Government plans for what should be taught in PSHE are eagerly awaited by those who see it as a key part of every child’s education. Currently, we only know that the Department for Education will make an announcement later this year.
In the meantime, PSHE remains a non-statutory part of the curriculum with schools deciding how much emphasis they give to the subject.
Many schools are providing excellent PSHE, but it is important for those schools which see their priorities as lying in more traditional, core academic subjects to consider the crucial part PSHE can play in encouraging the health and wellbeing of pupils and in turn supporting their achievement and attainment.
We hope that PSHE’s contribution to students’ lives will be recognised when the government announces its approach to the subject.
Schools are an important place for young people to learn about good health. A recent survey conducted by NCB of 300 young people aged 11 to 19 found that while parents are their principle source of advice, more than half (55 per cent) of young people wanted and trusted teachers to provide them with information on health matters.
The role of schools becomes even more significant when placed in this wider health context where more than a quarter of young people are uncomfortable talking to their GP about health issues, saying they felt too embarrassed or felt they would be judged.
Overcoming young people’s reluctance to talk about personal matters is a key part of making PSHE lessons a success as any teacher leading classes on sex and relationships education will endorse. Their natural reluctance can also be a barrier to meaningful discussions about wider health matters, from healthy lifestyle choices and diet, to the sense of wellbeing that can arise from having secure and fulfilling relationships and a safe place to live.
To address these sorts of issues, we have developed a toolkit for engaging young people in discussion about health and wellbeing. Talking Wellbeing details how to run a five-step workshop for 14 to 19-year-olds. Through discussion and reflection we enable young people to consider what wellbeing means, what factors influence it, and what they can do about improving their own wellbeing using proven strategies and techniques.
It was developed with partners and young people including NHS Sefton and Our Life – a charity that facilitates discussion between the public and decision-makers. It was based on a survey of wellbeing conducted with 18,500 people living in the North West of England.
The research confirmed that mental health and wellbeing is influenced by many factors including age and where you live. As we know there is also a strong correlation with lifestyle: how physically active and healthy you are, your relationships and connections with other people in your life, and whether you drink, smoke or take drugs. Throughout, Talking Wellbeing was led by young people.
The discussion kit can be used in a variety of settings. It is particularly suited to schools, where it can be used by teachers in PSHE, within wider work on planning health and wellbeing initiatives within the school community. It can also be employed by school nurses in building relationships with young people, developing their understanding of what contributes to a happy, healthy and fulfilling life, and empowering them to take control of their own health and wellbeing.
Further informationTalking Wellbeing: A Discussion Kit for Young People is available from www.ncb.org.uk/talkingwellbeing
Dr Hilary Emery is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Visit www.ncb.org.uk