Today’s children are growing up in a rapidly changing world. It is a world that is more complex and competitive than ever before and, while this presents many positive opportunities, it also presents challenges (Department for Education, 2020).
These challenges range from - but are not limited to - mental health difficulties, social media pressures, body image anxieties, educational pressures and general uncertainty. As a result, schools need to take action to prepare our students for life in modern Britain.
It is in this context that Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education can make a profound difference to the lives of the children in our care. The PSHE Association defines it as a ‘school curriculum subject in England that helps children and young people stay healthy, safe and prepared for life – and work – in modern Britain’ (2022). Relationship and health education has been compulsory in all primary schools since 2020, while sex and relationship education is now mandatory in all secondary schools.
As well as sex and relationships, the ‘personal’ strand of PSHE would include units on drugs and alcohol, emotional health and well-being, diet and healthy lifestyles and safety education. The ‘economic’ strand of PSHE includes units on careers, work related learning, enterprise education and financial capability (DfE, 2015). So why is this subject important, and what are the benefits of a comprehensive PSHE programme?
PSHE education is proven to enhance the physical and mental well-being of pupils and this in turn leads to better academic outcomes. A Department of Education review in 2015 spoke of a ‘virtuous cycle’ whereby pupils with better health and well-being can achieve better academic results. This is something we have found in our own action research at Eaton House, where our pupils have consistently reported that PSHE helps them to be healthy and better look after their mental health and well-being.
We also know that mental health issues are on the rise in England, with research showing that one in six children and young people had a probable mental health problem in July 2020 (Young Minds, NHS). A comprehensive PSHE programme will provide pupils with strategies to talk about their emotions accurately and sensitively. Pupils are given the opportunity to reflect on their own concerns and to critically evaluate when something they do or are involved in has a positive or negative effect on their own mental health (DfE, 2020). These opportunities will not only benefit pupils in school, but also for the rest of their lives.
Safe and Healthy Relationships
PSHE, including Relationships Education, equips pupils with the information they need to build positive and healthy friendships and relationships of all kinds. It teaches children to respect themselves and others. Integral to this is the teaching of mutual respect and consent, so that pupils are equipped to resist peer pressure and to avoid pressuring others. A comprehensive PSHE programme will also equip pupils to manage online risks, covering how their information and data is generated, collected, shared and used online (DfE, 2020).
Crucially, pupils are taught where to go and what to do if they need support and how to manage issues that present themselves online. As a result, pupils are better equipped to ask for help when they need it and they feel more confident in accessing the support that is available to them.
In order to make sound decisions about their future, pupils need guidance on the work and careers that are available to them. PSHE education is able to provide this very effectively. The Gatsby benchmarks (2013) stipulate that every school and college should have an ‘embedded programme of career education that is known and understood by pupils, parents, teachers, governors and employers.’ (Good Career Guidance, 2013). Schemes of work in PSHE can provide pupils with a vast range of information on the options that are available, while providing ample opportunities for self-reflection. It is important to note that health, relationships and economic well-being are not mutually exclusive. The study of PSHE is the ‘glue that binds them together’ (PSHE Association, 2022).
PSHE is therefore a subject that prepares children for life in the 21st century. It sets the foundation for children to live healthy, safe and purposeful lives. It is an inspirational subject with so much to offer.