Should we rethink PSHE now? If not now, when?
82% of teachers surveyed by YouGov (2021), agree that the focus on academic outcomes has become disproportionate to the overall wellbeing of students. The curriculum which leads to these pressures is likely to be a contributing factor …
Fundamentally, our PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) curriculum needs to be interweaved throughout every lesson. Doing so enables early intervention for social, emotional and mental health issues.
But how can all schools make PSHE more than just an add on?
Since the 2014 curriculum reform, expectations for pupils have been ramped up. Who wouldn’t want higher expectations? However, these high curriculum expectations lead to pressurised teachers. This means the heart of teaching, of supporting children in their social and emotional journey through learning, is a challenge.
The current curriculum has good coverage of areas such as drugs, relationships and sex education, but there is not enough time for pupils to discuss these and SEMH issues in any depth. There has been no increase in the amount of PSHE teaching time to counteract the increase in anxiety.
However, some schools are rightly making it a priority.
‘There is a mental health crisis in our classrooms. Many schools are already doing excellent work, but too often they are hampered by competing pressures and a lack of resources. If the government is serious about tackling the crisis, it must rebalance the whole education system’ (Sarah Brennan, Young Minds)
Note, that there was a new curriculum introduction in September 2020, but this statutory obligation was delayed due to the pandemic.
Having a curriculum which is more PSHE centric, would, of course, allow time to focus on the areas that would, on one hand, support children’s social and emotional wellbeing and on the other, teach the skills that they would need for employability – such as resilience and positivity.
Employers in many fields look for people who work well with others and who are personable. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), over half of the world’s young people will end up in jobs that haven’t been created yet – a phrase that drives most teachers crazy!
We also need to consider employability to include the prevention of mental health. Adults with moderate or severe needs will find it a challenge to maintain employment. If early intervention is in the form of a curriculum promoting wellbeing and mental health prevention, educators could support them as children more effectively in the workplace. As a result, their working lives would take a more positive course.
Children should be children …
There is a range of schemes to improve children’s SEMH, which are all fantastic in their own right. For example, Forest schools and the Healthy School Awards are a great way to ensure a well-rounded approach. All very noble causes, yet all still bolt-ons to what should be at the core of our curriculum.
If our PHSE curriculum had a greater emphasis, I wonder if, in 20 years, we would find that we have more employable, well-rounded, tolerant and worldly individuals, with reducing mental health interventions.