Education Committee PHSE & SRE consultation: a SWGfL response from guest blogger Vicki Green

The Education Committee in April 2014 announced an inquiry into Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) and Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in schools.

The consultation asked contributors to consider the following points:

  • Whether PSHE ought to be statutory, either as part of the National Curriculum or through some other means of entitlement.
  • Whether the current accountability system is sufficient to ensure that schools focus on PSHE.
  • The overall provision of Sex and Relationships Education in schools and the quality of its teaching, including in primary schools and academies.
  • Whether recent Government steps to supplement the guidance on teaching about sex and relationships, including consent, abuse between teenagers and cyber-bullying, are adequate.
  • How the effectiveness of SRE should be measured.

SWGfL asked our Social Care and Child Protection expert Vicki Green to lead a team in crafting a response, focusing in particular on the role that children and young people’s use of online technology plays in shaping attitude and behaviour. That response has now been received by HM Government.

Whilst the deadline for submissions has now passed, we thought we should share some of the thoughts and aspirations behind our response and would love any commentary that would help grow out own perspectives and perhaps stimulate discussion and debate. KC.


Submission on the PSHE and SRE in school Inquiry to the Education Committee

Written evidence submitted by the South West Grid for Learning Trust, Belvedere House,  Woodwater Park, Pynes Hill, Exeter, EX2 5WS.  The South West Grid for Learning supports schools and other organisations in safeguarding children online. Along with our partners we support schools with online safety.  We are also the leading partner within the UK Safer Internet Centre so we operate across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

Executive summary

Our team is a multi disciplinary team with many years experience working within the education, police and social work fields.  In our work we talk directly to parents, students, teachers, social workers and other professionals.  This gives us a unique insight into the impact of the education curriculum on children, young people and their parents/carers.  It is within this context that we submit this written evidence.

PSHE education should be statutory given that it is a vital part of the holistic education of children and young people, supporting them in acquiring the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to manage their lives.  The world the children are living in today is an increasingly complex one with the advent of the digital age.  Professionals and parents alike have been heard to comment ‘things are so complicated today.  It is difficult growing up in such a public way’ referring to the online permanency and visibility that is today’s reality

Accountability is clear in statute with the responsibilities for the development of a child’s knowledge, skills and understanding being established within the Education Act 2002, the Academies Act 2010 and the Children Act 2004.  However, accountability and action are not the same.  This is not enough and needs to be reinforced through Ofsted inspection.  When Safeguarding was a limiting judgement under the old Ofsted framework in 2011, the immediate response was a near overwhelming scramble for schools to engage in inter agency training and identifying lead professionals within schools.  This was despite the responsibility already being statutory.   Schools need a ‘driver’ to prioritise.

Through our work with professionals we encounter a sense of powerlessness when dealing with SRE in the context of the digital world.  The accessibility of pornography, the constant peer group pressure facilitated through social networking, the increase in online dating, the stereotyping of gender roles and sexuality through media and gaming, the sexist, homophobic, racist and violent language experienced through inappropriate gaming and the changing of social norms  have all lead to professionals leading on the SRE curriculum feeling overwhelmed and disempowered.  For many this is an alien world and they struggle to deliver messages in that context.

Recent Government guidance misses the true digital context.  It does sign post to many good resources but given the prevalence of use by young people, it is surprising that the links to resources do not identify the UK Safer Internet Centre.  SWGFL and Childnet, both partners in this, have valuable resources that could assist teachers in this area.  There needs to be more support for professionals in the form of consultation, supervision and training, as well as the availability of up to date resources and curriculum materials.  PSHE is a complex subject, made more complex by the rapidly changing digital world of the child.  The two cannot be viewed separately.

Should PSHE be statutory, either as part of the National Curriculum or through some other means of entitlement?

PSHE education should be statutory.  It is a vital part of the holistic education of children and young people, supporting them in acquiring the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to manage their lives.  If it is not mandatory, there is a real risk of it being seen as lower priority.

It is important that this preparation of children includes the building of resilience within the context of the digital world the children now inhabit.  Children are naturally curious, and if not guided to appropriate resources for education, they will seek information themselves.  We know professionals who have had to deal with young people who have suffered emotionally and physically by using unguided internet searches to inform them.

Schools provide a good environment for children and young people to learn with and from their peers, with direction and guidance from knowledgeable professionals.

Is the current accountability system sufficient to ensure that schools focus on PSHE.

Experience tells us that schools respond well when Ofsted are looking for the evidence on inspection.  This was apparent when they made Safeguarding a limiting judgement back in 2011, when the demand for Local Authority and LSCB support for schools in this area increased.  What was already in statute became a priority when it could affect overall ‘grading’.

In 2012, this team began work with Ofsted to develop an inspection framework that includes online safety.  Since this there has been a marked increase

  1. in the number of schools developing their online safety capability
  2. online safety judgements being made more frequently in inspection report
  3. the profile of online safety being raised across the education community.

The Ofsted Framework for School Inspection January 2014 does not directly refer to PHSE curriculum.  It could be argued that it does address areas that  should be evidenced through this subject.  Namely pupils’ behaviour towards, and respect for, other young people and adults, and their freedom from bullying, harassment, and discrimination; whether pupils feel safe and their ability to assess and manage risk appropriately and to keep themselves safe, and how well leaders and managers ensure that the curriculum promotes safe practices and a culture of safety, including e-safety.

If Ofsted measure a school’s effectiveness in intervening and shaping these behaviours by it’s capability to build resilience in its students to deal with these issues, then this would be sufficient. Since education is a key role in this process then it follows that schools who do not empower children to remain safe and well should be held accountable by Ofsted.

 View about the overall provision of Sex and Relationships Education in schools and the quality of its teaching, including in primary schools and academies.

There is evidence of patchy provision and many schools fail to include reference to the online context of social relationships influenced by the availability of  pornography, change in acceptable norms regarding ‘flirting’ (the prevalence of sexting), the pressure of living your life in an increasingly public arena and the risk of sexual exploitation and peer on peer abuse.

Teachers and adults involved in providing SRE are not always adequately trained.

Schools report a lack of confidence in dealing with the impact of the ease of  access to pornography on attitudes and behaviours and increasing peer pressure through, for example, use of devices in  friendships and relationships, and, use of images in their communications.

As a result many schools and academies use external support to provide ad hoc provision which can lead to inconsistency for children and young people with a lack of ‘school ethos’ reinforcing the messages.

Government steps to supplement the guidance on teaching about sex and relationships, including consent, abuse between teenagers and cyber-bullying, are adequate.

Given the prevalence of use by young people, it is surprising that the links to resources do not identify the UK Safer Internet Centre. South West Grid for Learning and Childnet, both partners in this, have valuable resources that could assist teachers in this area.

On the whole the guidance misses the true digital context. It makes a statement about linking to the ‘ICT/computing curriculum, which teaches about online safety’ which is both making assumptions and placing the online safety message in the wrong area.  For the majority of children and young people today, there is no such concept as ‘online’ as it suggests there is an alternative ‘offline’ life.  The context they are living and developing within is online.  It is how they entertain themselves, communicate, socialise, work and develop knowledge.

The guidance states that it is ‘vital for SRE to teach that the internet and social media are important resources for learning and information, and a great opportunity to build social networks, as well as teaching about the risks and how to stay safe online’.   It is more than this.  It is about developing resilience in the context of the digital world,  It is the hub of understanding SRE in today’s world.  It is not about technology, but about relationships, emotional health and wellbeing, belonging, the development of values, beliefs and self.  Consent is addressed in terms of the law, but also needs to talk about peer pressure.

It is acknowledged that SRE is a ‘partnership between home and school’ yet many parents report that they are lacking in knowledge about the digital world and lacking support when their child is the victim of cyberbullying, distribution of images or an exploitative relationship.  The guidance lacks information regarding how to engage with parents in a meaningful way.

There is no reference to cyberbullying, and information regarding abuse between teenagers is not clear.  There needs to be more guidance and discussion around the issue of deliberate and inadvertent abuse.

There also needs to be inclusion of information about the development of  emotional intelligence.  Children and young people today are to some extent ‘removed’ from the immediate impact of their behaviours therefore education needs to address emotional intelligence within this context.

 Recommendations

    1. PSHE should be made mandatory to ensure consistency of provision across schools and academies
    2. Ofsted should ensure they seek evidence which demonstrates good provision of PSHE within schools and academies
    3. All PSHE curriculum and in particular SRE are placed firmly within the context of the digital world children inhabit
    4. The partnership with parents and carers in the delivery of the curriculum is important.  This needs to be prioritised and schools provided with appropriate resources, advice and training.

About Vicki Green

Victoria qualified as a social worker in 1986 and has worked in the field of child protection and safeguarding both as a practitioner and manager since. She has worked as a frontline social worker, team manager, independent reviewing manager and inter-agency safeguarding training manager. In the latter role, Victoria gained a lot of experience in the design and delivery of training to a wide range of professional groups. Until recently she was the Safeguarding Children Development Manager and Principal Social Worker in South Gloucestershire Children’s Services and now acts as a consultant with the South West Grid for Learning.

Victoria works closely with a range of professionals on the frontline, including social workers, teachers, health professionals and police in the child protection arena. 

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