PSHE: Economic wellbeing and careers

Written by: Jenny Barksfield | Published:
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Economic wellbeing and careers education are essential elements of PSHE that must not be over-looked, especially in today’s challenging world. Jenny Barksfield advises

The PSHE Association programme of study for PSHE education has three core strands – health, relationships and living in the wider world. Schools are expected to cover all three but it will mandatory for all schools to deliver health education and relationships and sex education (RSE) from 2020.

However, living in the wider world – focusing on economic wellbeing and careers – is just as important and must remain a core part of schools’ PSHE provision.

In fact, the rapidly changing nature of work and the economy means that a strong focus on personal aspects of economic wellbeing and careers education (including work-related skills) is more essential than ever for our young people

Decisions, decisions, decisions

Young people should leave school “economically literate”, ready to thrive in life and work. To enable this, of course, schools should provide individual careers guidance and teach the mathematics required to balance a budget – but this isn’t enough.

Mathematics, citizenship, English and other subjects make vital contributions to education for economic wellbeing, but PSHE education has a unique role.

Almost every decision we make has an economic element. For young people, it may be as simple as ensuring they have enough money to get home or as life-changing as whether to go to university, start a business or go travelling (or all three!). When making these decisions, mathematical ability plays only a small part.

On leaving school, young people will need to see debt as not always a “bad thing”, but a part of life. They should be able to differentiate between a “good debt” – such as a student loan or loan for a season ticket for travel to work – from a “less good” debt, for example paying for an expensive holiday on a high interest credit card.

PSHE lessons provide the perfect opportunity for students to learn about how personal financial choices can affect oneself and others; how to manage the pressures of advertising when making economic decisions; assessing positive (e.g. entrepreneurial) and negative (e.g. online gambling) risk regarding economic decisions; how to develop work-related skills such as team-working and communication; about rights and responsibilities as consumers, and much more.

Critical thinking

Young people also need to be able to recognise and manage increasingly sophisticated messages designed to influence their economic decisions. These could include loan companies with astronomical interest rates, online gambling adverts or fraud schemes.

Mathematics lessons can teach students to calculate interest rates but in PSHE lessons students develop and use critical thinking and risk-assessment skills to evaluate whether, for example, having a card with sufficient credit to pay for something is the same as actually being able to afford it.

PSHE lessons will prompt them to ask relevant questions such as:

  • “What might I have to give up to afford to buy something?”
  • “What unexpected events might cause difficulties paying it back?”
  • “Is my desire to buy something influenced by peer or media pressure?”

English lessons can explore the use of persuasive language in advertising but PSHE lessons give students the opportunity to explore how they might be influenced by persuasive language, how to manage this influence and resist pressure to fit in with peer expectations.

Fusing the strands

Though there are three core strands to PSHE there is a lot of crossover between health, relationships and economic wellbeing – hence the Department for Education’s decision to create this unified subject. Life is complicated and impossible to separate with clear boundaries.

Family debt issues could have a big impact on relationships and health (mental and physical). Or consider online gambling. Ostensibly an economic wellbeing issue, managing it requires the same skills and attributes as other areas of PSHE, including understanding and managing risk and peer influence, self-regulation, and critical thinking.

Budgeting will be a consideration in constructing a healthy diet. Choices about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs may have economic consequences, and healthy relationships may depend on financial security.

Understanding the link between our physical and mental health and our performance academically and in employment is a crucial step in achieving our full potential.

PSHE is the glue that binds all this together coherently. It’s the vehicle for supporting young people to integrate financial realities into their decision-making across all areas of their lives.

Delivering the Careers Strategy

The government’s 2017 Careers Strategy recognises that “many schools deliver careers education, including employability and enterprise, through the curriculum as part of their commitment to PSHE education”.

The statutory careers guidance document Careers Guidance and Access for Education and Training Providers (January 2018) states that “the curriculum offers excellent opportunities for developing the knowledge and skills that employers need” and again recognises the role that PSHE plays in many schools.

Independent careers guidance (which for some, though not all, might include one-to-one advice) forms an integral part of an effective careers education, but is not enough nor the entirety of it.

The statutory careers guidance states that: “Every child should leave school prepared for life in modern Britain. This means ensuring academic rigour supported by excellent teaching, and developing in every young person the values, skills and behaviours they need to get on in life.”

It also suggests that schools should have careers guidance strategy “embedded within a clear framework linked to outcomes for pupils”, taking into account the enterprise and entrepreneurial skills they will need in life as well as opportunities to experience work, and hear from employers.

This all requires discrete curriculum time and, according to the Career Development Institute’s Framework for Careers, Employability and Enterprise, PSHE is the most effective subject: “Inspection and monitoring evidence suggests that the most effective model for delivering the separately timetabled element is to organise the careers, employability and enterprise outcomes within an integrated course of PSHE education taught by a team of specialist PSHE teachers.”

Teaching in other subjects and extra-curricular opportunities can and should enhance this learning, but without specific PSHE lessons for careers education it is very difficult to see how schools can fully meet their responsibilities in this respect.


Young people are increasingly the victims of online fraud and other financial crimes as the world becomes more sophisticated. Even legal activities – such as purchasable random rewards in video games (sometimes referred to as loot boxes) are arguably a form of gambling, with young people spending real money for uncertain gain.

Then there is the need to negotiate careers in the face of a changing work landscape – offering less stability but also greater potential flexibility. Personal financial and career decisions have a greater weight given such challenges and opportunities. High-quality, timetabled PSHE plays a vital role in helping young people to make informed choices and thrive in this complex world.

Further information

  • Careers Strategy: Making the most of everyone’s skills and talents, Department for Education, December 2017:
  • Statutory guidance: Careers guidance and access for education and training providers, Department for Education, January 2018:
  • Framework for Careers, Employability and Enterprise Education, Career Development Institute, March 2018:
  • Programme of Study for PSHE (key stages 1–5), PSHE Association:


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