Ofsted: Not yet good enough: PSHE education in schools

Ofsted have produced their latest report in PSHE education, Not yet good enough: personal, social, health and economic education in schools.

The report is based on inspections of 48 schools (half primary and half secondary) with 290 lessons, 31 assemblies and 20 other PSHE education-related activities observed.  In addition the inspectors talked to 200 teachers and 700 pupils.

As readers will guess from the title Ofsted have given their report they’re not convinced of the quality of provision, finding that in 40% of schools teaching required improvement or was inadequate.

They are particularly concerned about the quality of sex and relationships education (which they identify as needing improvement in over a third of schools), but also are clear that only half of pupils had received lessons on staying safe and even fewer had developed the skills to negotiate their way through difficult situations.

They say:

In just under half of the schools, pupils learnt how to keep themselves safe in a variety of situations but not all had practised negotiating risky situations or applied security settings to social networking sites. Most understood the dangers of substance misuse but not always in relation to personal safety, particularly with regard to alcohol. These deficiencies in learning result in part from inadequacies in subject-specific training and support for PSHE education teachers, particularly in the teaching of sensitive and controversial issues.

The report makes it clear that the lack of specific training for the subject has an impact on the quality of teaching, but the report suggests the weakest aspect of PSHE is in assessment, which they say is

often less robust for PSHE education than for other subjects. In too many schools, teachers did not check or build on pupils’ previous knowledge which resulted in them repeating topics, and they had lower expectations of the quality of pupils’ work in PSHE education than for the same pupils in other subjects.

This echoes what Mentor’s London Youth Involvement Project found when we talked to young people about their drug and alcohol education, where one pointed out:

“Drug education needs to be consistent. [If not, it’s] cheating young people out of the [opportunity] to make a decision which can have lifelong impact”.

Ofsted are also worried about the timing of some of drug and alcohol education. They say:

Eighteen per cent of panellists had not learnt about drugs, alcohol and tobacco until aged 14 although 95% had by the time they left school. This may be too late for some pupils because few wait until they are 18 to begin drinking and by the time they reach 15, more than eight in 10 have already tried alcohol.

It isn’t all gloom and Ofsted note the correlation between being a good school overall and good PSHE:

It is interesting to note that there is a close correlation between the grades that the schools in the survey were awarded for overall effectiveness in their last section 5 inspection, and their grade for PSHE education. All but two of the schools graded outstanding at their last section 5 inspection were also graded outstanding for PSHE education and none were less than good.

Interestingly – and in line with the Health Behaviours in School Age Children findings from 2011 – pupils are clear that PSHE is something they need to be taught about in school, 86% agreeing or agreeing strongly and only 2% saying they disagreed with PSHE being taught.

They also have some positive words about the use of outside speakers, which they say pupils see as valuable. What isn’t clear though is whether Ofsted were able to make any judgement on the speaker’s use of evidence based ways of working. They do say however, that schools could be better at assessing the learning outcomes and conducting follow-up sessions:

Most pupils valued these contributions. However, in over half of the schools there was no formal evaluation of the impact on pupils’ learning or follow-up of activities, so teachers did not know how effective the external contributors had been.

Ofsted’s recommendations:

To the government:

  • give clear messages to schools about the importance of PSHE education
  • seek ways to help schools improve their provision by being able to access examples of good practice in all aspects of PSHE education
  • promote continuing professional development in PSHE education and in PSHE education subject leadership.

To schools:

  • ensure that staff teaching PSHE education receive subject-specific training and regular updates, including in the teaching of sensitive issues
  • ensure that the school delivers age-appropriate sex and relationships education that meets pupils’ needs and contributes to safeguarding them from inappropriate sexual behaviours and sexual exploitation
  • ensure timely and appropriate learning about the physical and social effects of alcohol misuse
  • implement systems to effectively track pupils’ progress in PSHE education and monitor pupils’ engagement in extra-curricular activities that develop their personal and social skills
  • raise teachers’ expectations of the quality of pupils’ work in PSHE education to ensure it is commensurate with expectations of pupils’ work in other subjects
  • ensure that where PSHE education is taught mainly through other subjects in secondary school, students’ access to the PSHE education curriculum in Key Stage 4 does not depend on them taking particular GCSEs
  • improve the quality of leadership and management in PSHE education by ensuring that subject leaders receive appropriate leadership training; designated time to meet with the PSHE team; and time to monitor and evaluate the quality of teaching and learning in PSHE education.

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