Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education (PSHCE) is a recent addition to the curriculum. It first gained a high profile when the ‘progressive’ chairman and chief executive of the original National Curriculum Council, Duncan Graham, attempted to make it part of the National Curriculum in the early 1990s. This attempt was halted by Conservative ministers and soon afterwards, Duncan Graham was replaced [1].Nevertheless, the present government has now made PSHCE a statutory part of the National Curriculum for all pupils from the age of 3 to 18 [2]. As a major distraction from teaching traditional subjects, PSHCE will do nothing to improve standards.

Although no member of the educational establishment would admit it, PSHCE is a secular alternative to Religious Education (RE) [3]. Like many ‘progressive’ initiatives, it sounds appealing, because most people think it is intended to teach children sound moral values and the difference between right and wrong. But this is not true. According to the government’s own advisors on Personal and Social Education: ‘It is not a major aim of PSE to transmit knowledge from the teacher to the pupils…PSE is not about teaching values, but enabling pupils to clarify their own values’ [4]. This means that instead of absolute guidance about right and wrong, children are offered a range of moral options from which to make their own ‘informed choices’.  While most people think it is the duty of responsible adults, such as parents and teachers, to pass on traditional values from one generation to the next (values transference), ‘progressives’ believe it is for each individual child to choose his or her own moral code from an infinitely variable range of relativist options (values clarification – see below).

A key characteristic of PSHCE is that it encourages schools to promote explicit or implicit values, while denying parents the right to withdraw their child, as they are allowed to do from RE.  PSHCE  uses ‘circle time’, which is rooted in humanistic psychology, and ‘role play’ to involve children at an emotional level.  It is intended to mould the attitudes and values of the younger generation to produce a new, politically correct society. And, because the values taught are dictated by the state and they often conflict with the values of parents, the ideological theory behind PSHCE is totalitarian. 

The state educational establishment has decided that the new ‘Values for Education and the Community’ are: ‘The Self, Relationships, Society and the Environment’ [5].  Yet most people would think placing ‘The Self’ in prime position is giving children and young people the wrong message. Many parents would argue with the other values too.
Much of the impetus for PSHCE comes from international organisations such as the European Commission and the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation [6].  A UNESCO document on population control and the need for sex education, published in 1978, suggests that younger age groups are ‘appropriate targets’ and that ‘the school, with its captive audience,’ is ‘the obvious place to start’ [7].  But even this disturbing idea has not prevented the government, since it was elected in May 1997, from donating about £1m a month from the public purse to UNESCO.

What does PSHCE cover?

Personal Education is mainly concerned with ‘personal development’  including emotional and psychological well-being.  Emphasis on ‘the self’ is rooted in ‘progressive’ child-centredness and children are encouraged to believe that there is no higher authority than themselves. Considerable effort is put into promoting self-esteem, regardless of whether this has been earned by genuine achievement.  A disturbing idea, that all children require psychotherapy, is also gaining ground.  Indeed, the Department for Education and Skills is currently funding psychological counselling programmes in schools in 15 LEAs. Margaret Hodge MP, the minister for children, is on record in support of such initiatives (Observer, 18 April 2004).   

Social Education is intended to develop collectivism and group-thinking as well as more acceptable forms of socialisation.  According to the National Curriculum, even primary children ‘need to be prepared to engage…with economic, social and cultural change, including the continued globalisation of the economy and society…’ Education must now secure ‘commitment to sustainable development at a personal, local, national and global level. It should also equip pupils… to make informed judgements’.

Health Education covers healthy eating habits and a healthy lifestyle. But it also includes drug, sex and relationship education (SRE).

Drug education is almost invariably based on harm-reduction, instead of drug prevention [8].  All drugs, including alcohol, tobacco, ecstasy and heroin are treated equally. So if a young person sees his (or her) parents enjoying an alcoholic drink, it requires only a small step for any youngster to take the view that: ‘If they have their drugs, why shouldn’t I have mine?’

SRE is little more than education in birth control [9]. Like all PSHCE, it is usually taught from a ‘value-free’ position, though this in itself is a value judgement. SRE  programmes may hint that early sexual activity is inadvisable. But most sex-educationists accept without question that many young people ‘choose’ the option to have sex, and the only absolute is that some form of contraception should be used. Rarely is the failure rate of contraceptive devices considered. Nor are young people told, for example, that between 1996 (before the government began actively to promote sex education) and 2002, diagnoses of gonorrhoea and chlamydia  more than doubled; or that cases of syphilis increased by a staggering 533 per cent over the same period. Unwanted teenage pregnancies, which the government’s programmes were supposed to reduce, have remained fairly static.    

Citizenship, too, has now become a compulsory ‘subject’ for all pupils from the ages of 3 to 16, though geography, history and foreign languages can all be dropped at 14.  In theory, it is intended to create ‘world citizens’  – though even among professional educators, there is considerable confusion about exactly what a ‘world citizen’ is.  Citizenship was also introduced as a ‘subject’ in schools without any objective research to support it.

Values clarification

The whole ethos of PSHCE is based on values clarification, rather than values transference. Although the term ‘values clarification’ rarely appears in National Curriculum documents, the technique can always be recognized by the phrase ‘informed choice’.  So what is values clarification?

Initially, it was a psychological technique developed to help adults with mental health problems. Its Californian psychologist inventors, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Dr William Coulson, then modified it for use with ‘normal’ people, and eventually for use in schools [10]. However, even Rogers and Maslow eventually developed doubts about the detrimental effects of what they were doing. To his credit, Dr Coulson was so concerned, he devoted the rest of his life to exposing the dangers [11].
In 1990, Jim Bowen, a Melbourne barrister, described the techniques used in values clarification in News Weekly:

“The core theme of values clarification is that there are no right and wrong values. Values education does not seek to identify and transmit ‘right’ values, but to help children discover the values that best suit them personally in a particular situation…Application of values clarification techniques in the classroom require children to choose a value, affirm it publicly, and be prepared to defend it under pressure from the teacher and classmates. Children are subjected to searching questions about personal and family beliefs, attitudes and behaviour.”

“In a context resembling group therapy, powerful psychological tools, such as sensitivity training, are employed to produce changes in children’s attitudes and behaviour. In role playing games, children are subjected to mental stress through emotional involvement. Doubts concerning previously held values and loyalties are implanted while children are psychologically vulnerable, leaving them open to implantation of other values”[12].

It is possible that not all teachers who use these techniques are fully aware of the implications or the dangers. But if they are not, are they suitable people to be teaching children?


In 1989, David Williams, himself a teacher, wrote in Teachers’ Weekly:
“If some elements of PSE infringe on the child’s privacy, even more effect parents’ prerogatives. When [my daughter] is older, I want her to be taught specific subjects by people who have studied them in depth. Until then, it is the art of teaching that matters. I do not send my daughter to school to get her out of my way. Nor do I send her to be ‘pastorally cared for’. I expect to be fully informed of her academic progress, but I do not want a stranger, whose values I may or may not share, assuming responsibility for her ‘education in human relationships.’”

“The purpose of the school should be to meet those educationally desirable objectives that are beyond the scope of the home without usurping the parents’ role. If parents are failing, they will not be helped to perform better by schools seeking to usurp their responsibilities, irritating those who can cope, demoralising those unsure of their abilities, and encouraging the incompetent to hand over more and more of what should be their obligations. In taking on the role of pseudo social worker and dealing more and more in areas where there are many opinions and few answers, teachers are undermining their own authority ” [13].

Yet, despite all these arguments and the published evidence, successive education ministers have recently used their powers and taxpayers’ money, without any debate in Parliament, to promote PSHCE.  Clearly, they are motivated by a desire to promote politically correct values [14].  However, this is a sinister and serious abuse of the state education system for crude political purposes.

What can parents do?

The first thing to note is that, although all schools may need to pay lip-service to PSHCE, the better ones will give it little time or credence. Secondly, parents should note that headteachers and governors of primary schools are still allowed to decide whether or not to teach sex education in their school. Good primary heads will almost certainly decide they have more important priorities. Thirdly, all parents, whether their child is in a primary or a secondary school, have a statutory right to withdraw their child from sex education lessons. Parents should take full advantage of this right, preferably with several parents acting together.

Another possible option is for parents to press, in the courts if necessary, for the state to provide an education for their child ‘in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’ (Human Rights Act 1998).  Otherwise, apart from taking more care over who they vote for, there is not much parents can do, except to complain to the school in the strongest possible terms if they are concerned. Or, of course, parents can remove their child from the state education system and educate them privately, or at home (Education Otherwise).

Meanwhile, many teachers have expressed reservations about being compelled to teach PSHCE as part of an already overcrowded curriculum. Good teachers object to being turned into political commissars. They also begrudge the loss of valuable school-time, which should be spent on real education. But it is easy to see how those who are less secure in their subject-knowledge, or badly trained, may welcome the opportunity to discuss moral issues with children or young people who lack the experience and knowledge seriously to question the tenets of political correctness. PSHCE is built on insecure foundations, so it is constantly evolving. Only pressure from parents will get it removed.  

Notes and references  

[1] Katie Ivens and Nick Seaton, Operation Whole Curriculum: A Tangled Web, CRE, 1990.
[2] The National Curriculum Handbook(s) for Primary (and Secondary) Teachers, DfEE & QCA, 1999.
[3] For a good example of the secularisation and politicisation of RE itself in order to promote political correctness, see Joe Jenkins, GCSE Religious Studies, Heinemann, 1988.
[4] Jane Jenks and Sue Plant, Passport Framework for Personal and Social Education (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, August, 1998).
[5] Nick Seaton, New Gods for Schools: Self, Society, Relationships and the Environment, CRE, 1998
[6] Jaques Delors, ed., Learning: The Treasure Within, UNESCO, 1996.
[7] Population education: a contemporary concern, Educational studies and documents No 28, UNESCO, 1978.
[8] Fred Naylor, Some Serious Questions about Drug Education in the UK, CRE, 1995. This pamphlet also offers useful information about values clarification.
[9] See, for example, Paul Danon, ed., Tried But Untested: The aims and outcomes of sex education, Family Education Trust, 1995. Also, Valerie Riches, Sex Education or Indoctrination: How ideology has triumphed over facts, Family Education Trust, 2004.
[10] Carl Rogers, Freedom to Learn in the 80s, Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, 1983.
[11] See, for instance, ‘We overcame their traditions, we overcame their faith’, interview with Dr William Coulson in The Latin Mass, January-February 1994.
[12] Jim Bowen, ‘Why classrooms have become a battleground’, News Weekly, 3 March 1990.
[13] David Williams in Teachers’ Weekly, 7 September 1989.
[14] See, for example, Barry Dufour ed., The New Social Curriculum: A guide to cross-curricular issues, Cambridge University Press, 1990. Also P.E. Gaunt, Comprehensive Values, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1975; David H. Hargreaves, The Challenge for the Comprehensive School, RKP, 1982; Susan Askew and Eileen Carnell, Transforming Learning: Individual and Global Change, Cassell, 1998.

/Campaign for Real Education, updated May 2004.


Chairman: Chris McGovern.  Tel: 07757 715145.  Email: [email protected]
Vice-Chairman: Katie Ivens.  Tel: 07990 997215
Treasurer: Dr WAD Freeman. Email: [email protected]
Secretary: Alison McRobb. Email: [email protected]