PSHE - What is its place in the curriculum and how does it influence the life of a school?


Education should be the means through which children are provided with guidance with regard to spiritual, moral, cultural, social, physical and mental development which should, in turn, provide equality of opportunity, justice, access to democracy, and a productive and sustainable economy for everyone (The National Curriculum, 2000 cited in Inman et al., 2003, p. 5). The National Curriculum (2000 cited in Inman et al., 2003, p. 5) sets out the expressed aim that pupils should be encouraged to develop enduring values which foster integrity whilst helping them to develop into autonomous responsible citizens who are able to make an active contribution to the society in which they live. The curriculum should provide opportunities for students to reflect upon the belief systems and culture of those around them, while simultaneously developing their sense of self, as well as a sense of respect and tolerance for diversity (National Curriculum, 2000 cited in Inman et al., 2003, p. 5). The notion that Personal, Health, Social and Economic Education (PSHE) is the appropriate curriculum area through which this might be delivered is endorsed by the recent review conducted by the Department for Education (DfE, 2015). This document states that an in-depth review of over 70 studies found that these lessons could benefit pupils across a diverse range of outcomes if there was a coherent, universal approach towards the social, emotional and behavioural development of students (Sklad et al., 2012). Furthermore, Langford et al. (2014) state that concerted efforts to promote health and well-being within schools had a demonstrable positive effect on issues such as smoking, bullying, diet and exercise. The aim of this essay is to look at the place of PSHE in the curriculum and the influence that this (as a subject area/concept) can have upon the life of a school.


PSHE is described as an important part of a child's education which should be delivered by all schools (DfE, 2013). The DfE (2013) state that the non-statutory nature of the subject allows PSHE to be moulded to the needs of specific groups of pupils, depending upon the environment in which they live and their particular needs. A critical aim provided for by this subject is that it should enable pupils to be able to make sound assessment of risk, and encourage learners to build up the necessary skills and knowledge to enable them to make considered, informed decisions (DfE, 2013). This is particularly important with regard to issues such as drug education, sex and relationships education, financial education and health education (DfE, 2013). The subject is described as the vehicle through which meaningful debate about essential issues can be brought into children's lives (Goddard et al., 2013) which allows them to develop the life skills to become independent, informed and active citizens (Department for Education and Employment/Qualifications and Curriculum Authority [DfEE/QCA], 1999; endorsed by Worcestershire County Council, 2007). The DfE (2015, p. 4) state that PSHE "… is a planned programme of school-based learning opportunities and experiences that deal with the real life issues children and young people face as they grow up," covering those issues in two strands: personal well-being covers sex and relationships education, drug and alcohol education, emotional health and well-being, diet and healthy lifestyle and safety education, with economic well-being covering careers education, work-related learning, enterprise education and financial capability.

It is pertinent to note that although PSHE for Key Stages 1 – 4 is not compulsory, some aspects are statutory, such as education with regard to sex and relationships, drugs, careers and work-related learning. It should also be noted that schools are expected to coordinate, plan, monitor and assess their provision of PSHE, as with any other subject area (DfE, 2015).


In order to be able to fully comprehend PSHE in its current form, it is important that there is an understanding of its development which began with an acknowledgement that children's personal and social development should be at the centre of any educative process, in order to ensure balanced cultural, spiritual, moral, mental and physical well-being (DfES/QCA, 2004). As stated above, the educative process should foster attitudes of equal opportunity, democracy, healthy living and sustainable development which in turn should enable pupils to develop a profound sense of self (DfES/QCA, 2004). Its inception as a subject came in the 1980s although much of the content associated with it was delivered via the hidden curriculum (Goddard et al., 2013). With the advent of the National Curriculum (DfE, 1989) came the notion that this content could be delivered as a part of the 10 curriculum subjects stipulated as being compulsory by the government. It was only as a result of the increased emphasis upon inclusive education that PSHE began to be seen as a discrete subject in its own right, being driven by the need for a citizenship education programme (Citizenship Advisory Group, 1997; DfEE/QCA, 1999) and a renewed commitment to the highest quality educational provision for all children (Department for Education and Employment, 1997). Health education as well as personal, social and emotional development were addressed via the Foundation Stage curriculum documentation (DfES/QCA, 2000) which paved the way for the Early Years Foundation Stage [EYFS] (Department for Children, Schools and Families [DCSF], 2008). This document, and documents produced for educational provision post 2003, were influenced by the Every Child Matters (ECM) initiative which called for a greater degree of multiagency working in order to ensure the safeguarding of children. ECM (DfES, 2004) aimed to provide teaching which allows children the opportunity to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills which enable them to be healthy, to remain safe, to enjoy life and to achieve things, to contribute to society around them and to be able to attain financial stability. There are palpable links between these aims and that of any good quality PSHE provision (Knowles, 2009) as well as additional support programmes across all age groups, such as the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning Syllabus (SEAL, DfES, 2005) which provides a holistic approach towards encouraging "… the social and emotional skills that underpin effective learning, positive behaviour, regular attendance, staff effectiveness and the emotional health and well-being of all learning and work in schools" (DCSF, 2007, p. 4).

Present Role and Influence

The role of PSHE is critical in a number of ways. It provides opportunities for educators and society as a whole to provide children with the opportunity to develop a balanced perspective about many important issues which they will face during the course of their lives and to develop life skills. Often it also has the role of coordinating the delivery of compulsory aspects of education such as Sex and Relationships (SRE), work-related learning, and careers guidance (PSHE Association, 2010). In fact, it is viewed as being so important that there has been a recommendation by the government that PSHE should become a statutory subject in all schools (DCSF, 2009). McDonald's report (DCSF, 2009) recommended that learning in the primary sector should focus upon physical development, health and well-being with the secondary sector having PSHE as a foundation subject. He also suggested that research should be conducted with regard to how this core provision could be most effectively delivered and stipulated that the subject's profile should be enhanced with practitioners through increased levels of professional development programmes, and the use of external providers within PSHE programmes.

Further acknowledgement of the benefits that PSHE brings to pupils was highlighted by the DfE (2010) who made the point that the subject develops pupils' skills to the extent that they are able to make informed choices and can help schools and society address major issues such as the misuse of drugs and appropriate sex/relationship behaviour (BBC News, 2015). Furthermore, the government has stressed the need for personal development within education through highlighting the need to provide a balanced curriculum which affirms the importance of subject knowledge and personal, social, health and economic awareness (DfE, 2011). This review of the National Curriculum (DfE, 2011) confirmed the government's view that PSHE should form part of the statutory curriculum, although they recommended that the provision should be under the control of individual schools/local authorities in order to cater for the needs of children within specific environments, with the proviso that children's personal development could be clearly observed and documented. Clearly, PSHE simultaneously fulfils a number of roles - a legislative role which ensures the safeguarding of children, a societal role that enables children to make a valuable contribution as they mature, an academic role in helping to raise educational standards as a result of children feeling emotionally secure, and a human rights role (Goddard et al., 2013).

The level of influence and impact that PSHE can have within any educational environment will depend upon the way in which the subject is approached and the extent to which the staff, and indeed the school as a whole, are committed to it. Schools can adopt a discrete subject approach which provides it with a greater degree of gravitas for both pupils and teachers which is more easily achieved in a secondary school environment (Kitson, 2004). A cross curricular approach is one that is seen as more desirable in a primary setting, in that children are able to make cognitive links between different subject areas whilst tackling the activities that are set for them by practitioners (Hayes, 2006; Savage, 2011). A whole school approach requires the whole school community to become involved in delivering a specific ethos which is provided not only through lesson content, but also in the interactions which take place across the school environment as peers interact with each other and adults (practitioners, ancillary staff, and support staff) engage with children (Denman et al., 2004). Government inspectors recommend that the subject be delivered in discrete lessons which should be supplemented through links being made to it in other curriculum subjects (Office for Standards in Education [Ofsted], 2013), and through engaging in whole school, cross curricular activities as well as group teaching/guidance in specific aspects of development and learning (PSHE Association, n.d.). Whichever route is taken by individual schools, it is critical that the delivery is one which is interactive, vibrant and engaging, which provides children with an opportunity to express their feelings and views with regard to the important issues of the day (National Children's Bureau, 2006), although current government thinking (DfE, 2015) indicates that a whole school approach should be taken towards PSHE. This whole school approach should foster good relationships within the school community, include lessons which are interactive and engaging, provide students with a voice, encourage an acceptance of diversity, are relevant to the circumstances in which pupils find themselves and encourage not only a sense of self but also a sense of community (DfE, 2015). This type of approach can be evidentially linked to pupils' readiness to learn, with links being found between pupils' health and well-being and attainment levels in schools where health and well-being form part of a schools effectiveness strategy (Public Health England, 2014). Evidence would also suggest that PSHE can improve the physical and psychosocial well-being of students, which has a beneficial effect upon their academic achievement (DfE, 2015). It has also been found that good quality careers education, information and advice can have a positive impact upon pupils, in that it has been shown to increase the levels of self-confidence and enhance decision-making skills, both of which are beneficial to students' prospects for a stable economic future (Hughes and Gration, 2009).


Clearly, PSHE has a central role to play in the curriculum with regard to providing pupils with opportunities to explore important issues which effect of them as individuals and society in general. The approach which individual settings take with regard to this area will have an impact upon the effect that it can have in children's lives. It is critical that the school's approach to PSHE is one which is engaging, thought-provoking and inclusive in order to provide equality of opportunity and an acceptance of difference irrespective of individual pupil backgrounds, abilities, faith, sexual orientation and gender identity (DfE, 2015). The whole school community must work as a team from the governors all the way through to the youngest pupils in order that pupils are provided with opportunities to develop as balanced, fair minded individuals.


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