Talking of Sex - PSHE: a liberating mandate

Please note: the ATL website is no longer being updated and will be taken down soon.

Visit the new NEU website

13 July 2013 by Wanda Wyporska
This week I had the pleasure of speaking at a Westminster Briefing Event about Personal, Social and Health Education. I was fourth to go in an impressive line up of speakers so when planning my presentation I was pretty sure there would be a whole lot of duplication if I wasn't careful. I therefore abandoned powerpoint so I wouldn't be a slave to it come what may.  I went with a few key messages, and a view to identifying and addressing the issues delegates raised throughout the session.

This approach can be a bit unnerving but it has always served me well in the past, and so it proved this time too. Joe, Jenny and Janet from PSHE Association and Ofsted were excellent and did indeed cover all the issues I would have and more had I prepared a powerpoint.If you read no further, here is a key message from the session - Ofsted is clear there is a correlation between outstanding PSHE and outstanding schools.  This is an important piece of evidence and a big carrot for anyone trying to get more curriculum time and resources for PSHE.

It also seems to have been missed by many in the recent PSHE report 'Not good enough yet' from Ofsted.Here are some of the other key points from the morning.1. DfE have published their revised National Curriculum proposals (consultation ends first week of August). It is not proposed that PSHE is a compulsory subject, however there is a clear expectation and mandate that PSHE should form part of a balanced curriculum. For the first time ever it is clear that maintained secondary schools are required to provide sex and relationships (my emphasis) education which is excellent.

Not unexpectedly there was a consensus from speakers and delegates that schools can only fulfil their requirements to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, and support their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development if they provide PSHE.

Once the final National Curriculum is published, as far as PSHE is concerned DfE is not going to do much more. We therefore need to look to Ofsted with confidence to ensure that provision for personal, social development is part of the inspection regime. Janet Palmer from Ofsted emphasised that children and young people are much more involved in the inspection process than previously and so their health and well being does come to the fore more during inspection.

With the expectation from DfE that PSHE will be delivered, and the knowledge that DfE will not be producing further guidance we are now liberated and mandated to get on with it ourselves. The teachers and partners who work within them are free to get on and deliver without the shadow of politicisation on the subject.

It will be up to schools to develop and deliver a curriculum that meets their children's needs, and it will be beholden on us to find out where it is working well and share examples of best practice.  Organisations such as The PSHE Association, Sex Education Forum and ourselves at Brook will continue to share learning from schools across the country, and provide training and support.

We must use this opportunity that has been created to generate a new dialogue that helps senior leaders recognise and understand the value of PSHE in creating safe schools where all children can achieve, develop and grow with confidence, and that teachers are supported and trained to deliver PSHE confidently.

2. The major teaching Unions are all increasingly supportive of the need for PSHE.  That increasing support is really welcome and their influence and leadership will help improvement.

3. Whilst some young people do experience disadvantage and can be extremely vulnerable to abuse and violence as a result, we have a heightened and disproportionate sense of risk and danger to, and threat from young people that is out of step with the evidence of what life is really like.  We also sometimes expect PSHE (and school) to be a panacea for all societal problems which it cannot be.

It is important to remember we live in the most peaceful times ever.  Most young people, with the right support and care, navigate their way through adolescence successfully, and demonstrate incredible talent and resourcefulness along the way. PSHE and access to confidential sexual health and support services is a universal right and entitlement for all children and young people. Additional targeted support can and must be provided for those young people who need it both within and outside the classroom.

To help professionals realistically assess harm Brook has an online safeguarding Traffic Light Tool which can help professionals to identify and assess sexual behaviours - it can be found at

4. We must helpfully stop calling some issues 'sensitive'.  There are a cluster of issues including homosexuality, sexual exploitation and FGM which are often referred to as sensitive.

If we frame them as sensitive issues they will continue to be perceived as such for generations to come.  Some adults may find issues difficult to talk about, and of care always needs to be taken when discussing these issues in the classroom but that does not make it a sensitive issue.  Sexual exploitation and FGM are both abuse and must be talked about and must be described as as such.  Schools have a duty to promote equality and in the words of Stonewall, 'some people are gay, get over it'.

5. There is absolutely no legislation that says certain issues cannot be talked about in the classroom - as with all lessons, the school policy provides the framework within which teachers use their professional judgement about what to say and how to say it.  If the teacher considers it inappropriate to discuss an issue or answer a question in a classroom environment it is the teachers responsibility to either speak in a 1:1 setting or signpost the young person to somebody who can help them.

6. To end where I started, there is a clear link between educational attainment and PSHE.  This combined with our moral imperative to ensure children and young people have the skills and resourcefulness to move with confidence through puberty, into adolescence and adulthood makes this mandate and fresh commitment from DfE to the relationships part of sex and relationships education a welcome one.

Reblogged with kind permission from Simon Blake OBEChief Executive of Brook, the leading sexual health charity for young people

Useful websites:

Follow us on twitter:

  • @simonablake
  • @besexpositive
  • @brookcharity
Tagged with: 
Education legislation