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  • Writer's pictureMarwan Elfallah

PSHEophobe or PSHEophile?

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

That question can apply to teachers, students and parents. My name is Marwan Elfallah and I am the Subject Leader Secondary Computer Science at the School of Education and Communities at UEL. I am now in my 3rd year working at UEL having previously been teaching in various London schools for 16 years. I also work with Mellissa Ghany my colleague in Primary in overseeing PSHE provision for trainees at UEL.

We decided in 2019 to take on an ambitious project of offering all trainees the opportunity to attain PSHE Association Certification but …What does this actually mean? Well, the PSHE Association is “the national body for PSHE association. It was decided that trainee teachers should gain the opportunity to be certified in the hope that they would be able to provide effective PSHE education when they begin their teaching careers. Over 150 trainees last year from UEL managed to attain certification despite school based training being cut short due to lockdown.

Now back to my question “PSHEophobe or PSHEophile”? Having taught in secondary schools for 16 years and also if I go back to my time as a student in school, I can say that my views of PSHE have varied. There have been times where I taught the subject reluctantly and other times where I really enjoyed and valued what I taught. As a child there were lessons I loved and benefitted from and others that were a chance to “mess about”.

During my training year, I remember being given a presentation and workbook related to Sex Education for a Year 7 class in a girls’ school. I had little previous training on how to deliver PSHE. I didn’t really know what to expect. A number of hands went up…”Sir, what is masturbation? ….Sir , you just said that your kids can get ill if you do drugs during pregnancy. My aunt smoked weed and my cousins are ok”. At that point I could safely say I was a PSHEophobe. I was answering questions without guidance and just doing the best of a bad situation.

Later on in my teaching career, I do remember situations where I really enjoyed delivering PSHE. At a boys school I taught at I was part of the “health team” and raising awareness about “Prostate and Testicular cancer “ I could see the benefit clearly from this and my phobia that I previously had no longer existed.

PSHE is without doubt an important subject. It is however not assessed and its difficult to measure success. Most schools don’t have specialised PSHE teachers delivering it and so it is likely that many teachers will not necessarily want to teach it or be fully confident in how they deliver it. Getting teachers to admit this might be slightly difficult.

The PSHE association has 10 principles of effective education that underpin how they believe PSHE can be taught effectively. By providing the training to students at UEL, I strongly believe that future teachers will be able to teach PSHE confidently and effectively. Issues such as sex, drugs, violence can be taught sensitively and effectively. Jenny Barksfield from the PSHE Association mentioned once when visiting UEL “PSHE if taught badly can actually harm students”. I hope that any risks of lessons being harmful will be gratefully reduced by this ambitious project we are carrying out.

I could make out that I think the road for PSHE education will be smooth and there will be no problems ahead. That’s highly unlikely if not impossible. PSHE has a number of elements to it and the most controversial area without doubt SRE. Other areas such as careers, financial planning, bullying and other aspects of health have not really evoked any passion.

With the right of parental withdrawl from SRE being removed , schools and parents have not always seeing eye to eye on what is teaching students tolerance and what is brainwashing, controversy is likely to remain. Protests outside schools in Birmingham are an example of this. The rights and wrongs of each side is not something I would like to get into but it is important that we do learn from the situation. There have been consultations going on between parents and schools in many communities and in such a diverse society I think it is important that schools do take parental views seriously. Schools in my opinion must design curriculum in a way that does prepare students for modern Britain and promotes tolerance and students are aware of British Values and the rights enshrined in law but it must realise that issues of sex, relationships and family are dear to many and by trying to imposing certain values on students we may actually see polarisation instead. Age of innocence is also something that many parents fear their children are going lose quickly. Parental input is important. Conflict between schools and parents will not result in anyone benefitting. This is not an easy task but I do not think it is impossible.

The knowledge and more importantly the skills that students can gain from an effective PSHE program are invaluable. I hope the training that trainees are gaining will make them develop into becoming not only highly effective PSHE teachers but also bring positivity to a subject that has not always seen in a positive light . Thank you for reading and one final question for yourself. PSHEophile or PSHEophobe and why?

The views expressed in this blog are my own !

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