Personal, Social and Health Education/Citizenship (PSHE/C): An Update 

Speaking on the Education and Inspection Bill  on 21 June 2006, Lord (Andrew) Adonis said:  'We attach huge importance to PSHE and are investing in it largely.  We have just set up a subject association and are training a large number of teachers each year in PSHE.  In Committee, I will be very willing to engage in the issue of how much further we can get, but we see problems with moving in a rapid way to making the subject statutory.'

Many parents  (and good teachers) will be deeply disturbed by this statement. Possibly Lord Adonis is aware of the conflict between Personal, Social and Health Education/Citizenship (PSHE/C) and Religious Education (RE), and recognises the dangers? Or does he share UNESCO's sinister view – as his government obviously does – that children in schools are a 'captive audience' for  'progressive' ideology and propaganda?  In any event, PSHE/C should not be compulsory.

An important feature of PSHE/C is that it explicitly teaches values, in this case prescribed by politicians, without allowing parental rights of withdrawal as in the case of RE (and, for the present, some sex education). Many of the values promoted in  PSHE/C directly  conflict with mainstream family values and with those promoted in RE. Moreover, the values promoted in PSHE/C may adversely affect the well-being of children  – the emphasis on 'harm reduction' rather than prevention in drug education [1] and supposedly 'value-free' sex education are typical examples. 

The shift to these 'non-subjects' means that pupils in many schools may only receive 3 or 4 periods of English, maths or science each week, because so many lessons are devoted to bogus 'skills' or social engineering [2].  Why should anyone be surprised that standards, both academic and behavioural, are in freefall in many schools?  

Since 1997, there has been a significant change of emphasis in the state education system –  from teaching useful academic subjects leading to worthwhile qualifications and jobs, to using schools to change attitudes and values to create a politically correct, socialist-minded  society.  The Campaign for Real Education gets regular complaints from parents that their child is being forced to drop, perhaps, geography,  history or a foreign language, whilst they are compelled to waste important lesson-time on contentious 'non-subjects'. These may be PSHE/C to change pupils' attitudes and values, or questionable 'vocational' subjects to improve the school's position in the league tables. This disadvantages individual young people, and damages society and the economy.

It is important to recognise that such curricular changes are  part of the 'progressive' ideology which  now dominates the education system. Professor David H. Hargreaves, who was chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority when David Blunkett was education secretary, wrote in The Challenge for the Comprehensive School (RKP, 1982): 'A change of emphasis was essential from academic to social subjects, and  from  the  learning  of information to the acquisition of skills...We  must  refuse to confine  secondary  education to the  culture  of  individualism  [ie individual academic achievement] and  design  a secondary education with more self-conscious social and political objectives.'

When he was education secretary, David Blunkett made citizenship a statutory part of the National Curriculum. Moves by Baroness Gould and others to do the same with PSHE should be firmly resisted.

PSHE

It must be obvious to anyone who is not  ideologically driven that supposedly 'value-free' Sex and Relationship Education (SRE), which comes under the umbrella of PSHE, has been a disaster. Despite massive expenditure of taxpayers' money, unwanted teenage pregnancy rates have remained unacceptably high and sexually transmitted diseases among young people are spreading  exponentially [3].

In Personal, Social and Health Education in Secondary Schools (Ofsted, 2005),  the inspectors report that PSHE lessons are 'good or better in [only] two in five lessons', that 'the subject does not have prescribed standards' and that 'relatively few schools attempt to assess changes in pupils' attitudes' [4].  Nevertheless, 'the time allocated to PSHE ...averages about 60 minutes per week'. Ofsted  also notes with disapproval that: 'In some...schools, headteachers offer the view that that parents should play the key role in ensuring the personal and social development of their children'.  In the opinion of the inspectors, though, this is 'an untenable position'.  Yet how much better would it be for all concerned if this weekly hour could be used to raise standards in worthwhile subjects such as English and maths? 

Politicians required teachers to promote National Socialism in pre-war Nazi Germany and International Socialism in the former Soviet Union [5]. Would a true democrat use schools for similar purposes here? Surely, if we were living in a genuine democracy, the law would allow parents the right to withdraw their child from all areas of PSHE/C, not just SRE. The National Children's Bureau, to which ministers gave £978,000 of taxpayers' money in 2004-05 [6] to promote non-judgemental drug and sex education, quotes an Ofsted estimate that only about 4 children in every 10,000 are withdrawn. This proportion is almost certainly under-estimated, but if such lessons are to continue, parents should be allowed the choice of whether their child opts-in, not whether he or she opts-out.

Citizenship

Citizenship, as it is currently constructed, has no place in a free society either.  'Citizenship education must ultimately be judged on its outcomes, namely by the society it produces.' This quotation from Changing Citizenship: Democracy and Inclusion in Education by Audrey Osler and Hugh Starkey (Open University Press, 2005) confirms that the purpose of citizenship lessons is to change society. But how many parents (or politicians) know in which direction?  Modern citizenship lessons have little in common with traditional, factual 'civics' and a glance at the teaching materials shows that the subject has a leftish, 'progressive' bias. Some common sense is intermingled with a great deal of ideological nonsense, making the two difficult to separate. But that does not make these lessons acceptable.     

The messages given to children in citizenship (and PSHE) are quite subtle.  Children's rights are given major emphasis, along with the right of every child from kindergarten upwards to make his or her own 'informed choices'. Yet these rights for children are often impracticable and incoherent, which is probably why so many youngsters are totally confused about  right and wrong. When the rights of the child conflict with the right of the parent or teacher to maintain order, whose rights prevail?

Key Stage Four Citizenship: The Study Guide (Coordination Group Publications, undated) covers every imaginable set of rights, plus issues such as 'Racial Issues in Britain' (including refugees and asylum seekers), 'Conflict in the Community', 'UK Relations with Europe' (including the Euro), 'British Justice System', 'The Law and Your Rights', 'Regional Government', 'European Parliament', 'Environmental Issues', 'Sustainable Development' and 'Have Your Say'. 

Under 'Your Legal Rights at Home and School', it says:

You have the Right to be Treated Fairly...The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights has lots of articles about the rights that you have at home:

1) Your parents or guardians are responsible for bringing you up. This includes feedingclothing and housing you up to the age of 18.

2) They're also responsible for your moral and emotional development. [So why should schools interfere, using the excuse that a  minority of parents are irresponsible?]

3) No one has the right to hurt you. Adults should protect you from violence, abuse or neglect.

4) You have the right to respect and encouragement. [Does the UN Declaration really say all this?]

5) In the UK, you also have the right to leave home at 16 without your parents' consent.  

Schools and teachers have a responsibility to look after your rights too.You have the right:

1) to have an education.

2) to not be put in danger – eg on trips, in labs or in workshops.

3) to be protected from emotional or physical abuse eg bullying, cross-country (sic).

4) to not to be discriminated against because of race, sex or religion. Human rights law is there to protect you...It's never acceptable for someone to abuse your rights – whoever they are.  

(It is noticeable in the above that children are learning that they have rights, but parents and teachers  have responsibilities!)

In the section on 'Politics in the UK',  The Study Guide says of the main political parties:

'The Labour Party grew from the Trade Unions and was historically supported by the working classes. It is associated with policies aimed at social welfare and equality. It has typically raised taxes to pay for this...' 

'The Conservative Party is also known as the Tory Party  – it's policies are described as right wing  –  usually aimed at economic growth and freedom of the individual, with low taxes.'  [How many teenagers would welcome being described as 'right-wing'?]

'The Liberal Democrats...policies include regional government for all areas of the UK, and raising taxes to fund education and the NHS. They also support the Proportional Representation voting system (see p.31). 

And 'Fact: UK politics are dominated by middle-aged white males...';   'A two-horse race – Margaret Thatcher won by a nose.'  The authors seem to favour regional government –  there is no mention that the people of  north-east England rejected it in a referendum.  

As usual with citizenship materials, this book cleverly mixes 'suitable' facts with tendentious statements of opinion:  'Opinions about animal rights change over time, eg lots of people are now vegetarian. Many vegetarians believe it's wrong to kill animals for food. Vegans go even further – they don't eat or use any animal products...'  And  'Remember with the fox-hunting debate, that it's not only about the rights of the fox. Foxhunting is often seen as an elitist, upper class sport, so there is a class issue here too.'   (Please note, all underlining appears in the original.)

In one of the sections on crime, it says that: 'Youth Crime is Common in Britain. Reasons for youth crime include: boredom, lack of parental supervision, peer pressure to be cool, social problems (eg not much family support), living in a deprived area where there's already lots of crime, needing money, being under the influence of drugs and alcohol etc.' (Needless to say, the 'informed choice' of an individual to commit a crime is not offered as a reason.)  On the rights of young people when dealing with the police: 'You have to tell police officers your name and address but nothing else. You have the right to remain silent until you've received legal advice'. But is it the job of schools to teach youngsters to regard the police as adversaries, rather than allies? 

As part of an activity on prejudice in Developing Citizenship: Activities for Personal, Social and Health Education for year 4 (ages 8 to 9) by Charlotte Moorcroft (A & C Black, undated), 8-year-olds are introduced to the issue of asylum seekers, about which even responsible adults are deeply divided. In another activity, 8-year-olds are expected to put 10 crimes in order of seriousness, with vandalism as the 'least serious'. School councils are suggested as the solution to a shortage of coat-pegs!

Conclusion

Although PSHE/C receives little attention outside the clandestine world of education, there is much about it that is deeply disturbing. Humanists and their allies want it to replace RE. Government agencies already have databases on which they record children's attitudes and values, and detailed information about their family circumstances. The politicians who control state education must decide whether the primary purpose of the system is to enable individual youngsters to build solid educational foundations and worthwhile qualifications; or whether the purpose of the system is to create a new politically correct society. If it is the former, subversive distractions such as PSHE/C can only foster misery and yet more educational failure.

/Campaign for Real Education, July 2006.

 

[1] Department of  Health figures show that in 1998, when drug education was made compulsory by  David Blunkett, 11% of 11-16 year-olds had tried drugs. That percentage is now 19%. Daily Mail, 25 March 2006.

[2] See, for example, "Schools drop academic subjects in favour of 'skills'". Sunday Telegraph, 25 June 2006.

[3] In 2002, there were 35,000 abortions among under-18s. Between 2004 and 2005, cases of syphilis increased by 23%.  Evening Standard, 4 July 2006.  

[4] But see 'Sex guide is too explicit for schools', Sunday Telegraph, 12 February 2006 and "The study guide that tells pupils how to 'talk dirty'", Daily Mail, 13 February 2006. 

[5] See  'Food for thought?  Socialist ideology in education' by Nick Seaton, unpublished.

[6] Parliamentary Question, 15 March 2005.

 

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