Using PSHE to support safeguarding

Careful planning of your PSHE curriculum helps to equip young people with strategies to keep themselves safe. Dana Abdulkarim explains the key principles and where to start

Author details

Dana is a senior education lead across PE and PSHE who has experienced sport at International level. In 2000 she became the first Muslim and Arab woman to compete for England internationally and in 2008 was the first Hijabi Muslim woman to...

The statutory status for relationships education (in primary) and relationships and sex education with health education (secondary) has brought new esteem and spotlight upon PSHE programmes. 

A subject now given specialist staffing and lots of teacher development time to create programmes that enhance and support the whole education of children. The impact deliberate PSHE can have on a child’s wellbeing, safety and personal development is significant.

Preventative and deliberate PSHE

PSHE presents the in-curriculum time to meet several objectives in education. Effective PSHE is the best vehicle to deliver strategic safeguarding education to every young person.

If planned and localised to your school setting, it gives an opportunity to equip young people with the knowledge, support, and strategies to cope with our complex world. It provides the best context for this learning, as part of a whole school inclusive approach to preventative wrap-around care.

All staff working in education are trained and familiar with KCSIE guidance, but how many staff consider this within planning PSHE? Ineffective safeguarding can leave young people unsafe and unsure of how to help themselves and others in potentially risky situations. We leave them vulnerable if we do not do everything to equip them to keep themselves safe in school, outside school and in the future.

Where to start – the basics

Good PSHE education should have a solid base and be aspirational in reach, meeting more than statutory expectations. Use quality mark best practice to build tools to map your curriculum foundations.

  • Carefully select when and who delivers your provision – relationships really do make all the difference to engagement and outcomes.
  • Teachers and subject leaders must be well trained.
  • The curriculum should be regularly audited, reviewed, and evaluated.
  • The curriculum should be shared with stakeholders and their views should be consulted upon to ensure it meets their needs.
  • Liaise with wider safeguarding partners within your local area. Children’s social care practitioners, child protection systems and community police forces will help inform you of the challenges faced in your community.
  • Take the time to understand the context of young people’s lives within and beyond the school. This will help you map provision and target interventions and approaches.

Measuring improvements in the curriculum

Considering the risks in your context can help you spiral your PSHE deliberately. I have worked in schools where the local authority annually asks students to complete robust lifestyle surveys. These are anonymous at Year 7 and Year 11 and cover topics about local services, their experiences, and stages of sexual and physical maturation.

This information was used to generate an authority view but also help schools identify safeguarding priorities. There are several ways you can measure the appropriateness of PSHE, including the below.

  • Using student voice is critical in assessing whether your provision is effective. 
  • With greater advocacy and openness from the student body, disclosures will increase and be identified earlier.
  • Pastoral teams should be supported by a more vigilant and informed staff body, equipped to notice, and spot signs of concern.
  • Targeted interventions to meet needs within your context can be developed in-house linked to mental health, vital communication skills and will support greater belonging and trust between school and young person.
  • Incidents of bullying, prejudice and discrimination will be reported and challenged safely by young people.
  • Community voice will be more positive.
  • Teacher/student relationships will improve.
  • Students will discuss and challenge what they see/ read in the media and feel safe to do so.
  • Use assessment methods to track and monitor students learning.

What are the key principles of PSHE education that safeguard young people?

It is a simple formula. Safeguarding is ‘everybody’s business’ or ‘everyone’s responsibility’. So, always explore it through the foundations below.

Key principles
Be balanced and neutral; don’t scare monger and explore without judgement. Depersonalise the topics – use case studies, scenarios and don’t ask for examples. Think about triggers - share lesson content and when specific topics are being taught to ensure student support is available and easy to access.
Stay abreast of new legislation and share this with young people and their families. Help young people recognise inappropriate behaviour towards them or others and to access help. Raise awareness of abuse, gender-related and gang violence.
Teach the language, skills and strategies that enable pupils to tackle and mitigate risks. Explicitly teach young people how to have safe inquiring conversations about difficult things. Model it. Every time, no excuses.
Help young people to support and seek help for friends who are in unsafe situations. Support the development of personal attributes such as self-esteem, resilience, and self-confidence. Look for ways to develop student leadership and activism.
Have mechanisms for self-referral in place. In my present setting we have a Microsoft Form on all student iPads that links directly to our DSL. Deliberate selection of outside partners that enhance the curriculum and offer opportunities for mentoring and small group work with targeted young people. Provide opportunities for anonymous questioning, sharing both in-lesson and around school. Use these questions to inform future planning.

A few things to remember though…

  • Don’t encourage students to disclose sensitive information in the classroom.
  • As far as possible students should share sensitive information in a suitable, one-to-one setting with an appropriate member of staff.
  • Ensure your practice is in line with other relevant policies, such as those for e-safety, mental health and anti-bullying.
  • Provide students with up-to-date contact details for where they can obtain confidential help and support both in school and in the wider community.
  • Have agreed ground rules and expectations, explain why they are there and how they safeguard everyone in the lesson.
  • Don’t deliver reactive education. Topics such as knife crime, or binge drinking, should act as the context through which we develop overarching concepts such as risk, power, and healthy relationships. They should not become the focus after an incident in the community or national media.
  • Lessons should always cover the law in relation to issues being covered.
  • Learning for male and female pupils should be consistent.

Final thoughts

Schools are not islands in isolation from the world around them. They are the anchors that young people stabilise beside. They help navigate the choppy world of teenage development and they propel them towards their future aspirations. They help connect young people to the modern world. They build bridges to partners so that they too can support young people on their learning journey.

PSHE isn’t the silver bullet, it’s the roadmap. Done well, it ensures young people make it through their teenage years having accomplished and learned how to be human.

Last Updated: 
19 Jul 2022