The government has refused to make personal, social and health education (PSHE) and sex and relationships education (SRE) statutory – despite overwhelming calls for it to be given statutory status.
In a letter to chair of the education select committee, Neil Carmichael, education secretary Nicky Morgan said she agreed the subject was “crucial for preparing young people for life”, so would focus on the quality of teaching.
Ms Morgan said: “The vast majority of schools already make provision for PSHE and while the Government agrees that making PSHE statutory would give it equal status with other subjects, the Government is concerned that this would do little to tackle the most pressing problems with the subject, which are to do with the variable quality of its provision, as evidenced by Ofsted’s finding that 40% of PSHE teaching is less than good.
“As such, while we will continue to keep the status of PSHE in the curriculum under review, our immediate focus will be on improving the quality of PSHE teaching in our schools.”
She said “leading headteachers” were working with the government to produce an “action plan” to improve PSHE.
Four reports have so far called on the government to make the subject statutory, including one by the education select committee.
Last month, Mr Carmichael, and other leading MPs wrote a strongly-worded letter to Ms Morgan calling on her to make the subject compulsory.
This response to the report by Ms Morgan is already two months later than expected, having promised to comment by the end of 2015.
Mr Carmichael said: “I’m disappointed that the government is not going as far as the committee would like but pleased they are working on an action plan with the profession to improve the teaching of PSHE, which we will follow closely.”
In July, her comments about making sure PSHE was “taught well” in schools was labelled as “feeble”.
Last month a report by the Sex Education Forum found schools were failing to teach children about sexual consent.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said she was disappointed by the decision, adding: “When report after report following the tragic sex abuse cases in Rotherham and Oxford point out that PSHE keeps children safe, how can Nicky Morgan refuse time and time again to make PSHE mandatory in all schools. How can the Government look young people in the eye and tell them that their personal, social, health and economic needs are just not that important.
“There are some outstanding PSHE teachers and schools taking an inspiring approach, but why does the Government not afford teaching PSHE the respect and resources it so clearly needs? This is a short-sighted decision that will have many serious repercussions for young people’s health and their futures.”