In this rapidly changing world, children are exposed to new and unknown dangers which only a few years ago would have been hard to comprehend.
Social issues have escalated and children are not protected or cocooned from these dangers, violence, abuse or temptations. Schools (independent and mainstream) have frequently been the scapegoats: universally criticised and blamed for the breakdown in our society together with an inadequately underfunded welfare state.
With the introduction of PSHE lessons in schools in the 1990s, the education system tried to answer questions and solve problems in which politicians and other leading authorities had failed to make any in-roads.
Topics such as smoking, drugs, bullying, bereavement and domestic violence were all very laudable, but they were being taught by teachers who were often uncomfortable with the subject matter, without regular lessons on the timetable to deliver the subject effectively, and crucially no reliable resources for the teachers to use.
PSHE has been delivered more inconsistently in schools than any other subject. This is because the subject ‘matters’ are challenging and demanding. Additionally, when a subject constantly keeps reinventing itself with new names and titles, it is clear that it has no real direction. And for many, teachers, children and importantly parents, it is not taken seriously.
As a Headmaster for 25 years, and having seen PSHE programmes fail for so many years, it was enlightening and refreshing to hear from a former Independent Prep School Head, Tim Lowe. He had come across Headway, a social enterprise established to help provide children and teachers with the most up-to-date, teaching materials possible, including in PSHE.
Tim invited me to host a workshop at my school, Brooke Priory School in Oakham, for parents and colleagues on 1decision, Headway’s PSHE programme for 5-11 year olds. In essence, the concept is similar to the iconic film ‘Sliding Doors’.
The programme consists of over 65 videos of scenarios which face children (and adults) on a daily basis. After the respective video clips, there are two scenarios and the children have to make one decision to decide the outcome. One decision is clearly the right decision and the other is the wrong decision. So many educational programmes do not allow pupils to think enough for themselves, but this one does, and that ethos is extended to teachers.
I believe the key to the success of PSHE is engaging the support and involvement of parents who can view these resources and support their children in advance of the topics being taught in the classroom. This can be done via communication to parents via newsletters, a parent portal, VLE or regular workshops.
To inform parents of forthcoming PSHE topics to ‘get them on board’ is vital and essential. They can then be prepared to answer or field any difficult questions or reactions from their child after a particular topic in school. Having excellent, well-prepared online subject matter ensures that the subject is delivered regularly and consistently: something which has been lacking with previous programmes of study.
The Government consultation on Relationships, Sex and Health Education launched in July, and continuing until 7 November, follows on from the publication of draft guidance to make sure education prepares young people for life in the modern world. Whether PSHE as a subject becomes compulsory or not, it is an important subject and one which schools must seek to bring parents on their journey – not least because we live in a world where issues such as knife crime, online safety, mental health and wellbeing and other topics are dominating the national headlines on a regular basis.
An outstanding education should always go beyond the boundaries of purely academia. As educators of children, we have a duty to prepare children for a changing world giving them the skills, experiences and confidence to make the correct decisions to lead happy and successful lives and be a part of their local community.