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Healthy, Happy, Safe?

An investigation into how PSHE and SRE are inspected in English schools

The British Humanist Assiociation( BHA), like so many other groups and individuals, has long been committed to comprehensive, age-appropriate personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) and its component, sex and relationships education (SRE), in English schools. We have campaigned for it for over six decades but today the evidence is unequivocal. Good-quality PSHE and SRE substantially improves outcomes for young people in terms of delaying the first time they have sex, ensuring that when they do it is safe and consensual, driving down the number of teenage or unwanted pregnancies, halting the spread of sexually transmitted infections, preventing homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying, tackling alcoholism and drug abuse, mitigating the risks posed by the internet and modern technology, and reforming discriminatory attitudes towards women and girls.

Despite these benefits, not to mention a substantial and growing consensus on the need for statutory status, PSHE is still not compulsory. Faced by this consensus, the Government’s main response for years now has been to emphasise the role of Ofsted in ensuring that, despite not being obliged to, schools do nonetheless teach PSHE. In November 2015, for example, Home Office Minister Lord Bates stated in response to a question on making PSHE statutory that ‘we expect sex and relationships education be taught in all schools. In fact, it is inspected by Ofsted as such.’ In February 2016 former Education Spokesperson Baroness Evans stated that: ‘Ofsted inspects all schools...so this enables PSHE to be considered in a proportionate and integrated way as part of their inspection’.

And in January 2017 the Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP, responding to a question on the need for PSHE in schools, said that ‘as part of an inspection, Ofsted will consider whether the school is providing a broad and balanced curriculum that meets the needs of pupils and prepares them for adult life’.

Ofsted, too, have accepted this role. When the latest inspection framework was introduced in September 2015, the then Ofsted lead inspector on PSHE stated that

‘it is clear from the range of inspection guidance for September 2015 that the evidence schools provide regarding the effectiveness of their PSHE and of pupils’ SMSC development is more crucial than ever to informing the judgements inspectors make’.

This report, however, which details the results of an analysis of inspections conducted during the 2015/2016 academic year, since the new common inspection framework (and its greater focus on personal development and welfare of pupils) was introduced, finds that these positive statements of intent have yet to filter through to inspections. Indeed, it suggests that they have yet to filter through to schools’ delivery of PSHE too.