Tes: PSHE lessons improve pupils’ grades, study finds

Pupils who are healthier, more confident and happier to take risks perform better in school, according to a new evidence review.

7 December 2017 | Education

Taking lessons in personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education boosts pupils’ grades, according to new research.

This is particularly true of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to the review of more than 1,200 studies related to the subject, published today.

The review, conducted by volunteering charity Pro Bono Economics, concluded that, by helping pupils to become healthier, more confident and more willing to take risks, PSHE enables them to do better at school.


The study focused primarily on the impact of PSHE on pupils’ physical and mental health, and on their behaviour. It also examined how improved outcomes in each of these areas might lead to an improvement in pupils’ attendance and attainment:

  • Social and emotional learning
    The researchers found that this had a significant positive impact on pupils’ academic achievement. To a lesser extent, it also helped to improve school attendance – and to reduce truancy levels.
  • Antibullying interventions
    These had a significantly positive impact on pupils’ academic achievement but did not affect their attendance rates.
  • Behaviour interventions
    These had a positive effect on academic attainment, even if, as the researchers noted, “some have a negligible impact on behaviour”. The format and execution of each intervention is key to its success.
  • Physical health and emotional wellbeing
    This had a positive impact on academic attainment, “by enhancing the physical and mental health of students”, the researchers said.
  • Relationships and sex education
    This helped to reduce teenage pregnancy rates, which improved academic attainment.
  • Drug and alcohol education
    This enabled pupils to make healthier choices. However, the researchers said, “it was difficult to draw conclusions in relation to academic attainment or attendance”.

The researchers added: “PSHE-type interventions can build interpersonal skills, such as confidence, which can enable greater risk-taking in class and therefore greater learning opportunities.”

They concluded: “We found that PSHE-style interventions have been shown to have a significant positive effect on academic attainment and, to a lesser extent, attendance.”

‘Clearing the way’

Jonathan Baggaley, chief executive of the PSHE Association, which commissioned the review, said: “By supporting mental health, physical health, safeguarding and healthy relationships, PSHE education removes numerous barriers to learning, clearing the way for pupils to succeed in their academic studies, while gaining invaluable knowledge and skills for life.

“It must, therefore, be prioritised – so that all children in all schools receive regular PSHE lessons, taught by trained teachers.”

PSHE is currently a non-statutory subject at school. Ofsted estimates that 40 per cent of schools are not delivering it effectively. In March this year, the government announced that it would be consulting on whether or not to make the subject statutory.

Dame Alison Peacock, chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, said: “This review is timely. School leaders and teachers are increasingly responding to evidence about approaches to pedagogy, curriculum design and assessment.

“It is essential that we learn more about optimal ways of supporting the development of children and young people’s capacity to learn and thrive.”