Does PSHE Education step up to the plate? Tackling sexual abuse, harassment and misogyny in secondary schools

Does PSHE Education step up to the plate? Tackling sexual abuse, harassment and misogyny in secondary schools

17 May 2021

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This informal CPD article Does PSHE Education step up to the plate? was provided by Chameleon PDE, a Personal Social Health Education (PSHE) company offering resources to support pupil PSHE education, mental health and well-being. Ofsted in partnership with the Independent Schools Inspectorate are in the process of conducting a thematic review into allegations of misogyny, sexual harassment and sexual abuse in secondary schools. This follows over 15,000 anonymous reports by students to the “Everyone’s invited” website after the murder of Sarah Everard.

Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE)

 Schools have long had a duty to provide Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE), but it has historically been a “hit and miss” affair with students (and Ofsted) consistently reporting that in some schools PSHE was “not good enough” (Ofsted, 2009). This has led to each of the 4 UK home nations making the subject compulsory; the latest being England where mandatory Relationships, Sex and Health Education was introduced last September.

This isn’t about apportioning the blame to schools, after all PSHE isn’t a subject like Maths, Geography or Science. It’s a subject full of intricacies, social commentary and an ever-changing landscape as society morphs and adapts. Marry this with over-burdened teachers and timetables, it’s easy to imagine why PSHE has been left untouched in some schools for years, leading to poor student experience of the subject.

PSHE Curriculum

Being ex-teachers ourselves, and PSHE Subject Leads, we’ve also seen the fear in colleagues’ eyes when we’ve asked them to teach a sensitive topic as part of the PSHE curriculum. This is an additional barrier as most teachers have had minimal or no training in how to teach the subject as part of their Initial Teacher Training. No wonder they approach it with apprehension, and avoid it if they can!

So now secondary schools are being asked to include sexual abuse, harassment and misogyny within the curriculum, and have the threat of the “big stick” of OFSTED as an incentive. Schools who aren’t teaching about these themes may indeed find themselves being asked some difficult questions during their next inspection, especially as statutory Relationships, Sex and Health Education has been introduced in England, and this explicitly includes safety in relationships as a compulsory element. Other UK nations already teach these topics, but critics suggest these curricula are out of date being introduced several years ago and are not relevant for today’s students.

No matter how sensitive a topic might feel, experience shows that once teachers have gained confidence and have supportive teaching materials to use, these lessons are never as “scary” as first imagined. But how do you get teachers over this barrier and into a pro-PSHE headspace? Staff training is crucial in this process not only to empower staff but also to educate them about the experiences and worlds our young people inhabit, which may be far removed from their own experience. Then they may see the importance of PSHE and the need to do a good job with it.

In addition, we know that teaching materials, written for the non-specialist teacher, providing plenty of engaging activities alongside detailed teacher notes empower staff, but sadly there are limited materials available for secondary teachers that fit these essential criteria. Many freely available teaching materials are written by “experts” and are excellent resources, but there’s a problem right there. Most teachers in secondary school are not experts, and these materials can feel way beyond their level of confidence and knowledge.

In the current climate, some secondary schools are panicking about the increased focus on PSHE and are reaching for anything and everything to cobble a programme together, or plug the gaps where they think Ofsted may want to ask questions or “Deep Dive”. Would they have the same approach with an exam subject? The answer is probably no, so why do this with PSHE that is best taught through a progressive and spiral curriculum, the same as every other subject?

Student personal development

Given the momentum of a number of current social issues; racism, sexism, hate crime, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, to name a few, it’s likely that schools will continue to be expected, and rightly so, to keep including these themes within student Personal Development /PSHE teaching programmes. 

Perhaps with the spotlight on PSHE once again, the days of firefighting the latest issue that needs to be taught to students in PSHE is disappearing in favour of a comprehensive and progressive PSHE/wellbeing programme that serves students better? We also want well-trained teachers who are passionate and enthusiastic advocates for PSHE and model this to everyone in school.

Survey after survey shows that students are aware of their needs and they are entitled to a curriculum that addresses vital PSHE knowledge and skills as they move toward adulthood. This includes understanding what misogyny, sexual harassment and abuse are, ways to report them and how to access support if necessary.

Staff CPD

If we want to change harmful societal attitudes, then this has to start in school, and PSHE is the subject that can make the difference. However, it’s up to individual schools to give the subject credence and put a plan in place, including appropriate resourcing, and staff CPD, so that pupils get the PSHE they need and deserve.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Chameleon PDE, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.


Chameleon PDE

Chameleon PDE

For more information from Chameleon PDE, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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