Andrew Cooper

How the Challenges to Pupils Make PSHE and RSHE a Priority for Schools

How can teachers and leaders create PSHE and RSHE programmes that handle the ever-changing challenges in society that children and young people are facing? We discuss this complex and evolving topic with the Head of School Support Service at Services For Education, Andrew Cooper. 

The broadening safeguarding role for schools and the understanding of the significance of the level of risk in the online world have intensified and bought greater significance to the need for effective and relevant PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) and RSHE (Relationships, Sex and Health Education) curriculums.

Schools sit on the frontlines of our communities, dealing with the consequences of the challenges within society and responding to the changes in government policy.

The last decade has witnessed immense social transformations, exponential, revolutionary technological advances and rising national mental health issues.

All the while, the safety, welfare, and education of our children must remain intact. Not only for their futures but for all our futures.

The question is, how can schools use PSHE and RSHE to navigate these pressing circumstances during a period of transition, crisis, and turmoil?

To address this issue, we spoke to the Head of School Support Services for the Services for Education (SFE), Andrew Cooper.

Andrew has worked at SFE since its creation in 2012. Before that, he was in the predecessor organisation from 1999. Over his career, he has led on safeguarding and PSHE.

The Multiple Roles of Schools Have Intensified in the Wake of Covid-19

The role of PSHE and RSHE is to support, educate and guide pupils into a safe, stable, and healthy understanding of life outside of the classroom.

The Government grants flexibility for PSHE as a way for schools to adapt to the specific needs of their pupils, whereas the RSHE component has become a statutory requirement for all schools to teach since September 2020.

However, keeping up to date with the current teaching demands required to teach pupils the skills for personal development, behavioural welfare, and safeguarding is a real challenge.

After all, each school is unique in its area, culture, and socioeconomic position.

Education is vulnerable to political alteration, agenda, and activity. Sometimes these agendas can change dramatically resulting in countless new initiatives coming and going through the classrooms, disrupting the ability to learn and hindering the capabilities of teachers.

“Education is a political football. Each new government and new minister always try to put their mark on it. I have lost count of the number of initiatives that have come and gone in the last 22 years. Some have a lasting impact, others fade into obscurity, soon to be replaced. However, the constant changes can cause teachers and leaders to suffer from initiative fatigue.”

It is the job of Andrew and his team at Services For Education to help guide teachers through the PSHE curriculum in a supportive manner, and this includes the pressure placed on schools to support the emotional needs of their students.

Schools Need More Support to Handle Rising Mental Health Issues

This pressure on schools is made even greater with the budget cuts in the public sector space over the last 10 years. Since 2010, education spending has been the worst since the 1970s, with figures dropping by 8.3%.

To make matters worse, this figure doesn’t account for cuts to social support networks outside of education. Factor this with the coronavirus pandemic, rising mental health issues, and a disturbing Ofsted report into sexual harassment, and we amount to a serious strain placed on services and resources.

“The pandemic has shone a light on many issues for schools and young people. I think the impact on the mental health of pupils has been significant. We will see the implications of the last 18 months continue long into the future. Schools have had to take on so many roles during this time, but the support for pupils with more complex social and emotional needs arising from Covid cannot just rest with schools – there needs to be a full range of wider services and support to meet the specific needs arising.”

There is momentous pressure piled on teachers to deliver exceptional PSHE and RSHE learning. There is a great need for schools to be equipped with the right resources and combat the challenges society is placing upon young people.

Ofsted Report into Sexual Harassment Sees Shocking Results

Alongside the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, a shocking sexual harassment report has also triggered a serious overview for the safeguarding of our pupils.

The report involved 32 schools and colleges with inspectors speaking to over 900 hundred children. The results were revealed that sexual harassment has become normalised in school. For example, 92% of girls and 74% of boys said sexist name-calling happens frequently.

“These issues are difficult to deal with professionally and personally. They are extending the reach of what we perceive the role of schools to be. With the sexual harassment issue, the rise of the online world is undoubtedly a major reason. The latest Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance tells us that we must no longer differentiate differently between abusive and inappropriate behaviours in real life and online.”

Along with the contribution towards sexual harassment becoming ‘commonplace’, the online world our ‘digital native’ generation experiences day-to-day is contributing to rising mental health issues. The role of schools has intensified in the need for education to evolve, and this is why PSHE and RSHE have become a current priority.

“As professionals, we want to do what we can to help. So, training and access to outside services become even more vital. Schools can be part of the solution but cannot tackle these massive issues single handily. The move to statutory R(S)HE was a major step forward. But just because a school is meeting the statutory requirements, it doesn’t necessarily mean the PSHE programme is truly meeting the needs of pupils or reflecting the issues they are coming up against. It’s time for a change.”

PSHE and RSHE Must Become a Priority for Education

The importance of PSHE and RSHE has never been so crucial. Over the last two years, new challenges and changes have impacted our entire society and had an even greater effect in the classroom where stability, support and guidance are most needed.

“We need to ensure schools invest time and resources into PSHE and R(S)HE. It needs to be a priority and not sit on the margins of the curriculum. The issues that PSHE enables young people to explore are not peripheral. They directly impact on children and young peoples’ ability to succeed at school, and ultimately truly realise their full potential.”

For all the pupils of the country to exceed expectations and fulfil their potential, investment and resources must go into PSHE and RSHE learning. With this in place, pupils will feel safer and more comfortable and confident to learn and progress in their education.

If you would like further advice or support with the PSHE and RSHE curriculum, take a look at our range of courses and resources.

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