An effective PSHE framework

Written by: Maria O’Neill | Published:
Image: iStock

RSE is to become statutory from 2019, and it looks likely that PSHE will follow. But what does a good PSHE programme look like? Maria O’Neill advises

As leaders and teachers, at any stage of our career, whichever post we hold, one thing remains a constant: we must always have our pupils’ interests at heart.

What do we want for our pupils? We want to see our young people happy, mentally and physically healthy and safe. We want our young people to be resilient, proactive, and independent.

We want them to acquire knowledge as well as develop their moral compass to empower them to make the right choices in their personal and academic lives.

So how do we create a sustainable PSHE programme that challenges and promotes personal development of our young people throughout their school life? In this article, I am going to look at the five main aspects that need to be taken into account during the planning process.


Starting with this enables you to look at the big picture. What do our young people need to know? I have determined five main strands based on my research and advice available from the PSHE Association and other professional bodies:

  • Education and Finances: Under this strand, I have included such topics as study skills, revision, university applications, higher education, Apprenticeships, careers, economic and financial understanding, budgeting, debt and taxes.
  • Safety: Road safety, first aid, e-safety, digital literacy.
  • Relationships: The sub-topics can include friendship, family, SRE, diversity and discrimination, child sexual exploitation, consent, abusive relationships and FGM.
  • Personal Identity and Healthy Living: Values, character education, mental health, coping strategies, healthy diet, alcohol, drugs, energy drinks, gaming and gambling.
  • Citizenship and Charity: The political system, voting, Parliament, the legal and justice system, Prevent, British Values, fundraising, volunteering.

These strands apply to all year groups at a primary or secondary level, although some of the sub-topics will be relevant only to certain age groups. Having the strands enables you to design a clear structure of the programme while the sub-topics allow for some flexibility within the strands to cater for specific age-related issues.


It is advisable to adopt a “spiral learning model” (Bruner, 1960) to ensure that the topics are revisited and covered at a greater depth throughout school years allowing for a fluid transfer of knowledge.

It also helps to ensure that we don’t have stand-alone lessons to tick certain boxes, but allow for the in-depth development of the topics for the long-term benefit of our young people.

For example, at the start of the secondary school the Relationships strand could be covered through friendships and family, then recapped and further extended the following year by looking at relationships between boyfriends and girlfriends, etc.

Learning and teaching

Although we are not delivering academic material in PSHE lessons, the planning of the lessons must be approached with the same rigour as any other lesson. First, we must aim to ensure that PSHE has the same status as any academic subject and, second, we should provide a breadth of learning opportunities and ensure that our teaching caters for the needs of all of our pupils.

Like any other lesson, PSHE lessons should have a clearly defined learning trajectory captured and evidenced in a lesson plan. If external speakers are invited to deliver a particular session, it would be good practice for them to send you their presentations in advance, so that you could adjust the lessons before or after to reinforce the learning and ensure continuity for a greater impact.


This is one of the areas that we don’t have much control of as it depends on the school structure and budget. Some schools have chosen the option of having specialised teachers delivering the lessons, others have assigned this task to tutors; some schools will have a mixed structure when specialised teachers will deliver more sensitive topics.

Each of these types of delivery has its advantages and disadvantages – the main thing to bear in mind is that like in any academic subject, delivery needs to be monitored formally and informally. It can be part of appraisal or performance management, it can be part of coaching observation or a more official observation carried out by a trained member of the pastoral team – and although gathering evidence is part of the monitoring process, the main purpose is to ensure consistency of delivery within and across various year groups.


In order to be successful learners, pupils need regular opportunities to reflect and establish what they have learnt and how they could develop their knowledge further.

Although it is tricky to assess some of the less factual content of PSHE lessons, there is a lot of scope for formative assessment, especially peer-assessment. For example, when presented with various relationship scenarios, pupils have an opportunity to assess the behaviour/actions presented against values or moral standards and beliefs with the aim of affecting behaviour change.

Self-assessment can be used effectively during reflection activities. Have you learnt anything new today? Have you developed any new skills? Do you think differently about this issue after today’s session? These opportunities for assessment are not necessarily formalised as in other subjects, rather they should become an integral and natural part of the learning process.

Formative assessment activities would be more open-ended and used when dealing with values and attitudes or development of personal skills.

Summative assessment can be used to establish factual knowledge – for example, to assess pupils’ understanding of different types of contraception, or the classification of drugs.

The whole structure of the PSHE programme is based on the baseline assessment carried out by the person responsible for the PSHE provision to ensure that the lessons are relevant and appropriately developed for each year group.


It is important to remember that ‘‘teaching isn’t just about delivering a curriculum with its achievement of measurable outcomes’’ (Godard et al, 2013).

A school’s academic programme won’t function effectively if children are ill, tired or anxious or have found themselves in difficult situations at home or with their friends.

A good PSHE programme should be proactive in nature and help to pre-empt possible unpleasant events or issues in the future. It would support and contribute to both pastoral and academic development of pupils at any stage of their school life.

  • Maria O’Neill is head of PSHE and e-safety co-ordinator at Bablake School in Coventry.

Further information

The DfE Policy Statement on statutory relationships education, RSE and PSHE is at


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