chool leaders on Thursday insisted that PSHE lessons are vital for pupils and help them withstand the pressures of modern society – amid controversy on the teaching of topics such as gender identity.
It comes after Conservative MP Miriam Cates told the education committee that Personal Social, Health and Economic (PHSE) education lessons are a “Wild West” and is being used “in various ways in various schools to teach contested political ideologies in many cases.”
Some parents have complained that the lessons have left their children confused after being told they might be a different gender based on their personality or the clothes they want to wear.
But one London headteacher said PSHE lessons boost students’ self-esteem and critical thinking skills, which are “foundations of a functioning democracy”, while the founder of a London schools group said PSHE allows pupils to express their personalities and learn greater tolerance of people’s differences.
PSHE includes relationships and sex education, where topics such as sexual consent, sexual exploitation, abuse, grooming, coercion, harassment, rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage, honour-based violence and FGM are covered.
Referring to Ms Cates’s comments, Millan Sachania, head of Streatham and Clapham High School, said: “I do not recognise this lazy and stereotypical characterisation of PSHE lessons. PSHE lessons give pupils the space to develop self-awareness and self knowledge, the skills to respond to the many pressures that contemporary society place on them, including keeping safe and healthy, as well as the confidence to relate to others in society empathetically – and to learn what to do when one doesn’t know what to do.”
He added: “PSHE can never be an ‘optional’ component of the curriculum or a ‘luxury’, since the subject plays a crucial role in empowering pupils to navigate an ever-changing virtual landscape in all aspects — from self-esteem and personal safety to critical thinking and resistance to logical fallacies which are foundations of a functioning democracy.”
Andrea Greystoke, Founder of Abercorn, a family of schools in central London said: “PSHE classes have in my experience, encouraged reflection, provided balance and taught greater tolerance and understanding of people’s differences. These benefits, which have been particularly useful in supporting children through recent challenging years, are very important for pupils to learn about at school.”
She added: “Unlike some subjects like Mathematics, PSHE classes do offer regular opportunities for both teacher and pupil to express their personalities. Although it is important to be aware that openness could lead to personal opinions being communicated and discussed with children, I do believe that when held in a safe, responsible, and comfortable classroom environment, these classes create valuable conversations.”
The Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) aspect of PSHE became compulsory in 2020. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but RSE is taught within the broader PSHE curriculum.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “School leaders are best placed to decide what is appropriate for their pupils and are free to include a full range of issues, ideas and appropriate materials, even where they are challenging and controversial – but this must always remain politically impartial.”
The PSHE association said: “PSHE education is a school curriculum subject through which pupils develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to manage their lives, now and in the future.”