The Unmentionable Fundamentals
As we all know, bringing up children is not always easy and teenagers in particular can be challenging from time to time.
In particular, the adolescent mind rarely responds well to being lectured or told what to do. Offering what might seem like sensible advice can be entirely counter-productive and, as is well documented in innumerable publications including University of Pennsylvania neurologist Frances E Jensen’s excellent book The Teenage Brain, there are many biological reasons why this is the case.
Schools share the responsibility and privilege of developing children alongside their parents however, and this necessitates offering every teenager advice and guidance beyond the academic realms most teachers are experts within.
To help teachers structure the delivery of said advice, PSHE (personal, social and health education) was launched by the government at the turn of the millennium and has been a feature of the British education system ever since.
Since the introduction of PSHE in the year 2000, many schools have struggled to find sensible ways of delivering the required content; teaching teenagers about the dangers of alcohol, smoking and drugs, personal health, bullying, citizenship, democracy and human rights, careers and the world of work, personal finance, family and relationships and sex education is a complex business, particularly in a formal school setting.
Going from talking about Keynesian economics to ketamine is no mean feat I assure you, and while I am an expert in the former I profess to knowing next to nothing of the latter – and I am not alone. The dangers of the blind leading the blind are very real, but what are we to do?
Complicating matters further, since the launch of PSHE in the year 2000 the government has rebranded the programme as SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning), SEBS (Social, Emotional and Behavioural Skills) and PSHEE (Personal Social Health Economic Education), making it at times compulsory and at others non-statutory before, in 2013, the coalition declared that ‘no new programmes of study would be published’.
In response to the near-constant chopping and changing, some schools have simply opted out. We, at Bede’s, have tried several schemes, from Personal Tutors delivering content to folding PSHE into the academic curriculum, yet – despite the principles of the PSHE curriculum being at the heart of what we do – many on the faculty have felt like we failed in the past to get it quite right.
To discover where we were going wrong, my colleagues and I undertook a period of consultation last year during which staff and students worked together, aided by Reverend Buckler, to develop a new approach to the delivery of our PSHE programme.
The fundamental changes we have made are twofold: on the one hand, we have ensured that the PSHE curriculum is less of an obligation and more of a shared development process. We are all in it together, students and staff – as a family – we means that we are all learning together.
Secondly, we have accepted that no matter how much teachers might want to be authorities in every aspect of modern life, from sexual diversity to social democracy, we are simply not experts in everything.
These two simple ideas have led to a series of tiny changes at Bede’s, some of which culminated in the whole school joining together for an hour last week to hear one of the UKs preeminent experts in talking to teenagers speak to us all about Drug, Alcohol and Substance Abuse.
The expert in question was Mandy Saligari, a former addict, and her talk saw the whole Bede’s community collectively captivated as Mandy told us her extraordinary story – part of which saw her coming very close to losing everything.
In the end Mandy was pulled back from the brink by Anthony McLellan, now of the renowned McLellan Practice on Harley Street, but Mandy’s insights into the roots of her own addiction, without self-pity or blame for others, provided a powerful message to all the pupils and staff present without being a sermon in any way.
Mandy is just one of a number of experts in the field of PSHE who we are bringing to the school this year to speak to the Bede’s community, with Dr Aric Sigman, author of the Alcohol Nation, already having spoken to the Sixth Form and parents this year.
A regular contributor in the national press on the issues surrounding alcohol, as well as wider concerns relating to teenagers’ personal development such as body image, screen time and the ‘spoilt generation’, Dr Sigman was a revelation – as I’m sure will be Chip Somer, Steve Andrews and Anthony McLellan who will all be coming to Bede’s this term to speak to smaller groups of pupils on this term’s theme of Substance Abuse.
Next term we will be looking at the issue of Sex and Relationships and in the summer our theme is Body Image and Healthy Eating, but these big topics are far from the be-all and end-all of our new PSHE programme; Elevate Education, who are experts in the field of academic study skills, will be coming back to the school this term to speak to all year groups, and we will continue to use these talks as jumping-off points for conversations that carry on with Personal Tutors and House staff before discussions move on, as they should, into the home.
These thorny and at times hidden issues represent fundamental challenges for young people, and I therefore hope that everyone in the Bede’s community continues to honestly discuss these difficult subjects. It is essential that every student is as best prepared as possible for the challenges that they will face, and we are working hard to make MyBedes an invaluable font of resources to help along the way too.
That is not to say that we do not also welcome feedback from parents as to topics they would like us to provide help with, and with that in mind I can be contacted on email@example.com or the Head of PSHE can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to hearing from you.