Accountability

Personal development must be part of any Labour school report card

Without any formal assessment, provision of and accountability for this vital area of the curriculum are at best patchy

Without any formal assessment, provision of and accountability for this vital area of the curriculum are at best patchy

10 Jun 2024, 5:00

Labour’s plan to end single-word Ofsted judgments and bring in report cards with annual checks for school accountability has received a mixed reaction in the sector, including recently around its lack of challenge to a deleterious surveillance culture.

Assuming the party wins and delivers on its plan, a constructive approach will be to support the new administration to develop it in a way that genuinely delivers for schools and young people. In that vein, I’d like to make an early gambit to include progress and attainment in personal development in any such scorecard.

Currently, there is no way of formally and consistently assessing children’s knowledge of personal development. In other words, we can’t consistently evaluate important aspects of their emotional, social and moral growth at key stages of their education. This must change.

PSHE, RSE, British values, protected characteristics and character education have all been thrown at schools with too many grey areas around assessment and curriculum coverage. But given the major societal issues we and they face, we now need to focus more on prevention, not cure.

Knife crime, for example, is one of the greatest and most alarming threats. According to the Office of National Statistics, police recorded over 50,500 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument during the year ending March 2023, a 10 per cent increase from the previous year. These figures are not abstract numbers; they represent lives shattered, families torn apart and communities left in fear.

Why these numbers are rising is complex and involves societal, economic and cultural factors. However, one undeniable truth emerges: knife crime often starts young. Many perpetrators and victims alike are teenagers or even younger. The importance of PSHE in driving these numbers down is evident.

Or take childhood obesity as another pressing example. According to Public Health England, 23.4 per cent of children in Year 6 are obese. Diabetes costs the NHS £14 billion per year (£25,000 a minute),  with 90 per cent of the spend on type 2, and the impact of obesity on children’s physical and mental health will inevitably lead to future costs.

We have to rebalance primary curriculum priorities

These two examples alone make a powerful social and economic case for more early education with a strong focus on (and accountability for) personal development.

Seeking to address these issues in secondary is too late. We therefore have to a find a way to rebalance primary curriculum priorities to make space for teaching personal development effectively.

With curriculum time already at a premium, the next government should consult with the teaching profession on doubling the amount of time from the 60 minutes schools typically find to cover these topics.

Schools are vital in supporting children to develop positively into rounded individuals. However, a curriculum that favours academic knowledge over all else doesn’t educate children in vital areas like conflict resolution, emotional regulation and self-care. Nor can it improve self-worth and self-confidence, reduce anxiety or foster healthy relationships and better nutrition.

Increasing coverage of personal development can do this, with evident benefits for children and society – but schools need data to inform their focus.

To that end, we are trialling an assessment to gather children’s personal development knowledge towards the end of primary school. It gives teachers crucial personal development data (which does not currently exist) before children transition from Year 6, helping them to address gaps in knowledge and to sharpen their personal development provision.

By identifying and closing gaps, not only can staff feel satisfied that they are supporting pupils to transition into secondary prepared for the challenges ahead but this evidence can also positively improve inspection outcomes, demonstrating intent, implementation and impact in this otherwise evidence-light aspect of the curriculum.

The road to re-prioritising personal development is a long and challenging one, but it’s an investment in a future where every child grows up in a safer, healthier and more prosperous country. That has to be worth a place on any school accountability scorecard.

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