Leading PSHE – Part 2

This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in January 2019.  You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.  

You can access the full archive of my columns for SecEd here

In the first part of this article on leading PSHE, I recounted my own experiences as “Keeper of the Poisoned Chalice” (Leading an effective programme of PSHE, SecEd, January 2018).

Fifteen years ago, I became a PSHE coordinator and attempted to change teachers’ and pupils’ attitudes to a much-maligned subject: yes, PSHE was regarded as a black hole in the middle of timetables, an hour wasted.

My initial task was to rebrand the subject and, after much consultation with staff, I settled on “life-skills”.

Next, I conducted an audit of the curriculum in order to ensure that it was up-to-date and relevant, and each year of study built on the previous.

First, I debated whether PSHE should be taught by form tutors or specialist teachers and found a happy compromise: PSHE would be taught by pastoral teams but we would develop specialist teachers within each team.

Second, I developed a curriculum based on the Every Child Matters agenda (which had just been launched). The curriculum in each year comprised six modules, the five strands of ECM and relationships and sex education (RSE).

Third, I produced schemes of work and resources, including culturally relevant and interactive resources, and tailored these to the school context. I consulted with tutors to decide who had the most relevant skills and knowledge to teach each module so that, not only did staff get to teach a topic about which they were knowledgeable, they also got to teach one module repeated six times a year rather than six different modules.

Fourth, I made the decision not to compel anyone to teach RSE but to rely on willing volunteers as this, I knew, was uncomfortable for some members of staff.

The willing volunteers then worked together on planning, with expert advice from external agencies.

Finally, I set up two half-termly meetings: one was for each pastoral team so they could liaise on the teaching of their year group and ensure a smooth transition as pupils moved from one module to the next; and a second was for all the teachers of a particular module so they could ensure that what was taught in one year was developed the next.

Now, 15 years later, I’m reminded of my experiences because the government is making the RSE and the health education aspect of PSHE a statutory part of the curriculum.

Draft guidance has been published, with the final document expected in time for September 2019, although statutory status will not arrive until September 2020. Once again, I feel the pain of PSHE coordinators up and down the land as they seek to breathe new life into a much-maligned subject and ensure they meet their new legal duties.

Why is PSHE important?

PSHE is a vital part of the school curriculum and an essential component of a well-rounded education. It also makes a significant contribution to a number of the other statutory responsibilities already placed upon state schools, including the responsibility to promote pupils’ personal and economic wellbeing.

The national curriculum also makes clear that every state-funded school has to offer a curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and which prepares pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life. Naturally, PSHE is well-placed to fulfil both of these duties.

Ofsted and PSHE

In a full Ofsted inspection, although there’s no longer a separate grade for SMSC, it features in each grade descriptor for overall effectiveness. As such, inspectors examine how pupils are learning to develop and apply an understanding of what’s right and wrong (for example, by their attitudes to, and use of, racist or homophobic language in and around school).

When inspecting whether or not schools are fulfilling their statutory duty to offer RSE, inspectors will check that this includes the compulsory safeguarding element of learning about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, and the elements of sex education that feature in the science national curriculum at key stages 1 to 3.

In fact, it is fair to say that PSHE runs through Ofsted’s common inspection framework like the letters in a stick of rock, and not just in its many references to safeguarding and the Prevent Duty.

In order to make a judgement on personal development and behaviour, for example, inspectors must evaluate how successfully schools promote and support pupils’ employability skills, their understanding of how to keep safe and healthy, and their understanding of how they will contribute to society.

In judging pupil welfare, inspectors must consider how well schools educate pupils about their physical and emotional wellbeing, including healthy eating, fitness and mental health awareness. They must also look at how effectively pupils are taught to stay safe online and to stay safe from bullying in all its forms.

When judging the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, inspectors must evaluate PSHE lessons in the same way as every other lesson on the school timetable: as such, they will consider whether PSHE teachers have relevant subject knowledge, gather appropriate assessment information and use this to plan appropriate teaching and learning strategies, thus enabling all pupils to make good progress and achieve well.

In judging the effectiveness of leadership and management, inspectors must assess whether the curriculum is broad and deep and relevant, and meets the needs and interest of pupils. They will also consider whether the curriculum promotes equality and diversity, tackles bullying and discrimination, and promotes British values. And inspectors will look at whether it raises pupils’ awareness of the dangers of abuse, sexual exploitation, radicalisation, and extremism.

If you want further proof that PSHE is central to inspection, then Ofsted’s 2013 report on PSHE education implied a close correlation between a school’s inspection grade and their grade for PSHE. All but two of the schools featured in the report that were graded outstanding at their last full inspection were also graded outstanding for PSHE education and none were less than good.

In those schools whose PSHE provision wasn’t good enough, 40 per cent of the teaching required improvement or was inadequate, 20 per cent of teachers had received little or no training to teach PSHE and, consequently, too many lacked expertise in teaching sensitive or controversial issues, and one third of RSE required improvement with serious consequences for pupils’ personal, physical and emotional safety.

Although about half of pupils had learned about staying safe, too few schools had equipped their pupils with vital attributes, such as self-esteem and resilience, or those vital communication skills, such as advocacy, negotiation and persuasion, that would enable them to manage risk effectively, and one-third of subject leaders for PSHE were inadequately trained to lead their subject; they had little time to meet their team, observe teaching or develop their department.

In the schools where PSHE education was graded outstanding, in contrast, PSHE was a priority for the headteacher and was at the heart of the school’s work, teachers and subject leaders were well trained, and the curriculum and the quality of teaching was constantly reviewed by teachers, pupils, parents and carers to ensure it continued to meet their needs.

So, taking all this evidence together, we might say that an effective PSHE programme is marked by the following characteristics:

  • The quality of teaching is good because teachers are well-trained and are helped to develop expertise in teaching sensitive and at-times controversial issues.
  • RSE lessons are taught by teachers with specialist knowledge and these lessons focus on how pupils can stay safe.
  • PSHE lessons help pupils to develop self-esteem and resilience, and communication skills such as advocacy, negotiation and persuasion.
  • PSHE coordinators are well-trained, regularly meet the team of teachers who teach PSHE, and observe PSHE lessons.
  • PSHE is a priority for the headteacher and senior leadership and features in school development plans and self-evaluation.
  • The curriculum and the quality of teaching are constantly reviewed by teachers, pupils, parents and carers to ensure it continues to meet needs.


We await the final version of the statutory guidance for RSE and health education, but it is clear that PSHE is firmly back on the agenda and that leaders of PSHE have an important role to play in ensuring that pupils are prepared for life and work, and are developed into well-rounded individuals ready to contribute to society.

To conclude, I would like to outline what an effective programme of PSHE might look like in practice.

PSHE works best when…

  • There is a detailed understanding of, and support for, PSHE by the headteacher and senior team.
  • The senior team and governors are kept regularly informed and involved in developments in PSHE.
  • PSHE is timetabled when teachers and pupils are most likely to engage in it.
  • Timetabled PSHE lessons are complemented by regular off-timetable days or events.
  • PSHE is taught by teachers with specialist knowledge and an interest in the topic they deliver.
  • PSHE is treated on a par with other subjects, including in how it is planned, taught and assessed.
  • Data about pupil performance in PSHE is collated and used to inform planning and teaching, as well as reported to parents.
  • PSHE forms part of whole-school systems of self-evaluation and improvement planning, as well as quality assurance, such as learning walks and work scrutiny.
  • There is access to appropriate staff training.
  • PSHE is included in the agenda of regular staff, senior leadership and governor meetings.
  • There is regular involvement of the community and external agencies in development/delivery of PSHE.
  • The PSHE curriculum is joined-up and progressive, and contains up-to-date and relevant materials.

Follow me on Twitter: @mj_bromley

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