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Personal, social, health and economic education in schools (England)

Published Friday, December 16, 2016

This House of Commons Library briefing sets out the rules relating to the provision of personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) in England, as well as introducing the debates about the quality of provision and the subject’s statutory status.

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What is PSHE?

The PSHE Association defines personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) as:

  • …a planned programme of learning through which children and young people acquire the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to manage their lives, now and in the future.

What provision do schools have to make?

PSHE is a non-statutory subject, but the Government expects all schools to make provision for it.

In September 2013, following an internal review, the Department for Education issued new guidance on PSHE, which makes clear that it is largely up to schools to determine what is taught; it also states that the then Government did not intend to publish new non-statutory programmes of study for PSHE

The Government provides funding to various bodies, principally the PSHE Association, to support the teaching of PSHE.

PSHE Association programme of study

The PSHE Association has published its own programme of study for PSHE, covering Key Stages 1-5.

The programme includes focus on a variety of areas, including diversity and equality, relationships of different kinds, personal financial choices, drugs education, the importance of respecting and protecting the environment, and people’s rights and responsibilities as members of families and other groups, and as citizens.

Concerns and calls for statutory PSHE

Concerns have regularly been raised about the quality of PSHE provision, by Ofsted and others, often focused on the priority given to the subject and the level of expertise available in PSHE teaching.

There have been regular calls for PSHE to be made statutory, often driven by the belief that this greater priority would improve PSHE provision.  The Education Committee published a report recommending this change in February 2015, and Private Members’ Bills have been tabled for all or part of PSHE to become statutory.  The last Labour Government had planned to make PSHE statutory, but the measures were not passed ahead of the 2010 General Election.  The former Shadow Education Secretary, Lucy Powell, announced in March 2016 that a Labour Government would make PSHE statutory in all state-funded schools.

In January 2016, the Chairs of four Commons select committees – education, health, home affairs and business, innovation and skills – wrote to the then Education Secretary in support of statutory PSHE and sex and relationship education (SRE).  In November 2016, following a Women and Equalities Committee report on sexual harrassment in schools, the Chairs of those Committees and also the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, wrote to the new Education Secretary in support of statutory PSHE and SRE.

Campaigns for PSHE to be made statutory have met with resistance, particularly from groups who believe that the topics covered in PSHE are primarily the responsibility of parents.

Government position

The Government response to the Education Committee report, published in July 2015, did not take forward the recommendation for PSHE to be made statutory, although it stated that it would be giving further consideration to the Committee’s arguments in 2015.

In February 2016, the Government confirmed that it would not be making PSHE statutory.  Subsequently the Education Secretary has indicated that this may be reconsidered.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7303

Author: Robert Long

Topic: Schools

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