I’ve always believed that PSHE is important. There are so many strands of content that young people need to engage with and that need to be taught directly – in my view. Sex Education and aspects of Health and Citizenship are all extremely important. If we don’t teach them directly we’re just leaving it to chance that they’ll pick these things up from their peers and their parents. I think the stakes are too high for that. For me, PSHE matters. It was also high on the governors’ agenda for me to sort out PSHE during my early meetings.
The challenge has always been to decide what content to include and the best delivery model. One of my early promoted jobs was to be PSHE Coordinator at Holland Park. This involved coordinating the PSHE delivery by 30 form tutors across Year 7-9. It was always a struggle: it was always the tutors’ last priority; they didn’t take responsibility for preparing the lessons and, in many cases, they didn’t have the confidence or experience to teach some of the topics. I can remember the nightmare SRE training we did with the whole staff. I recall thinking ‘poor kids, this is never going to work!’. If you can’t say ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ out loud without blushing, you’re no good to anyone in an SRE class. The form tutor delivery model has always been problematic; the source of much of the bad practice and low credibility for the subject. There are better ways.
Arriving at Highbury Grove, I found that the model being used was the ‘drop-down’ model. Instead of a timetabled period, the model consists of a series of one-off days or mornings devoted to specific topics taking the place of normal lessons. In themselves, they can be well organised and delivered well but students don’t have time to absorb and process information in a deep way; the days raise awareness of the issues but I’m not convinced they’re adequate as a model for teaching anything properly. The quality is hugely dependent on which specific tutors are taking each section and, inevitably, that varies: people are not all as knowledgable and confident with the material as they’d like.
So – from next, year we have a new plan that I think will work much better. This emerged out of discussions with the PSHE team and our timetabler and formed part of our curriculum review. It also borrows from the approach we used at my last school. Students will have eight different units of 5 weeks taught on a rotation. Everyone with PSHE on their timetable (which is most people) will be in one specialist team, delivering one of the content areas to a specific year group. In most cases, teachers will deliver the modules in pairs to facilitate collaborative planning.
Sex and Relationships Education
The emphasis in SRE is on equipping students with the skills and knowledge to make sensible decisions regarding their interactions with others. It is also imperative to teach students the importance of honest communication and the need to create and recognise healthy, positive relationships. Over the key stages, certain areas such as consent and sexual health will be revisited in increasing levels of depth.
Finance and Careers
This topic will rotate between finance and careers on a yearly basis, starting with Careers in year 7. In Finance, the aim is to educate students on risk and reward with money, budgeting, how credit and borrowing works, how to conduct various elements of banking and about the value of money both personally and in the wider economy (nationally and internationally). Careers education focuses on giving students the space to think about their future options and the choices available to them.
The Citizenship curriculum focuses on the relationship between politics and the individual. It aims to create active citizens with a keen sense of rights and responsibility and good political understanding. It also focuses on critical thought and discussion to explore key political issues. We would ideally like active citizenship projects to be run in some year groups.
Health and Wellbeing
This topic encompasses both physical and emotional wellbeing, with different emphasis and level of depth placed on each element depending on the year group. Areas covered include body image and healthy eating, eating disorders, as well as wider mental health education such as depression, self-harm and self-esteem. The aim is to dispel myths surrounding these issues as well as to provide opportunities for discussion and secure knowledge of steps to take if a student or someone they know need help.
Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Education
The emphasis in this unit is to provide clear and normative legal, health and social information in relation to drugs, alcohol and tobacco, as well as the opportunity for students to practice resisting peer pressure and decision-making as this is proven to help young people manage risk in real life situations. Subject content will begin with smoking in year 7, then alcohol and finally illegal substances, always focusing on giving objective information, allowing discussion and space for students to reach their own conclusions.
Identity, Society and Equality
This topic does overlap with SRE and Health and Wellbeing, but provides the opportunity to explore issues such as homophobia and sexism in a non-sexual context, but rather as issues of equality and rights. In addition, students will explore concepts such as transition, parenthood, assertiveness and racism, connecting individual experiences, expectations and rights with wider societal attitudes and expectations.
Safety and Risk
This topic will explore age-appropriate safety education, again focusing on providing awareness of consequences, knowledge of support services and giving students the opportunity to practice resisting peer pressure and decision-making under pressure, in complex situations. A key part of this education is raising awareness of what is acceptable in relationships of different kinds, both in terms of the law and personal boundaries. For example, in year 7 FGM, safety in the home and road safety will be addressed, progressing on to cyber safety in year 8 and in later years, personal safety when alone and gang involvement.
Discussion and debate (including Philosophy for Children)
This will provide an opportunity for students to develop their critical thinking, communication and group work skills by using P4C, thinkers’ games and debate-style tasks. The aim is to broadly link the topics for discussion to the content and issues covered in the Citizenship and Identity, Society and Equality units, as well as to topics raised in Philosophy and Religious Studies, so that students make cross-curricular connections and can see how their general knowledge is applicable in many different situations.
With this model, each teacher will teach the same unit several times in the year. That gives them time to take ownership of the module and to continually improve their knowledge and confidence with the material and the mode of delivery. Teachers were given the option of which specialist team to join; 75% of people got their first choice and everyone else their second choice. There was genuine enthusiasm from staff when they signed up. On a personal level, I am thrilled to be teaching SRE to Year 8 again! The model allows us to provide focused training to each team rather expecting tutors to know a little bit about everything. Five weeks of lessons is enough to get across some ideas in depth, spiralling around each year to encounter the same themes. No model is perfect but the level of enthusiasm teachers have expressed for their specialist area gives me confidence that this is going to work really well.
(With thanks to Christina Traher and Rachel Landon)
A Guardian account of one of my SRE Lessons: (featuring a record for boys fainting)