CEO Blog: PSHE and a Curriculum for Life

I feel there are many reasons to feel optimistic about the future of alcohol and drug education in schools, and PSHE education more generally, following a speech by Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, on preparing pupils for life in modern Britain.

16 March 2015 | CEO Blog

In last Tuesday’s speech by Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, on preparing pupils for life in modern Britain, there were many reasons to feel optimistic about the future of alcohol and drug education in schools, and Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education more generally.

It is no secret that the current provision of PSHE education – and especially alcohol and drug education – is often failing our young people in schools. Two years ago, Ofsted reported that PSHE was “not good enough” in 40% of schools in England, with schools failing to equip students with the skills and confidence to manage potential drug situations. Our own research confirms this: two fifths of young people involved in the London Youth Involvement Project told us “we don’t get taught enough.”

In this context, I am pleased to see Morgan speak so passionately about a PSHE education that covers “the skills and knowledge young people need to manage their lives, stay safe, make the right decisions, and thrive as individuals and members of modern society.” At Mentor, we believe that this holistic approach is the best way to build protective factors around young people so that they are able to thrive, free from the harms of alcohol and other drugs.

Personally, I am thrilled by the intent to place “high-quality PSHE at the heart of the curriculum” and the recognition that this is “an essential part of [schools’] responsibility.” Morgan rightly points out that there is no trade-off between PSHE and academic attainment; I would go further to suggest that academic success is contingent on the wider confidence and wellbeing of young people, which is promoted by effective PSHE. (It is also reassuring to see acknowledgement of the fact that sex education is just one part of a much wider programme – contrary to a lot of media coverage that has detracted from the broader importance of the debate).

It is, however, disappointing that Morgan appears to dismiss the notion that PSHE might be made a statutory subject. Last year, I gave evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee on the status of PSHE in schools, arguing that schools have no incentive to invest in PSHE as a non-statutory subject. Mentor believes that statutory status would demand that schools allocate more time and resources to improving the quality of alcohol and drug education, and PSHE. We therefore welcomed the Committee’s report, Life lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools, which recommended that the Department for Education develop a workplan for introducing age-appropriate PSHE and SRE as statutory subjects in primary and secondary schools.

In 2013 Mentor conducted a survey of 288 schools which exposed the key constraints in providing quality alcohol and drug education in schools: a lack of curriculum time, a lack of resources, and a lack of specialised teacher training. If we are to achieve excellence in alcohol and drug education, and PSHE more broadly, these three central issues must be addressed, whether through statutory status or other means.

In response to the shocking statistic that 81% of teachers would like more classroom resources to deliver effective alcohol and drug education, Mentor-ADEPIS has established itself as a reliable source of information and teaching resources. In a recently conducted independent evaluation, respondents welcomed the influence of ADEPIS resources and guidance in an area that is characterised by a lack of national guidance.

If schools are to achieve excellence in PSHE, the new “charter mark” must be complemented with improved access to effective teaching resources and guidance, as well as sufficient curriculum time. Mentor, supported by the Department for Education, has spent several years working directly with teachers to produce effective resources and guidance for schools; this includes the Quality standards for effective alcohol and drug education, a comprehensive guidance document that enables schools and external providers to deliver high-quality alcohol and drug education that promotes the health and wellbeing of young people.

As the organisation that is best-placed to identify and address key areas of need in relation to alcohol and drug education, my hope is that Mentor will be able to further develop its service and make a meaningful contribution to the vision for improving the quality of PSHE. As CEO, I therefore welcome the renewed focus on PSHE education, which is so important to the future health and wellbeing of our children and young people; and I hope that Mentor might be able to use its considerable resources and expertise to continue to play a leading role in school-based alcohol and drug education within a new “curriculum for life.”