National curriculum PSHE explained

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PSHE stands for Personal, Social and Health Education. It is an important part of your child's national curriculum learning. So what does it cover and how can you support your child at home?
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Schools have an important part to play in helping kids become well-rounded individuals.

Personal, social and health education, or PSHE, aims to give children the knowledge, skills and understanding to lead confident, healthy and independent lives.

PSHE in primary schools

PSHE isn’t a statutory subject in primary schools. This means that there is no set programme of study or learning objectives that pupils have to fulfil.

Nevertheless, the Department for Education (DfE) makes it clear that PSHE is an ‘important and necessary’ part of children’s education.

Although the DfE doesn’t publish its own PSHE curriculum, it provides funding to the PSHE Association, enabling it to advise schools on how to develop their own PSHE teaching programme.

The PSHE Association produces a recommended PSHE Programme of Study for KS1 to KS5, which is free to download.

There are three core themes of primary school PSHE:

1. Health and Wellbeing
2. Relationships
3. Living in the Wider World: economic wellbeing and being a responsible citizen.

Core theme: Health and Wellbeing

This area of PSHE teaches children:

  • What is meant by a healthy lifestyle
  • How to maintain physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing
  • How to manage risks to physical and emotional health and wellbeing
  • Ways of keeping physically and emotionally safe
  • How to manage change, including puberty, transition and loss
  • How to make informed choices about health and wellbeing, and where to get help with this
  • How to respond in an emergency
  • To identify different influences on health and wellbeing

Pupils will learn things like the importance of personal hygiene; the physical differences between boys and girls; road safety, cycle safety and online safety; people who help us; how to talk about their feelings; and the benefits of physical activity.

This is just a snapshot of the many elements that the Health and Wellbeing core theme covers.

Core theme: Relationships

This theme includes:

  • How to develop and maintain a variety of relationships, within a range of social and cultural contexts
  • How to recognise and manage emotions within relationships
  • How to respond to risky or negative relationships, including bullying and abuse
  • How to respond to risky or negative relationships and ask for help
  • How to respect equality and diversity in relationships

Among other things, children will learn to recognise that their behaviour can affect other people; to listen to other people and work and play cooperatively; to identify special people in their lives (parents, siblings, friends) and how they should care for each other; what physical contact is acceptable; and what to do if they’re being bullied.

Core theme: Living in the Wider World

Through this theme, children learn:

  • About respect for themselves and others, and the importance of responsible actions and behaviour
  • About rights and responsibilities as members of families, other groups and citizens
  • About different groups and communities
  • To respect equality and diversity, and how to be a productive member of a diverse community
  • About the importance of respecting and protecting the environment
  • About where money comes from, keeping it safe, and the importance of managing it effectively
  • The part that money plays in people’s lives
  • A basic understanding of enterprise

Some of the things your child will learn include how to make and follow group, class and school rules; what protects and harms the environment; how to make choices about spending or saving money; ways in which we are all unique and the things we have in common; about basic human rights; and to respect national, regional, religious and ethnic identities.

How PSHE is taught in primary schools

It’s up to schools to decide how to deliver PSHE, but the PSHE Association advises that they should have one hour of specific, timetabled PSHE per week.

This could include, for example, lessons on bullying, different world religions, why it’s important to recycle, Bikeability training, and talks from visitors, such as people who help us (police, firefighters, doctors, etc).

PSHE is also taught across the curriculum.

In science, for instance, the National Curriculum states that pupils must be taught about how bodies change as people grow and age.

In geography, they might do a survey of their local area and count how many pieces of litter they find.

In ICT, they might discuss the risks that they may face online, and come up with rules for internet safety.

In PE, they’ll learn different ways of keeping fit and active. They might reflect on how their bodies feel after physical activity, for example by taking their pulse or discussing how their breathing has changed.

PSHE is delivered implicitly as well as explicitly, through many areas of school life. Assemblies, circle time, buddy or mentoring schemes and campaigns like Anti-Bullying Week all teach children the principles of PSHE.

Can you withdraw your child from PSHE?

Parents have the right to withdraw their child from sex education lessons, except for areas that are statutory under the National Curriculum as part of science (for example, learning about puberty).

This is because the DfE recognises parents’ rights to teach their own children about sex in a way that fits with their own values and principles.

You can’t, however, pull your child out of relationships education.

You also have the right to remove your child from religious education, including faith-based activities like assemblies or Christmas plays.

How PSHE is changing from 2020

The Government recently undertook a complete review of PSHE, and has announced that relationships education and health education will become compulsory in state primary schools.

Schools will have to have a policy for these subjects and publish it online so parents can see how they will approach PSHE. They should also share key resources with parents, for example by letting them see the books, leaflets and videos that are used in PSHE.

Sex education will NOT be compulsory in primary schools, and where it is taught, parents will retain the right to withdraw their children.

Six simple ways to practise PSHE at home

1. From a young age, encourage your child to dress and undress independently and manage their own hygiene, such as by washing hands after using the toilet.

2. Provide a role play area resourced with materials reflecting your child's interests.

3. Encourage your child to help you plan and cook healthy recipes. Take them shopping and involve them in decision making.

4. Make time for simple activities such as board games to encourage teamwork and help children learn to take turns.

5. With older children, use documentaries and other media to discuss issues around our place and responsibilities in society.

6. Give plenty of positive encouragement and praise to build self-esteem, and when they do something wrong, help them reflect on why their behaviour was naughty/unkind/selfish/rude and think of how they could have handled the situation instead.