An update on PSHE by Zoe Mather.
What are some of the challenges of teaching the curriculum to learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and how can you work to overcome them?
The changing face of PSHE
In my time as a teacher, this was the subject that has had the most name changes, going from PHE (Personal and Health Education) through to the mouthful that was PSHECB, or a variant of this acronym, with the introduction of sex, economics, citizenship, and British Values. It has been taught within all schools since the first national programme of study in 2000, including the statutory sex and relationships education guidance – so what’s new?
In short, after a number of years of campaigning, the Department for Education (DfE) has designated the majority of the PSHE curriculum statutory from April 2021 and set out the topics that must be covered by the end of each key stage. Schools still have autonomy to decide what to teach and when, to suit their context. Relationships, Sex and Health Education covers roughly 80% of the current PSHE curriculum and although schools are already covering this curriculum, there will be a renewed focus.
Finding the baseline
As you all know, the challenges of teaching children and young people with SEND can be as individual as the children themselves. The new curriculum prescribes what must be delivered by the end of a key stage, with the allowance that “schools should ensure that their teaching is sensitive, age- appropriate, developmentally appropriate and delivered with reference to the law”. Ensuring suitable differentiation with a pace that suits learners and using high-quality resources will be a great first step, however, with the PSHE topics, finding the baseline can be a challenge.
Children and young people with SEND may be less socially aware and this leaves them vulnerable. They may have less lived experience of some of the issues to draw upon or, conversely, they may have experience and require a safe space to explore the issues with trusted adults. The PSHE Association have produced a free SEND planning framework, designed with both mainstream and specialist settings in mind, covering all the PSHE curriculum including the new statutory RSHE curriculum. This will help to support all learners from those with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) who may be at ‘Encountering’ sensory engagement and response to stimuli, right through to those who are at the ‘Enhancement’ level working towards the statutory level of the topic.
Looking at the ‘how’ for children and young people with SEND, the guidance states that establishing ground rules with all pupils and utilising distancing techniques, are the necessary precursors to delivery. This can be challenging with pupils with SEND as the ability to have the theory of mind to ‘put themselves in someone else’s shoes’ can be difficult, so what can you do to help your children and young people:
Pre-empt any difficulties and consider pre-teaching some of the materials; this allows for sensitive topics to be explored in a small group or one-to-one context allowing for baselining, giving time for processing of the information and for any potentially sensitive or personal questions to be asked.
Overlearning opportunities and a system for asking questions discreetly may further support those who take longer to process and may ask questions a day or more later and not always to you – so prepare your lunchtime staff and parents! More specific areas that may require additional overlearning are the personal and private aspects of relationships with explicit reference to the online implications.
Young people are at home in the online world, with some feeling more comfortable than in the ‘real’ world and, in a lot of cases, more accepted. This can blur the lines between the personal space and public space. Supporting parents to have those same conversations within the home is necessary for reinforcement in context.
When working with children and young people with SEND it is essential that engaging parents around the topics that will be studied is handled sensitively. Puberty is one of the areas that has moved from sex education into health education meaning that parents cannot opt out. They may not be ready to consider the onset of puberty in their child who has a cognitive age of a year 1 pupil though physically their body will develop in line with their chronological age.
In talking about relationships, the aspirations of pupils with SEND will often be similar to those of their peers. They may see peers engaging in relationships that they too want to engage in; supporting this in a way that ensures the pupils are aware of how to stay safe and reduces their inherent vulnerability, is a key part of the PSHE curriculum.
Preparing for adulthood
You may already consult parents about the topics that will be taught within PSHE over the year, but it would be advantageous to do this on a class-by-class basis or on an individual basis. Linking the PSHE curriculum to Preparation for Adulthood may help frame the conversation as a longer-term, forward-looking process. Highlighting the advantages for safeguarding, such as the teaching of consent and how that looks at each stage of development, should help allay any fears of inappropriateness and may need to be sensitively explained to parents prior to the topic being taught. Open, honest discussion and listening to parent and carers views has always been the best way to approach this.
To conclude, there is not so much that is new, other than schools will be asked to prove the curriculum is being taught, whereas before it was just accepted. It may even be an area for external reviewers to ‘deep dive’. Be mindful that these lessons are too important to reduce to a paper exercise for ‘evidence’ and continuing to deliver these topics in an engaging and real way for your pupils will always be outstanding practice.
Zoe Mather is Education Officer at nasen - a charity that supports and champions those working with, and for, children and young people with SEND and learning differences.