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PHSE Becomes Core Curriculum – At Last!

October 29, 2008

After much debate the Government has finally announced that Personal, Health and Social Education (PHSE) will be compulsory in schools at a level appropriate to each child’s age. This decision has been generally welcomed. But only a few years ago some of us, as educators, were still battling to save this entitlement and embed it into the curriculum.


In 1990 the Cambridge University Press published a book entitled The New Social Curriculum. Edited by Barry Dufour, it was intended as a ‘guide to cross-curricular issues’, for teachers, parents and governors. I wrote the chapter on ‘Health Education: Education for Health?’.

How different things were such a relatively short time ago, as we fought via bodies such as FACTASS to retain anything of the social curriculum.  Now few, though strangely not yet everyone, would disagree that all children need to understand their own bodies and relationships; but until quite recently even this was a matter of serious contention.

Quotes from another era
Even as recently as 1990 I find, looking back, that I was obliged to write as follows (forgive the self-plagiarism.):
[My first thesis is] that health education is far too weighty a matter to be left to the varies of visiting speakers, odd sessions, leaflets, films, etc… and the whims of individual teaching staff…

[The second thesis is] that meaningful (or even plausible) Education for Health can only be achieved in institutions where the teaching staff as a whole have a competent grasp of [these] curricular issues and where the mores of host institutions themselves support an alert and sensitive response to the social and personal needs of learners. Isolated ‘lessons’ on the ‘nightmares of adults’ (to use Chris Brown‘s apt term) are unlikely to meet effectively the aims of an informed and humane programme of Education for Health [where] health can be viewed as a positive feeling of well-being….

Any institution which means what it says about Education for Health will recognise the necessity for:
1. a curriculum which acknowledges the overlap between different aspects of social and personal experience;
2. an adequate allocation of resources – financial and personnel – to develop and deliver such a curriculum;
3. careful attention to the dignity and welfare of all who are involved in work or study within it….

But the majority of developments in Health Education continue to occur outside the context of the mainstream curriculum, and certainly outside the professional remit of those who manage formal educational organisations [which..] may account for the lack of impact which many health messages appear to have on their intended recipients.

Contentious issues
It has to be remembered – or retrospectively understood – that this was written in the context of what amounted to moral panic and the Victoria Gillick campaign on the subject of ‘Sex Education‘, which had become the almost singular ‘topic’ focus of the then-Conservative Government’s educational legislation.

Teachers had to contend with, and at their peril remain within the requirements of, the Education Act (Number 2), 1986, the DES Circular 11:87, and, until it was clarified, Section 28 of the Local Government Act, 1988. All these legal frameworks had the effect of putting teachers off anything to do with sexual education, not to mention student counsellors dealing with issues such as homosexuality, at personal and professional serious risk.

A wait eventually worthwhile
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. In 1990 I ended my chapter by remarking that, whilst much good work was being undertaken, there was ‘as yet little evidence to encourage the hope that national educational structures, combining the experience of health promotion personnel, health educators and classroom teachers firmly within the context of the National Curriculum, will soon emerge to encompass and consolidate this good practice.

Now however the Government has at last announced that all pupils will Get Healthy Lifestyle Lessons, including age-appropriate information on sex and drugs, and a review by headteacher Sir Alasdair MacDonald will be carried out into the best way to shape and deliver this essential new core curriculum.

A positive step forward for children
This development, in the context of Every Child Matters, is enormously to be welcomed by anyone who wants every child to receive what is surely their basic entitlement – to understand, in ways suitable for their age and maturity, their own bodies and behaviour. How else can small people grow up to be sensible big people?

Across age, gender, social class and marital status, most adults have recently been found by a BBC survey to support this initiative. It’s been needed for a very long time and at last nearly everyone seems ready for it.

Read more about Education & Life-Long Learning.
See also: ‘Where do baby rabbits come from? Sex education to begin at five in all schools’ (Polly Curtis, The Guardian, 24 October 2008).

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 18, 2008 12:55

    Hi Hilary.
    You may be interested in my work: http://www.youngsolutionsinternational.com
    and the work of a close associate: http://www.child-to-child.org.
    Also give you my blogsite address below.
    I like the way you term health education, ‘education for health’.
    I am especialy interested in the living participation of young people in education for health and I am developing tools for educators that are simple to use and effective.

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