Why PSHE Matters

*PSHE is being cut*
The UK has long been lagging behind Europe in Literacy and Numeracy (an estimated 100,000 pupils leave school functionally illiterate every year*), and far behind top literate and numerate countries like China and Japan. One of the ways the UK government is seeking to deal with this problem is by diverting time and budget for PSHE (Physical, Social and Health Education) into English and Maths.
*But PSHE is a doss subject*
Why not cut PSHE? After all, there are no exams in it; it won’t help you get a degree or a job; and it’s valuable learning time that could be spent on stuff that will help you succeed.
*PSHE is the most important subject*
Or of course, you could argue the other extreme and say that it’s the most important subject. What could be more important than learning how to vote? Your consumer rights? The endemic inequality between rich and poor, men and women? The threat of terrorism, the rise of the alt-right, the fight for the environment: these are some of the most important subjects today. PSHE also encompasses more fundamental issues, like sex education, how to make friends, and how to be a responsible citizen.
*But isn’t PSHE basically just Religious Studies?*
Abortion and Euthanasia are two explosive topics of debate that have remained stalwarts of the GCSE and A-level syllabuses for decades, and the ability to argue the case for both sides is a wonderful skill. But it misses out the “P” of PSHE: the whole point is that PSHE should be personal, helping to nurture children’s personal skills and understand about their place and role in shaping the world. Religious Studies can only take you so far.
*PSHE actually promotes literacy and numeracy*
Very few children actually like exams, and most successful candidates tend to see exams as a means to an end. So why not spend more time focusing on that “end”? The more children learn about careers and the big problems facing the world today, the more they understand that ‘boring’ set text in English; the more proactive they become in Maths. Furthermore, learning to overcome anxieties and other mental health issues, as well as how to make friends and resolve conflicts, are all necessary skills before you can successfully start studying academics.
*Preparing for the future*
Let’s say that cutting PSHE time works wonders for you. You do way better in the important exams like English and Maths, ensuring you get into a top university and top job. What’s the point if you have no understanding of the big problems facing the world, or you enter the world of work with underlying, unchallenged prejudices influencing whom you hire? As computers and robots become more and more advanced, “soft” skills like customer relations and management are becoming increasingly more valuable. What’s the point in having a top Maths degree if you don’t know how to motivate a team, or get new clients to trust you?
*PSHE helps you beat the system*
As a result, top competitive schools, universities and jobs are increasingly looking for evidence of PSHE, as well as the academics. One high-achieving school’s recent 13+ English exam offered the essay title, “Men are better than women. Discuss.” This kind of question tests academic skills, and also tests the candidate’s open-mindedness and ability to debate societal prejudices. Top candidates would also be expected to problematise the question: who can be expected to judge what’s “better”; and where do intersex and non-binary gender people fit in?
*How can I promote PSHE?*
Parents and teachers just need to value PSHE more, whether that’s making the most out of morning tutorial time and assembly, or introducing social education into academic lessons. The Week Junior is a fantastic magazine aimed at pre-teens, offering news and debate, and can be a great way of engaging children with PSHE in the classroom and at home. PSHE is neither the most important nor the least important subject, it’s just a necessary part of rich, engaging education for modern learners. PSHE matters!