Blog: Youth Work and SRE – the start of a beautiful relationship

18 Feb 2015

Blog by Catherine Bishop, NYA director of programmes.

The Education Select Committee has published its report into PSHE and SRE in schools. Not a moment too soon. Young people constantly report inadequate provision, and last year Ofsted also agreed, declaring personal, social, health and economic education ‘not yet good enough’.

As the report points out, young people have the right to expect better. If this was any other subject it would be a national scandal but probably due to the wide ranging nature of the subject – it takes in everything from gambling issues to violence against women to gender identity – and the fact that most adults also didn’t receive effective learning either, means there’s been a lethargy to act. Or as the report puts it, ‘a mismatch between the priority that the Government claims it gives to PSHE and the steps it has taken to improve the quality of teaching in the subject’.

Of course we all had a degree of sex and relationship education – mostly involving the basics of reproduction and not a lot else. It was bad enough back then, but in an era where pornography forms part of many young people’s learning and safeguarding issues such as grooming, child sexual exploitation, coercion are ever present, it’s absolutely vital.  You can’t and shouldn’t separate the topics sex and relationships.

Teaching of these issues is challenging and teachers are not always adequately equipped to deliver PSHE education or indeed have the time and space on top of their teaching commitments. In our experience, outside expertise to deliver PSHE, or to train teachers to deliver it, is valuable and could benefit the quality of sex and relationship education in schools. It is often young people who are powerful advocates for this too.

Last year we established a commission to examine the role of youth work in education. Respondents to our survey repeatedly stressed that two areas where youth work is seen to be of particular benefit are in the delivery of PSHE and SRE. We heard first hand from teachers that they can struggle with providing sex and relationships education or drug and alcohol addiction training. One witness I recall telling us ‘Teachers need training and support, not all are good at PSHE. An injection of youth workers will help them know more and work better with adolescents.’

In fact the principles of good practice in PSHE education, developed by the PSHE Association, are close to those of the national occupational standards for youth work; including starting where young people are at, encouraging self-reflection and providing opportunities for young people to make decisions about their lives.

We also heard of some great examples of where youth worker/teacher collaborations are working well. In one local authority area, the youth team work alongside teachers and learning mentors on a joint personal social health and economic education curriculum, which supports young people’s outcomes. We need more of this.

So as the political parties look for quick wins to improve SRE and PSHE, they should encourage schools to develop their links with youth workers. It’s too important a subject to go on failing our young people.