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Improving the delivery of PSHE education in KS3/4

Suzanne Smith from Comberton Village College discusses improving the delivery of PSHE education, as part of her CTSN/UCL IoE 'How do we know it works? Leading Change' project.

At Comberton Village College we are lucky to have a bespoke PSHE curriculum with timetabled lessons (1 lesson a fortnight at KS3 and 6 lessons in total at KS4) which sit alongside talks from external speakers. Students follow a spiral programme of learning as suggested as one of the 'ten principles of PSHE education'. This model works, and student/staff feedback has been positive. The two main areas identified for improvement were:

  • Assessment of students’ learning.

  • Supporting staff confidence teaching PSHE. No one currently trains to be a PSHE teacher and often lessons are timetabled last using staff whose time was under allocated. This meant that staff did not always feel confident in delivery of certain topics in the PSHE curriculum.

My journey started by considering what best practice looks like for PSHE in terms of delivery of content, and thinking about how to build staff confidence in delivering outstanding PSHE. This included looking at different options for PSHE delivery and the best practice for assessment of learning. Studies have been conducted in most European countries and the report “Sexuality Education in the WHO European Region” focused on their delivery and teaching of RSE. One of their conclusions was “RSE training is often a neglected element in teacher training.” It was clear there are a wide variety of approaches with the best being those with more emphasis on PSHE/RSE delivery such as Finland and Estonia, where all teachers are taught explicitly in their teaching practice how to deliver PSHE lessons with emphasis on RSE content.

To ensure consistency in PSHE delivery, staff in the UK also need training and focused lesson observations from staff who are confident in their approach. I conducted a survey on staff confidence in teaching various PSHE topics. This uncovered that although staff felt confident in most aspects of PSHE, it was clear that RSE was still an area that felt more challenging. The survey demonstrated that staff needed support and training to improve confidence, and highlighted areas of the curriculum which needed to be changed. I used PSHE meeting time to provide the required training for staff so they could discuss tricky topics and watch me model the use of key terms to help them build confidence in classroom delivery. Feedback from staff who attended was positive, with one stating that “it had enabled them to feel more confident in their approach to teaching RSE topics”. I also delivered training sessions for PGCE students and provided a half day SCITT course to enable future teachers to have confidence in their delivery of RSE topics, including other health and wellbeing courses. This allowed me to build on my own practice of delivering PSHE training and sharing what best practice looks like to a wider audience of staff. Topics staff felt they had learnt the most from were delivery of FGM lessons to KS3 students and the understanding of why it must be taught at an early age, as well as a greater understanding of inclusive RSE.

My next steps were to improve assessment for learning in PSHE. With a large range of staff (23) teaching PSHE, I wanted to reduce marking and workload but at the same time develop an assessment model which worked. The PSHE association has produced a guide on assessment. Using this I already had baseline assessments in terms of spider diagrams, mind maps and brainstorming at the start of topics but the end of topic assessment needed improving. Looking at all the suggested options and the large data set that was required to see impact of the curriculum, I developed a Microsoft Forms questionnaire for students to complete at the start and end of a topic. The aim of this was to assess their knowledge, understanding, attitudes and beliefs focusing on whether the topic they had just covered had impacted on their understanding and learning. The assessment cycle completed before the first national lockdown highlighted the need to support students in learning how to use the new technology being utilised both in the classroom and for remote learning. However, the use of a set of quiz questions worked well both to highlight gaps at the start of a topic and to show the impact at the end of a topic when trialled with students. This indicates quizzes are promising, if the right type of questions are selected.

Unfortunately, the combination of COVID and the resulting lockdown happened, which meant the well-planned curriculum had to change fast; no longer could the students follow the existing curriculum with many areas of RSE, mental health and drugs education deemed too sensitive to teach remotely as we needed to protect students from learning in unsupported environments. Instead, they studied economic well-being, which then left mapping the old curriculum, tracking all the changes and identifying gaps to be filled to be completed once the students returned to school in September. At the start of this academic year, I moved to a new role within the college which enabled the appointment of a specialist PSHE teacher to lead the department and further increase the consistency of teaching and learning. This current year we are working closely to ensure the smooth hand over and the curriculum mapping of gaps and how best to address these going forward, when students are still facing the challenges of lockdowns and remote learning.


Further reading

About the author

Suzanne Smith has been working at Comberton Village College for over six years in the Science department, and at the time of writing, was co-ordinating PSHE. She is passionate about ensuring that every child learns to the best of their ability and leaves school with knowledge for life.

Suzanne participated in the CTSN/UCL Institute of Education 'How do we know it works? Leading Change' project in 2019-2021.

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