What is PSHE? The subject has in various forms been part of the national curriculum for schools in England since 2000.
At its simplest, it is “about helping young people interpret the world around them,” explains Joe Hayman, who was appointed chief executive of the PSHE Association at the end of 2012.
“The subject has been around in various different forms for a long time, whether it was personal development or social education,” he explains.
Hayman says there was a movement towards schools strengthening their role in supporting both academic and non-academic development of children, “to support their wellbeing and provide a broad curriculum that included preparation for life”.
“It is not something schools do in isolation but in partnership with communities and families,” he adds.
Hayman comes into the job at a time when PSHE may be falling down the agenda as schools juggle a range of external pressures on teaching time.
“There has been some evidence to suggest that is the case,” he explains.
“There was a survey in 2011 that suggested a number of subjects including PSHE were at risk in a number of schools.
“My priority is to keep PSHE high on the agenda for schools and the people who are determining the priorities for schools.
“Schools have a responsibility for student wellbeing and we have got to keep banging the drum about the important issues that PSHE helps schools to address every day.”
Those issues include ones that make headlines every day such as the influence of the internet on young people, the safeguarding of children, grooming, body image, drugs and bullying.
Hayman says that while there is “an issue about what comes out of the Department for Education’s priorities, schools also have to look at what is happening in the playground and in the classroom”.
He adds: “We are concerned that while schools have freedom and flexibility about where their priorities are, and clearly they will be different for each school, we have to ensure a consistent standard of support and quality in PSHE.”
School governors have some flexibility around how they teach sex and sexuality.
Hayman says PSHE teaching should be “age-appropriate and based on each school’s unique circumstances, developed in partnership between parents, governors, staff and expert organisations like ourselves”.
The recent debate over gay marriage has generated claims that schools, including faith schools, will be “forced” to teach about same-sex marriage.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller has said teachers will “continue to be able to describe their own belief that marriage is between a man and a woman while, importantly, acknowledging that there can also be same-sex marriages”.
Hayman says whether on sex and relationships education or any other element of the PSHE curriculum, “we consider it a school’s duty to ensure that pupils are presented with balanced factual information and take an approach which takes into account a pupil’s development and his or her family structure and religious and cultural background”.
“That is why we promote an approach to PSHE education is broad-ranging and often requires schools to deal with sensitive or contentious issues,” he explains.
“We promote an approach in which schools provide a safe and supportive learning environment where children and young people can develop the confidence to ask questions, challenge the information they are offered and contribute their own views and opinions – in short, to make up their own minds.
“We also seek to help schools to create an environment in which diversity is celebrated and where children are not discriminated against or bullied because of their religious/cultural background or family structure, or their own sexuality or religious beliefs.”
A more pressing concern for teachers and parents alike is the influence of the internet on young people.
Hayman argues that PSHE has a unique role to play in helping them navigate this sometime scary new world.
“The internet provides huge opportunities for young people, but it is also information that comes through largely unfiltered and they need a large amount of support in terms of interpreting that information and making judgements for themselves.
“Issues of self-esteem and body image occur when young people are exposed to a lot of digitally enhanced images. It is really important that children get support to understand what is real and what is not.”
A similar approach is taken towards financial literacy. While it is appropriate that part of the personal finance curriculum will be taught in maths, other parts of it are about making good decisions.
“That is where good quality PSHE comes into the fore,” says Hayman.
“There are a wide range of issues that includes managing personal money, budgeting and financial planning for the future.
“We want to ensure young people are supported by an underpinning methodology of helping them understanding risk, delayed gratification and managing emotions in making good decisions.”
Hayman started his career with the Youth Justice Board working on youth crime prevention initiatives before moving on to an education charity that supports before and after school clubs around the country.
He is also an author.
“I took some time out to write a book called British Voices about my travels round the country, talking to ordinary people about their perceptions of life in Britain.
“I spent three months doing that and spoke to more than 1,000 people. It gave me a real sense of what a complicated world it is for people, especially young people, to negotiate. That is why I went for the PSHE role because that is what PSHE is all about.”
Hayman says his first task in his new role at the PSHE Associationis ensuring there are minimum standards for teachers delivering PSHE.
“The anecdotal evidence is that the quality of teaching and of external organisation is variable. The quality does seem to be patchy and raising standards is my number one priority.”