PSHE in schools: Education Committee debate

On the basis of evidence submitted in June to the Education Select Committee inquiry on Personal, Social, Health, and Economic (PSHE) education in schools, our CEO Michael O'Toole was invited as a witness, alongside other experts, to provide evidence at the House of Commons debate on Tuesday 4 November.

6 November 2014 | Policy

On the basis of evidence submitted in June to the Education Select Committee inquiry on Personal, Social, Health, and Economic (PSHE) education in schools, our CEO Michael O’Toole was invited as a witness, alongside other experts, to provide evidence at the House of Commons debate on Tuesday 4 November.

The debate was constituted of two witness panels:

At 9:30 a.m.

Dr Graham Ritchie, Principal Policy Advisor, Office of the Children’s Commissioner

Sarah Carter, Trustee, Family Education Trust

Joe Hayman, Chief Executive, PSHE Association

Natasha Browne, Former Chair, Youth Select Committee on “A Curriculum for Life”


At 10:30 a.m.

Crispin Drummond, Explore—Students Exploring Marriage

Michael Mercieca, Chief Executive, Young Enterprise

Dr Ann Hoskins, Deputy Director Health and Wellbeing, Public Health England

Michael O’Toole, Chief Executive, Mentor

Speakers were questioned about the role PSHE education should have in schools and ways it could be effectively assessed to ensure teaching quality.

In both panels there was a general consensus around the need for PSHE to be a consistent part of education, to provide children and young people with the necessary skills to build self-awareness and resilience to a range of interconnected risk factors that life will present.

It was also emphasised that should PSHE education be made statutory it will be given greater importance by schools, which will have to ensure quality for inspections. Witnesses seemed to agree on the fact that one of the key existing problems is the lack of teachers training – meaning that teachers delivering PSHE education often lack expertise or confidence in dealing with sensitive issues related to the subject. PSHE is a vital part of children’s education.

Both Joe Hayman and Dr Ann Hoskins clarified that parents, teachers and young people already recognise the value of PSHE and want it to be taught in schools. “There needs to be a systemic change to make it as good as it can be” said Joe Hayman.

There was a strong feeling among all experts that resilience and character development have a major role within PSHE education – resilience intended as a personal reflection on what is going on in life.

In the debate it was also clarified what “statutory PSHE” means: ‘statutory’ does not mean prescriptive – but a stronger motivation to create a whole school approach to health and well-being. This will mean that PSHE education is not just what happens in the classroom, but is developed through a more holistic approach, and content decided with children, young people and parents.

Within this context, speakers also made clear that PSHE should be shaped by current national data, and informed by local issues and pupils’ needs, and that initial teacher training on PSHE would provide teachers with the necessary skills to incorporate all this different information in the lessons.

Our Chief Executive, Michael O’Toole, emphasised that making PSHE statutory will create motivation and requirement for schools to liaise and engage with parents.

Michael O’Toole also stressed the importance of early intervention as a preventative measure, highlighting that PSHE should consistently be taught from primary school through to secondary school. “Early intervention begins a life course approach from primary into secondary school to build children and young people’s resilience to better navigate risks” he said.

Witnesses were asked about issues around the lack of time and space to incorporate PSHE in the curriculum and the increasingly amount of pressure teachers, who are already overloaded, would have as a result of having PSHE as a statutory subject.

Michael Mercieca said PSHE is already in schools, so a statutory status will give it more focus and ensure teachers receive adequate training.

Michael O’Toole also added that PSHE itself is an answer to that resource challenge, claiming that evidence proved that good PSHE education results in better pupils’ behaviour standards, better academic performance and achievement, and increased school outcomes and standards.

All witnesses agreed that schools are the right place for PSHE education to take place, because of their role and duty to prepare children and young people for later life by enabling them to make informed decisions.

Michael O’Toole also stressed the importance of the economic aspect: “Good PSHE [and early intervention and prevention measures] could save the Government huge costs”.

This was undoubtedly a very interesting and challenging debate and we, Mentor, are pleased to have been able to share our views and expertise.

Join the debate

Watch the whole debate here and let us know what your view is!

You can also follow comments that have been made on the day on our Storify page!  Tweet your comments to @MentorADEPIS and @Mentortweets using the hashtag  #edselctte if you want to add them to our story!