The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Angela Milliken-Tull

Seven ways to lead and develop a PSHE curriculum

How can you give PSHE and personal development a platform in your setting? Angela Milliken-Tull provides seven tips to develop your PSHE programme and overcome negative stereotypes.

Look on any social media platform, and you will see countless apps and gurus extolling the benefits of a dazzling array of personal development must-haves. From healthy eating, exercise, meditation and assertiveness to personal growth and relationship advice, the list goes on.
Clearly, there’s an insatiable market for personal development that goes beyond academic success. Indeed, emotional intelligence, frequently described as EQ, is regularly portrayed as the holy grail in the quest for success. Included in the list of top business people with high EQ are Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi.
So why is the personal development curriculum, or PSHE, seen as a poor relation in some schools? If senior professionals are aiming for a blend of academic success, experience and emotional intelligence, surely starting this journey at school should be front and centre of every timetable?

PSHE leadership: a poison chalice?

Having worked with schools and students in this curriculum area for many years, there is a clear divide between schools that value rounded student personal development and those that regard PSHE as just another burden on teacher time.  
In the latter organisations, PSHE leadership can be a difficult or impossible role. It can also be a poison chalice that no one wants to embrace. The coordinator role is often passed around from year to year, and new staff can find themselves leading it because nobody else wants to. 
A lack of support from senior leadership is echoed in unwillingness and disinterest from staff. With no positive role modelling, students can view the subject as meaningless or irrelevant. Everyone loses.  
Contrast this with settings where personal development, as well as academic achievement, is at the heart of learning, and a different picture emerges. A whole school approach backed by senior leadership ensures that personal development is embedded.  
Staff have access to good quality, up-to-date resources and CPD, and most importantly, students are engaged with lessons they value. All of this translates to progressive personal development, which not only prepares students more effectively for life beyond school but often impacts favourably on their academic results.

Elevating your role

If you are a PSHE lead in this type of setting, you will recognise these features, but what if you are in the lamentable position of being led in a more challenging organisation? How can you better your role to the status and credibility it deserves?  

1. It’s all about the branding! 

We at Chameleon PDE noticed the term ‘PSHE’ can immediately act as a turn-off and get eyes rolling to the back of the head! The acronym can be toxic in some settings, so why not re-brand and use the term ‘personal development’ instead? This encapsulates the elements of PSHE but can also include a wider remit such as careers, RE and citizenship.  

2. Get the conversation started! 

The best way to do this is to consult with students, ideally using an anonymous online survey. Share the data with students, staff, governors, and parents. Use findings in personal development lessons to stimulate discussion and demonstrate to students that you are listening to their feedback and acting to meet their wants and needs. 

3. Reach out 

You don’t have to do this alone. It’s not a personal failure if someone is struggling to get to grips with the PSHE subject lead role. It can be challenging. You may have access to a specialist consultant, or your resource provider may offer CPD or one to one support.
Find out what’s included. Talking things through can help you become ‘unstuck’ if that’s how you feel. Chameleon PDE partner schools can access free online training, and we’re also on hand for those moments of solace. 

4. The proof of the pudding 

Continue to consult with students and staff, and you will build a solid evidence base of how your programme is developing year-on-year. This should also provide evidence of impact as you see positive change in students’ behaviour and improved feedback about their personal development lessons in school. You will also be building the type of evidence that inspectors like to see. 

5. Get your team on board 

Consulting with staff will help identify areas where CPD is required. Often, there is a lack of subject knowledge and confidence with PSHE rather than complete unwillingness.
Staff can feel uncomfortable delivering some of the more sensitive topics, so collecting their views is helpful. It’s also beneficial for you to know who wants to teach PSHE and who doesn’t. You may be able to timetable your programme differently so that keen staff take on this responsibility.  

6. Quality not quantity  

Use up-to-date, quality resources for your core personal development programme. Ensure delivery teams know where these are, can see the programme overview and can easily access materials.
If your team are non-specialists, ensure the resources used support them effectively. If you use external agencies or individuals to support your programme, be sure they complement and enhance your core offer rather than replace it.  

7.Close the loop  

Keep your senior leadership team, governors, designated safeguarding lead and careers lead informed about your programme. Student personal development has much synergy and cross-over across the school. Avoiding a siloed approach will be beneficial to both students and staff.  

What’s in it for you? 

Implementing the above actions will take time – real change is often slow, and a step-by-step approach is usually welcomed by staff rather than a radical overhaul. Sometimes leads can get disheartened if they try to rush into too many changes at once. Instead, plan a step-by-step, two- or three-year action plan.  
In addition to the sense of achievement you will feel from developing an effective programme, you will have the opportunity to gain and acquire many new skills. You will be managing a programme, people, and data. 
Inevitably you will also learn new subject knowledge as the world of personal development never stays still for long! You will gain valuable insight into the needs of your students and get some surprises along the way, many positive ones. Given time, you will be able to judge whether this area of teaching is one you wish to pursue long-term.  
Ultimately, the aim is to enhance not only the personal development of students, but everyone involved in the delivery of your programme. There is lots to gain by putting time and effort into progressing the PSHE curriculum in your setting.  

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