RELOADED: They Call It PSHE, I Call It Hell

February 18, 2008


This is a rewritten version of an entry that has appeared previously but is no longer available. Apologies if you have read it before.

There’s a rather trendy argument, put forward by “progressive” types, that says the problem with education nowadays is that everything has to be assessed and tested and this leads to boring and unimaginative teaching and stress for students and teachers. Logically therefore if we want to find exciting and innovative teaching and high levels of enthusiasm then we should start with those subjects that aren’t ever subject to exams of formal assessment.

PSHE and Citizenship must be the definitive place to look.

(Just in case you’re not familiar with the subject, PSHE stands for Personal, Social and Health Education and mainly covers sex, drugs and bullying and anything else that might be quite important to teenagers which isn’t really part of the curriculum. Citizenship was a last ditch effort to fight political apathy by requiring schools to teach how democracy works, with lots of stuff about charities and rights thrown in. Some schools teach Citizenship as a subject in its own right but most seem to just lump it together with PSHE).
Anyway, if the anti-assessment lobby are right PSHE lessons, freed as they are from the pressures of exams, should be the place to see schools at their best.
Well my experience is this:

  • Teachers who don’t want to do it are conscripted into it. I teach a shortage subject and most of the schools I worked in lacked a fully staffed department for my subject, yet somehow I was forced to teach PSHE instead of my actual area of expertise for an hour a week. In fact as far as I can tell most teachers absolutely hate it. Far from feeling freed from pressure they feel out of their depth and/or bored.
  • It is taught by teachers who are in no way qualified for it. I’ve been there for PSHE meetings prior to teaching about local government where not one teacher could name the councillors for the area or which party ran the local council. That was one of my stronger areas, I had far greater dread of teaching anything to do with relationships (I’m not in a relationship myself so what do I know?), charities or study skills. Actually since I last had to teach study skills in PSHE I have read up on “the Theory of Multiple Intelligences” which our resources were based on and I discovered that almost everything I taught was factually incorrect.
  • The resources used are rubbish. Usually thrown together by year heads who, like most teachers, have no qualifications in the subject, they would range from photo copied worksheets, to word-searches, to “do a poster”. I can’t emphasise enough how much “do a poster” is the soul of PSHE. It’s often all you can do – spend two minutes talking about the subject you know nothing about – then tell students to design a poster about it. One warning though, posters are fine for bullying, drugs and road safety but not good idea for sex education. I learnt this when a well intentioned outside speaker came to talk to my Year 7 (11-12 year olds) form at Stafford Grove school about sexual harassment and sexual offences. She was shocked that her brilliant suggestion that in groups they draw a picture of a victim of sexual assault (showing how they might feel) led to two pictures of rapes and one of bondage being drawn. One group did draw a girl’s crying face which may have been closer to the intention of the speaker, however, the fact that they then clearly named the victim in it as one of their group meant that even theirs had crossed beyond the bounds of appropriateness.
  • It is taught mainly in form groups. There is no setting, there is no provision for different needs. Moreover as it is normally taught by form tutors with no qualifications in the subject it can only help undermine relationships between forms and their tutors. I had a far better relationship with members of my forms who I’d taught for my subject (they thought I knew my stuff and cared how they did) than those I taught for PSHE (they thought I was an idiot obsessed with posters).

On a more positive note the Metropolitan School where I now teach uses a mix of specialist Citizenship teachers and outside speakers to cover most of this curriculum. It actually works and has made being a form tutor a far more pleasant experience. It’s the next best thing to having a school system based on academic learning rather than on being a substitute parent.

However, it remains in many schools the worst hour of the week. No assessment, no testing, very little scrutiny of what you teach, no clear boundaries, discussion and group work, an emphasis on how you feel – all the trendiest parts of teaching practice – make it a learning free zone where teachers are actually trying to tell students the things their parents should be telling them: “don’t take (too many) drugs”, “don’t get pregnant”, “racism is bad”.

A friend of mine does his marking in PSHE and lets his form group do their homework and sit and chat, with an understanding that the students have to keep watch to check that nobody’s in the corridor checking up. This arrangement suits both students and teacher. I think they have the right idea. Of course if the educational progressives had their way and removed all assessment, subject specialisms and inspection then all lessons could be like this



  1. […] RELOADED: They Call It PSHE, I Call It Hell …boring and unimaginative teaching and stress for students and teachers. Logically therefore if we want to find exciting and innovative teaching… […]

  2. The problem with what you describe here is that it is all being done far too LATE. Most students have developed their set of values by age ten. To try to get them to change those values in high school is way too late…you have to get them much younger.

    I spend a lot of time time talking with my third graders (age 8, going on 9) about how others feel, about treating others with kindness, about thinking before speaking. I tell them to focus on three questions before saying or doing anything: “Is it TRUE? Is it HELPFUL? Is it KIND?” (Of course the biggest benefit has been to MYSELF–teaching those three questions has really gotten me to clean up my OWN behavior as well.) All this is in an attempt to prevent bullying, and later severe incidents.

    I see a lot of good results at this age because the students’ values are still being formed, and also because they are still young enough to want to PLEASE THEIR TEACHER. We talk about these things not as a part of formal education, but whenever a problem incident occurs in class (which is nearly daily), so that there is an ongoing process throoughout the year.

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

  3. PSHE should be taught by a dedicated team. Ofsted have identified this as the best model. At my school we have a very successful and highly thought of PSHE dept. The pupils rate it very highly. We don’t use any levels or formal assessment procdures, we do engage students in discussions. Yes there are a lot of posters, but there are also presentations and mind maps, quizes, critical thinking activities. The kids really enjoy it. Making the citizenship curriculum interesting is a challenge I have to admit and I have not met anyone who enjoys teaching it or has any idea about how to make it ‘funky’ Most schools don’t afford it the status it needs to be taken seriously and so it is seen as an necessary evil. In my opinion it is a crap Blairite concept that should be binned as a dsicrete subject. In it’s place I would allocate the important elements to the other subject areas, eg history could cover parliament and voting, geography local council etc and let the none discrete part come under the ECM outcomes. There is not enough joined up thinking in th English education system. I was hoping the secondary curriculum review might get rid of citizenship – no such luck.

  4. While I have a certain sympathy for the teacher who pulled together the comments”they call it PSE – I call it hell”, I would wish to publish the following comments.

    I am an Economics teacher by training and most of us will bring relevant subject knowledge to PSE.

    We are attempting to encourage good citizenship and active learning of information in the future, musch of which does not exist today. I urge the writer not to be too precious about his/her subject.

    PSE lessons need to be resource rich, planned as a whole before the start of the year and co-ordinated by a teacher specifically paid for this purpose.

    I wish all readers all the best with their teaching.

  5. Eileen

    Better too late than too early.

    I’ve just seen a Dutch document which the transgressives claim is being used in three ‘areas’, that means ( we think & hope) British primary schools, we must hope it is not an LEA designator, It is for 5 and 6 year olds. The policy is certainly being used in primary schools in England.

    ( the police may be asked to visit schools to get it)

    I think the mistake they make in Britain is to think that this 14 million problem, itself the tip of the iceberg, isn’t organized at least to the extent that baseball or football is ordered. I think that organization as they accept it, ended with the PIE people.


    In America we don’t take kindly to Brits kicking our indecent images victims under the carpet to protect British teachers and that is what the British have been failing to disclose.

    What we have is a culture of Haut de la Garenne, or Islington, the London borough whose children’s homes were infiltrated by paedophile groups (pretending to be gay) while Margaret Hodge was council leader.

    You need to cut down on alcohol, you ned to scrap that vetting system, which is a joke & a stick to beat the general population with, and deal with what the FBI asked you to deal with. You should be arresting circa 650 teachers per annum for sex crime.

    The sex-ed document I have is about teaching 5 year olds about their sexuality, their 5 year old sexuality and about romantic love, coupledom, gender, etc. being for ‘straights’ or for those who are ‘not queer enough’.

    Which is COC speak for a non-pedophile. I just don’t see UNCRC compliance anywhere in Britain, it’s just not there. They have had rapes, pedophiles, voyeur cameras, at virtually every mixed changing room in council opration across Britain. I don’t think there is a single one which hasn’t had something.

    How do you spell ‘unworkable’ in their form of English? They have a blame free society, a 500 million dollar CRB system, (which doesn’t ban sex offenders from schools, its only solid policy anchor), towns that are flooded with alcohol & zonked youngsters, and they want to fix it by telling 5 year olds how to ‘be sexual’.

    Haute de la Garenne is their version of normal and it shows. Britain saves its Abu Ghraibhs for little kids.

    Jersey care home: third man questioned in Haut de la Garenne child … Many bones have been discovered buried in ash at Haut de la Garenne in Jersey. … message on a wooden post reading: “I’ve been bad for years and years.” …
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2053874/Jersey-care-home-third-man-questioned-in-Haut-de-la-Garenne-child... – 39k – Cached – Similar pages

    That’s what the Brits need to sort out first. The sex ed thing, that is just a pro-pedophile stunt, naming a prize after Ian Dunn. The NSPCC & FPA should have known better than to get suckered. They need to get their act together.


  6. Thank you for your comments, Tazia. I find them shocking.

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

  7. This used to be the case in our school until they appointed a dedicated Curriculum Leader of PSHCE who has reformed the system. It’s probably not yet perfect but the resources are good, and teachers (and more importantly pupils) are actually buying into the system. Sadly she only deals with yrs7-11 so 6th form tutors are still dumped with rubbish but there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel for PSHCE I think.

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