Too many schools are failing to properly consult their most vulnerable pupils on improving their personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons, according to a senior Ofsted official.
Children with special educational needs are too often not consulted over what they want from PSHE classes.
Janet Palmer, Ofsted’s national adviser for PSHE, was speaking at a Youth Select Committee inquiry into education, the national curriculum and life skills.
She said that when schools do consult their pupils on PSHE matters, it is usually only through a school council, where children with special educational needs in particular are under-represented.
She said: “Although their student council has been elected, that does not necessarily mean that they are representative. One of the things I am most keen on is to ensure that PSHE education is suited to all children, including those with special educational needs who may need different things.”
She also urged all schools to carry out pupil surveys and focus groups after each PSHE module or to cover different themes.
Palmer added: “A lot more can be done to ensure that all the voices of all the children across the board are heard. You have to make it a priority.”
The committee, which is holding another evidence session on the issue later this week, also heard that schools with the best head teachers are ensuring that PSHE education is taking place alongside the curriculum, even though it is not a statutory lesson. Those schools with poor leadership tended to sideline life skills, it was told.
Speaking after the session James Cathcart, chief executive of the British Youth Council, which runs the Youth Select Committee, said: “If schools with good head teachers can run good PSHE lessons then every school can. There are no excuses.”
Palmer added that too often head teachers are unconvinced of the value of life skills as there is so much focus on exam skills. "In fact, young people having good life and social skills does help them to attain better. There’s still a way to go to recognise that.”
Also speaking at the session was Joe Hayman, chief executive officer of the PSHE Association, which supports PSHE teachers.
He used the session to reiterate the association’s call for PSHE to become a statutory subject, adding that this would help boost PSHE training opportunities for teachers.
A report and recommendations on improving life skill education in schools will be drafted in the summer by the youth select committee.
An Ofsted report written by Palmer, called Not Good Enough Yet and based on evidence gathered in 2012, found PSHE lessons in four out of 10 schools were either inadequate or required improvement. In addition, sex and relationships education in a third of schools required improvement.