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Discussions on PSHE and careers guidance in schools between the Education Select Committee and the Department for Education

On the Department for Education (DfE) and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE): Ofsted finds 40% of PSHE teaching either requires improvement or is inadequate (and it is not compulsory for schools to teach it); the DfE only gives £75,000 for PSHE Association, compared to £millions for ‘alternative provision with a military ethos’; and schools are not adhering to requirement to publish what they cover in PSHE on their websites.

On the DfE and careers guidance: drop in provision since government transferred responsibility to schools; expectation for teachers ‘to signpost pupils towards appropriate sources of independent careers guidance’.

See below for key quotes from both.   


Quotes from transcript of Education Select Committee inquiry meeting with Nick Gibb (Minister of State for School Reform) on Personal, Social, and Health Education (PSHE) on 17 December 2014:

Nick Gibb MP (Minister of State for School Reform on PSHE): ‘It is wrong to characterise the Government as not prioritising PSHE. It is quite the contrary—we are making it a huge priority and regard it as an absolutely fundamental part of the school curriculum’

Pat Glass MP (ESC Chair): ‘are they concerned that the number of teachers who qualify each year has dropped from more than 1,000 about four years ago to just over 100 last year? If so, what are they going to do about it?’

Nick Gibb: ‘We want to ensure that teachers have the right courses and the right CPD training to enable them to teach the subject appropriately. We have funded, and continue to fund, the PSHE Association, which has training and CPD courses for teachers. Indeed, it is introducing a concept of chartered teachers of PSHE, which will ensure that we are, over time, improving the quality and status of PSHE teachers...but you have to distinguish between the national curriculum and the school curriculum. As far as the school curriculum is concerned, it has to reflect local needs and the needs of the pupils.’

Alex Cunningham MP: ‘If this is such a priority for the Government, why would you not follow the advice of many of the witnesses we have seen here who have said to us, “We think it should be put on a statutory footing”?’

Nick Gibb: ‘We continually address that issue, keep it under review and consider it. In my own experience of schools—I have visited quite a few hundred over the past 11 or 12 years—I do not sense, among the school population, any reluctance to teach PSHE. On the contrary, I have not met a head teacher or teaching staff who do not want to have good quality PSHE teaching in their school...The Ofsted report Not yet good enough says that 60% of PSHE teaching is good or outstanding and that 40% either requires improvement or is inadequate. That 40% is an unacceptably high figure’

Alex Cunningham: ‘the £75,000 to the PSHE Association...seems a small sum, especially compared with the latest announcement of £5 million to encourage and support the military ethos in schools. Is that a right balance? What are we achieving through improved PSHE by promoting this military ethos in schools?’

Nick Gibb: ‘The Government have a range of agendas, one of which is to improve behaviour in schools. I think we have achieved quite a lot over the past four and a half years to improve behaviour in schools and to tackle issues of bullying. That is a very important part of ensuring that young people have a good-quality and enjoyable life in our schools. I think that parents want us to address behavioural issues and a huge amount has been done. We have improved guidance to teachers, we have given more powers to head teachers, and we have clarified when teachers can use force and so on. I don’t think that you can take one area of policy and say, “Well, because you’re doing that, you should be doing more in another area.”’

Alex Cunnnigham: ‘It is not just the £5 million, as many millions have been invested before that in this particular area of education. It is about developing character, resilience and everything else, but is that really good value for money when we see how little is being spent on equipping teachers to deliver better PSHE?’

Nick Gibb: ‘As I said, the £75,000 that we give to the PSHE Association is not its total funding.’

Alex Cunningham: ‘Do you see a day, Minister, when schools will fail their Ofsted inspection because they are failing to deliver quality PSHE education?

Nick Gibb: ‘I do see that. There was an Ofsted report recently that looked at 40 outstanding schools, and all but two of them had an outstanding grade for the quality of their PSHE provision. I do see Ofsted looking at PSHE in the context of the overall judgment that it makes about a school. If a school has very inadequate PSHE, that would indicate that it is, first, not delivering a broad and balanced curriculum; and, secondly, that their spiritual, moral, social and cultural provision is probably inadequate.’

Pat Glass: ‘I have seen schools that have failed safeguarding and therefore failed on the grounds that they do not have an up-to-date list of teachers in the school and silly things like that. Would it not be more sensible—ultimately, this is about keeping young people safe—to have stronger links between PSHE and safeguarding?’

Nick Gibb: ‘We also have the national curriculum itself, the opening lines of which talk about the importance of PSHE in schools and of drawing on good practice.’

Alex Cunningham: ‘Are British values, as communicated or taught, part of PSHE? Should they be?’

Nick Gibb: ‘Yes, they can be. They are also part of citizenship education—things like the values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs. That is the essence of the Prevent definition of British values, so they can be taught in PSHE. One important aspect of PSHE is ensuring that young people are prepared for life in modern Britain and prepared for the workplace, and that they have that resilience that you need to survive in a modern, competitive and demanding world. So, yes, some aspects of British values should be incorporated into PSHE...I and the Government...[believe] that good-quality PSHE provides the bedrock for young people to survive in modern Britain and to cope well with the pressures of an academic curriculum...[character education] is about preparing young people to be more rounded, so that they can succeed in later life. To be successful in life, you need to have that resilience and grit to deal with failure and upsets in life’

Pat Glass: ‘What they [schools] tell us is, “Yes, we understand how important this is. Yes, we want to teach it. Yes, we want to have qualified teachers teaching it.” However, there is always a “but”. They say, “But, given the pressure that we are under over the best eight, EBacc, and five A to Cs, PSHE just gets lost in the curriculum so we have these odd drop-down days. We know that we are not doing it right or sufficiently well. We know it is a real priority, but we cannot make time for this to happen or put aside resources when it is not seen as a priority by the Government.”’

Siobhain McDonagh MP: ‘Lots of the people we have interviewed for this inquiry have said that they think that SRE should be made statutory. Could you introduce it as statutory and keep the parental right to withdraw?’

Nick Gibb: ‘I don’t see why not. I don’t see why we couldn’t incorporate that into the wording of the provision.’

Alex Gibb: ‘I do not see how you can have a good school providing a good quality, academic and rounded education without good quality PSHE...pupils should be consulted by the school when it comes to the school’s PSHE policy’

David Ward MP: ‘There is a requirement for schools to publish PSHE and SRE curricula on the website. Does the Department monitor that? What if the school doesn’t do it?’

Nick Gibb: ‘...I look at school websites periodically, and I am disappointed by what I see...We have never prescribed the time that pupils should spend on a certain subject. We have always prescribed the content of the curriculum...Ofsted have to take into account social, moral and spiritual education when they are conducting their inspections, and they have to make sure that schools are delivering a broad and balanced education. That is the right approach, rather than saying, “You have to inspect maths, PSHE and SRE.” view is that you can overdo the prescription and that will not necessarily deliver your objective; in fact, it could be counter-productive, and you could end up with a very tick-box approach to delivery if you are over-prescriptive in how you deliver things.’

Siobhain McDonagh: How do you choose between the many possible topics that PSHE education can encompass? How can you get away from the problem that some head teachers may choose a very narrow definition of PSHE education or, conversely, an over-broad one?

Nick Gibb: ‘That does have to be a matter for the head teachers of schools. It will reflect their local communities and the needs of the pupils in those schools. There is a requirement in the statutory guidance, for SRE in particular, to consult. I would have thought that most head teachers would want to take into account local opinion when developing their own PSHE curriculum. My own view is that it should cover all those issues in the title, things like health and SRE. It should also cover issues about ensuring that young people leave school ready for work, that they have acquired those soft skills of team building, collaboration, resilience and character that you need when things go wrong, as they always will. That will mean we have a generation leaving school equipped not just academically but to start work in a demanding work environment.’

Siobhain McDonagh: ‘Is there a subset of PSHE education topics that every child should be taught irrespective of the local circumstances?’

Nick Gibb: ‘That is again a difficult question. Certainly the SRE element needs to be taught and some of that is statutory. We have debated the extent of that. Making sure people understand the dangers of drugs, alcohol, STIs and HIV are a given wherever schools are, in my view, if I were a head teacher. I also think children should be ready for work when they leave school. They really need to acquire these soft skills. On top of that, it will be dependent upon the needs of their pupils.’

Pat Glass: ‘I want to finish by mentioning the £10 million that the Government recently gave to building “character education”. That would have trained 14,000 teachers at £700 each on the Roehampton course. In terms of Government money, I know if you say it fast, it is nothing, but £10 million is not a great deal of money if we are really serious about training teachers. One of the consistent pieces of evidence that we have had is that if you are going to deliver this, deliver it well, and the best way of delivering it is by having trained teachers who are experts in PSHE.’ 



Extracts from the Department for Education's response to the Education Select Committee’s 2013 report ‘Careers guidance for young people: The impact of the new duty on schools’:

DfE: ‘schools will now be held to account for the destination where students end up; be that an apprenticeship, university, a job or further study in school or college. Alongside Ofsted’s commitment to giving careers guidance a higher priority in school inspections, the government believes this will focus the attention of schools and lead to better outcomes for young people. We are already beginning to see evidence of this culture change driving real improvements. More and more employers are getting involved and a multitude of inspiring organisations are being set up. Speakers for Schools, an initiative that sends industry leading professionals and academics into state secondary schools and colleges to share their experiences and career insights, recently marked its 1000th school talk.’

ESC: ‘The Government’s decision to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools [‘Since September 2012, schools have been legally responsible for securing access to independent and impartial careers guidance for all their students in Years 9 to 11.’ -] is regrettable. International evidence suggests such a model does not deliver the best provision for young people. The weaknesses of the school-based model have been compounded by the failure to transfer to schools any budget with which to provide the service. This has led, predictably, to a drop in the overall level of provision...Whilst funding remains a concern, schools need to make careers guidance a priority within their budgets and we do not, in the current financial climate, recommend that additional funding be provided directly to schools.’

DfE: ‘Ofsted published ‘Going in the right direction? Careers guidance in schools from September 2013’. [] The report highlighted that some schools are providing very effective guidance and giving it a high strategic priority, demonstrating what can be achieved. However, the report also provided an important reminder that there is more to be done, showing that a number of schools were not yet implementing the duty as effectively as they should’

ESC: ‘the statutory guidance is seriously weakened by its permissive tone’ ; ‘The limitations which Ofsted set out to us - the fact that its inspections do not make a clear judgement on careers guidance provision in schools, that it does not inspect against statutory compliance in this area and that it does not routinely inspect all schools - means that the Ofsted framework is not a credible accountability check on the provision of careers guidance by individual schools.’

DfE: ‘in the advice to schools we have encouraged them to put information on their websites about the support provided to progress into further education, training or work, which could include information on the school’s links with employers and how pupils can access inspiration and mentoring opportunities.’

ESC: ‘Access to face-to-face guidance is an integral part of good quality careers guidance. All young people should have access to such provision from a qualified, independent provider, should they choose to take up the opportunity. We recommend that a minimum of one personal careers interview with an independent adviser who is not a teacher should be available for every young person and that this is made explicit in the statutory guidance.’

DfE: ‘Face-to-face guidance for young people has an important role and this is reflected in the revised statutory guidance. But we do not want to prescribe to schools how this is delivered or who provides it. The duty gives schools the flexibility to commission a broad range of support for pupils – not just from careers advisers but also from employers, mentors and coaches, with a real benefit in involving those already working in jobs of interest to young people. The government remains of the view that good schools seek to identify their students' aptitudes at an early age and to give them guidance throughout their school career. This will have a more lasting impact than a guaranteed face-to-face interview towards the end of a young person’s school career.’

ESC: ‘We acknowledge the important role that teachers play in guiding and advising young people. We also recognise the constraints that they are under when performing the role and that they cannot substitute for fully-qualified, independent and impartial advisers.’

DfE: ‘We do expect teachers to signpost pupils towards appropriate sources of independent careers guidance and the revised guidance for schools offers ample information and support in this regard.’

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