Concern over drop in PSHE lessons

31 Aug 2016

The PSHE Association has issued a warning to the Government over serious risks to child safety – as official figures show a significant fall in time allocated to PSHE education on the curriculum, including lessons on how pupils can help to keep themselves and others safe from abuse and online dangers.  

New analysis of Department for Education data showing how secondary schools allocate their curriculum has revealed that the time spent teaching PSHE education has fallen by over 32% in just four years.*

This significant decline comes as new YouGov online polling shows that 92%** of parents believe that all pupils should receive PSHE lessons about staying safe from abuse and unsafe contact from strangers both online and offline.

In response, the Association has called on government to take urgent action to make PSHE lessons a statutory entitlement for all school pupils, and has written to the new chair of the independent inquiry into historical child sex abuse, Professor Alexis Jay. Professor Jay replaced Lowell Goddard as the inquiry chair, having previously chaired a 2014 inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. That report stated that abuse survivors were “scathing” about the education they received about safe/healthy relationships.

The Association’s Chief Executive Joe Hayman said:

“These new figures show an alarming decline which will clearly reduce schools’ ability to cover child safety issues such as contact from people they don’t know and staying safe from abuse. This is a deeply concerning trend which leaves children at risk and comes in stark contrast to the views of the overwhelming majority of parents who clearly want their children to receive this education.

In 2014, Alexis Jay said that survivors of abuse in Rotherham were scathing about the education they received in how to keep themselves and others safe. The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse which she now heads has been asked to consider the steps it is necessary for state institutions to take in order to protect children from such abuse. We have written to her setting out the clear evidence that this kind of education can break cycles of abuse but this potential will never be fulfilled if ministers do not ensure that it is taught in schools.”

A range of reports over recent weeks have highlighted the need for this education to help to keep children safe. Recent figures*** from the Crime Survey for England and Wales showed that over 10% of women had experienced sexual assault in childhood, and that more than three in four victims of such assault had not reported it. International evidence shows that when pupils receive lessons on abuse, they are more likely to seek help, but such lessons are optional for schools to teach and Ofsted has said that what is being taught is “not good enough”.

In response, campaigners have called for PSHE education to become a statutory part of the curriculum. This call is backed by Police and Crime Commissioners across the country and by prominent politicians, celebrities and child safety campaigners.

Lorin LaFave’s 14-year-old son Breck was groomed and then murdered by someone he met online in 2014. Last night she said:

“It is crucial for every child to be educated on the dangers of online predators.

The safest and most effective method to reach every child is through compulsory PSHE lessons. Nothing can be more important than the protection of our children – they must be educated and empowered for life in order to make the right choices for themselves online."

The Conservative MP and former Child Safety Minister Tim Loughton added:

‘The profile of child sexual exploitation has never been higher not just through historic cases now coming forward but the risks posed in the increasingly technological world in which our children grow up. So it is disappointing that schools appear to be doing less not more in educating our younger citizens of the hazards online and giving them the tools to cope with predatory adults as well as inappropriate and abusive approaches from other young people. This again reinforces the urgent need to make sure that all our schools and society as a whole are a lot smarter in the way we approach quality sex and relationship education which has been woefully neglected for too long.’

Nicola Roberts, former Girls Aloud singer and ambassador for children’s charity Barnardo’s, added:

"With the parents, teachers and child safety experts almost begging ministers to bring mandatory PSHE to fruition, I really hope they are not ignored any longer, particularly as the amount of time schools give the subject is falling so quickly. David Cameron had so many chances to address this and did nothing - I ask Theresa May and Justine Greening not to let children down in the same way."

As well as being supported by more than nine in 10 parents, the campaign for statutory status for PSHE education has the support of the national police lead for child sexual exploitation, the Children’s Commissioner, the Chief Medical Officer, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, two royal societies, three Parliamentary select committees, five leading teaching unions, six royal medical colleges and 100 leading organisations including the NSPCC.


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