Planning a PSHE curriculum

What does your PSHE curriculum include and how can you fit everything in? Luke Ramsden explains what to cover to support students across many topics

Author details

Luke Ramsden is an award-winning senior deputy headmaster and senior safeguarding lead at St Benedict’s School in...

The part of the school curriculum where we teach our children about the non-academic world, what we know as PSHE, has never had more importance, nor has it had more different topics competing for attention for those putting together their school’s programme.  

The PSHE Association helpfully pulls together the various topics for study under three overarching themes of: 

  1. health and wellbeing
  2. relationships
  3. living in the wider world. 

Within those themes suggests around a hundred different areas to study for students in key stages 3 and 4, which is a tall order for schools who typically give a lesson a week to this subject. 

There is no one right way to deliver PSHE, but this article will present a few thoughts for PSHE leaders in schools to help inform their thinking when curriculum planning.

1. Give plenty of space and resources for RSE

There is an intense focus not just on ticking the box of covering RSE but on having effective and high-quality RSE provision. The Ofsted report on Sexual abuse in schools states that schools should have: 

  • a carefully sequenced RSHE curriculum, based on the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) statutory guidance, that specifically includes sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online. This should include time for open discussion of topics that children and young people tell us they find particularly difficult, such as consent and the sending of ‘nudes’
  • high-quality training for teachers delivering RSHE.

For schools where PSHE teaching falls to the form tutor who is a specialist in another subject this can be a significant challenge. External companies and speakers such as The School’s Consent Project and Tender can be extremely helpful in providing expertise, but, as the report notes, students say what they really want is to have time and space to discuss these issues not just with a visiting speaker but among themselves. 

Schools will need to introduce more regular and more rigorous training in delivering RSE and might look to have RSE taught by members of staff for whom this is a speciality.

2. Careers guidance 

An important document on Careers strategy was published in December 2017 but given the impact of Covid it is likely that many schools will only now be incorporating, or even just planning, some of the suggestions raised in this.  

The timings planned in this document have changed, but a good benchmark for all schools to be aiming for is that ‘Schools should offer every young person seven encounters with employers - at least one each year from years 7 to 13 – with support from the CEC. Some of these encounters should be with STEM employers.’

3. Addiction

Across the PSHE curriculum teachers will find themselves educating their students about alcohol, cigarettes, vapes and prescription and recreational drugs. The unifying feature of these topics is that they are dealing with addiction. Effective education for our students is focussing not on the details of those substances (while that has its place) but on the psychology of addiction which underpins all of them.  

Teenagers are particularly bad at imagining that they could ever be the person who is affected by drink or drugs, but can be very receptive to a discussion about why someone might be susceptible to addiction. It also allows teachers to link these topics to other growing concerns for young people in the online world such as gambling, pornography and gaming addiction.

4. Mental health

Understanding healthy lifestyles is a crucial part of PSHE, and understanding physical health is vital of course, but schools should also ensure they teach their students about mental health. Anyone working with young people will be aware of the growing tide of mental health issues facing them, as well as the increasing difficulty of finding external support as resources are increasingly stretched.  

Mental Health First Aid is something which can be invaluable for our students so that they can build their own mental resilience and be observant for signs of mental health issues in themselves and their friends. Just as with RSE, mental health lessons require a well-trained staff body, so staff training on these topics will be an important first step for many schools.

5. The online world

It is tempting to think that, spending so much of their time online, young people need no extra education about being safe and knowledgeable about the online world.  Above and beyond the standard PSHE, lessons about online bullying and inappropriate online images are important that students have an education in understanding and decoding fake news. A brilliant starting point for this is the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series on Youtube.

Other topics I have recently been trying to squeeze into our already-packed programme at the request of our students include understanding finances, first aid and self-defence.  

PSHE is an increasingly important part of what all schools offer their students, and something that inspectors will be looking carefully at when they pay a visit. Thought, training, and, above all, time needs to be dedicated to PSHE programmes to provide a really excellent support for our students rather than the tick-box exercise that PSHE may have been for many in the past.

Last Updated: 
28 Feb 2022