The Department for Education today published a white paper which outlines the government’s vision for education over the next five years and includes a headline commitment that all schools will become academies by 2022. This will have a number of significant implications, including that the national curriculum will in future be a “benchmark” rather than a “decree”.
In relation to PSHE education, the white paper reiterates the government’s plans to work with a group of headteachers to develop an action plan for improving standards of PSHE provision, although the white paper does not set out the extent to which academies will be obliged to deliver sex and relationships education (SRE), a current obligation for local authority maintained schools.
The white paper also indicates the government’s continued commitment to building character and resilience in schools and to integrate this into initial teacher training. The document also commits to the expansion of the National Citizen Service.
Responding, PSHE Association Chief Executive Joe Hayman said:
“We welcome the government’s restated commitment to PSHE education and measures relating to character education and the National Citizen Service, which alongside PSHE can provide an important opportunity to support pupils’ personal development and prepare them for life in the modern world.
We are however concerned about a lack of reference to SRE in the white paper. It has been an obligation for local authority maintained secondary schools to deliver SRE but no such obligation currently applies to academies. With all schools due to become academies by 2022, this is a worrying gap given growing concerns about safeguarding pupils from risks such as child sexual exploitation, the sharing of sexual images and online pornography.
We therefore call on the government to recognise PSHE education, with sex and relationships education at its core, both in future academy funding agreements and in the national curriculum. We understand that, as the white paper sets out, the national curriculum will be a benchmark in the future rather than a decree, but it is nevertheless an important guide for schools on what they should teach. Only this kind of change of status will raise expectations for PSHE education so that schools deliver high-quality, regularly-timetabled PSHE lessons for all their pupils”.