children in PSHE (personal, social, health and economic) classes in school the resilience not to worry about how a celebrity looks or how their own friends think they look in photos would deter the feeling that risking their health to get such a look was worthwhile.”

All three commissioners stressed the need for schools to address views of body image and to help children and young people navigate the social media safely.

Written questions

  • Thelma Walker asked when the Department for Education plans to require academy schools to have a curriculum which includes PSHE education. Nick Gibb answered on January 24th that academies are currently encouraged to teach PSHE as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. Mr Gibb referred to the DfE call for evidence which sought views on PSHE and RSE.
  • Lord Northbourne asked what steps the Government is taking to ensure that all state funded schools adequately prepare pupils for the responsibilities of probable future parenthood. Lord Agnew Of Oulton responded on January 24th that teacher are able to cover topics related to parenting skills in PSHE lessons.
  • Darren Jones asked what steps the Department is taking to ensure that the relationship and sex education curriculum is designed to prevent sexism and sexual harassment among children and young people in all key stages. Answering on January 15th, Nick Gibb referred to the call for evidence, after which draft regulations and guidance will be drafted for public consultation and debate.
  • James Frith asked about the department has had discussions about the potential merits of teaching first aid as part of the curriculum. Nick Gibb answered on January 29th that the Department is speaking with a wide range of expert organisations about the potential curriculum content for relationships and sex education, and in considering whether to make PSHE education compulsory.
  • Baroness Walmsley asked whether the minister agrees that if you want to influence the behaviour of men, you start when they are boys and that therefore it’s important PSHE lessons include elements that ensure that young people leaving school respect both genders properly. Baroness Williams of Trafford answered on January 30th that only in education children through PSHE and relationships and sex education that a culture of respect towards one another and towards one self, will change.
  • Marie Rimmer asked what steps the Department is taking in educating people about the dangers of knife crime. Nick Gibb answered on January 25th that schools can currently choose to include lessons on weapon awareness in their PSHE curriculum, and referred to the Department for Education call for evidence to seek views on the future of PSHE, including those of the Police.
  • Richard Burden asked what steps the Secretary of State is taking to tackle loneliness and social isolation among school-aged children. Nick Gibb answered on February 8th that the Department is funding a £700,000 pilot that investigates ways to set up effective peer support for mental health and wellbeing in schools, and provides £1.5 million to support anti-bullying projects.
  • Vicky Foxcroft asked what steps the Department is taking to ensure that all schools teach awareness of violence against women and girls. Nick Gibb answered on February 8th that the Department is speaking with a wide range of expert organisations about the potential curriculum content for relationships and sex education, and in considering whether to make PSHE education compulsory.
  • Paul Blomfield asked what steps the Department is taking to ensure that all schools teach awareness of LGBTQ issues in an age-appropriate manner. Nick Gibb answered on February 13th that schools are expected to ensure that their teaching is relevant to all children and young people, and that LGBT issues can be covered within the curriculum at the moment. He also referred to the fact that the Government is currently working with teachers, parents and experts to develop age-appropriate subject content for Relationships and Sex Education.
  • Carolyn Harris asked  whether child early forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) will be included in the new review of relationships and sex education. Nick Gibb answered on February 14th that the Department for Education is conducting a comprehensive engagement exercise to determine the scope and content of relationships and sex education and PSHE. Among those consulted are organisations with expertise in forced marriage and FGM.
  • Steve Double asked what steps are taken to ensure that information and support is provided on eating disorders for pupils in secondary schools. Nick Gibb answered on February 14th that the Government has funded the PSHE Association to provide guidance on how to teach pupils in all four key stages about mental health.

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