- Review visits, training and lesson plans have helped schools build understanding of what works
- Most schools now follow Medway's PSHE framework, supported by its Child Health Team
Partnership working between local authority public health departments and schools is crucial in meeting targets including preventing teenage pregnancy and substance misuse and improving mental health. Teachers have a statutory duty to promote pupils' spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development helping towards these targets, but often lack support with PSHE, due to its non-statutory footing.
Medway Council Child Health Team had been working with schools to improve relationship and sex education (RSE), but understood the importance of embedding this in a broader PSHE curriculum. In 2013, it sought help from the PSHE Association to improve the subject's consistency and sustainability across schools. "We had staff going into schools delivering RSE or a ‘carousel day' of lessons on subjects like healthy eating on the last day of term," explains Aeilish Geldenhuys, head of Medway's public health programme. "We wanted a more sustainable system, empowering schools to deliver their own PSHE through a standard approach, so all pupils were getting the same messages and level of knowledge. Lessons needed to be skill-based; not just passing on knowledge, but helping young people develop attributes to make the right choices and negotiate risk better."
Geldenhuys met with PSHE Association deputy chief executive and senior subject specialist Jenny Barksfield to discuss building a Medway-wide PSHE framework. A launch meeting for secondaries in June 2014 enlisted 10 schools. Each received a review visit over the following academic year, when Barksfield observed PSHE lessons, talking to heads and PSHE leads as a "critical friend" and gathering pupils' views. She was shadowed by Catherine Wilson and Sofie Wheeldon from the Medway team.
Geldenhuys says aligning the exercise with Ofsted requirements helped senior leaders "realise the benefits for them as a school". Some delivered it termly and others through tutor groups, sometimes involving mixed-age pupils receiving the same lesson. Pupils demanded more time for PSHE, saying they valued its open discussion and life skills development.
Each school received a post-visit report recommending improvements, produced by Barksfield in partnership with Wilson and Wheeldon. These informed four training sessions for participating PSHE leads, covering areas including curriculum planning, assessment, effective subject leadership and preparing for Ofsted. Barksfield says these equipped participants with the tools and confidence to build a more effective PSHE programme and make the case for embedding it within their schools. "The Medway team attended these sessions, so we were also training them to advise schools in line with this best practice," she explains.
Alongside weekly timetabled PSHE, Barksfield says a "spiral" curriculum is crucial; revisiting the same themes annually to extend learning, "building on the knowledge, skills and personal attributes pupils need to use that knowledge effectively".
In the project's second year, Barksfield's colleagues followed the same pattern of review visits, reports and training for primaries. It has also produced a range of primary and secondary lesson plans for subjects including RSE, healthy relationships and mental health, alongside four lesson plans addressing extremism, shared on the association website. Lesson plans on gangs are also planned. Barksfield's team helped establish after-school networking and training sessions for PSHE leads, enabling staff to share practice and support each other.
Medway now has its own PSHE framework incorporating lesson plans and resources, alongside the expectation that PSHE is embedded in timetables. Geldenhuys' team is now supporting 17 of Medway's 18 secondaries and 64 of its 80 primaries, alongside special schools and pupil referral units, to deliver within this framework. Their support includes co-delivery of initial lessons and curriculum planning; subject reviews; and training, advice and guidance when needed.
Geldenhuys says staff have reported increased knowledge and confidence in delivering PSHE, and senior leadership now "better understand how high-quality PSHE can improve attainment."