Major new report: school inspections ‘almost totally neglect’ PSHE and SRE


The teaching of personal, social, health, and economic education (PSHE) and sex and relationships education (SRE) in English schools is being ‘fatally neglected’ by inspectors, a major new report by the British Humanist Association (BHA) has revealed – with the subject receiving much less attention than any other.


The Government has recently resisted making PSHE and SRE compulsory, arguing in part that it is unnecessary because Ofsted picks up any inadequate teaching in its inspections. Today’s report has been described by the BHA as ‘completely undermining’ that claim.


Healthy, happy, safe? An investigation into how PSHE and SRE are inspected in English schools analyses over 2000 primary and secondary school inspection reports for 2015/16.


It finds SRE was mentioned by inspectors in less than 1% of reports and PSHE in just 14% of reports, fewer than almost all other established subjects, including history (36%), geography (26%), music (31%), and art (31%).


Ofsted introduced a new inspection framework and handbook in September 2015 which placed greater emphasis on the importance of the personal development, behaviour, and welfare of pupils. At that time, Ofsted’s lead inspector on PSHE stated that ‘the evidence schools provide regarding the effectiveness of their PSHE…is more crucial than ever to informing the judgements inspectors make’.


BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘One of the many ways in which the Government has sought to excuse its failure to make PSHE and SRE compulsory in schools is by insisting that Ofsted is effectively guaranteeing the subject is taught through its inspections. Unfortunately,  as this report demonstrates, that is very clearly not the case.


‘To lay the blame at the feet of Ofsted and its inspectors would be wrong, however. The fact is that the attention given to PSHE by inspectors is entirely commensurate with the importance ascribed to it by government. Ofsted certainly has an important role to play when it comes to PSHE, as it does in other subjects, but the only way that PSHE and SRE will meaningfully improve is if the subject is afforded the statutory status it deserves. Only then can we properly ensure that children are being equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to stay healthy, happy, and safe.’


The report’s other main findings are as follows:


  • Mentions of sexual health, safe sex, and related topics were almost entirely absent from inspectors’ reports, with only 1% of reports referring to these issues
  • Only 1% of reports mentioned issues related to gender, such as gender discrimination, gender stereotyping, or sexism. There were no mentions of sexual harassment or sexual violence at all, despite a recent Women and Equalities Committee report revealing the ‘shocking scale’ of such incidents in schools
  • Consent was mentioned in just two of the more than 2000 reports
  • Pornography, online or otherwise, was mentioned in just a single report, while ‘sexting’ was mentioned in less than 1% of reports, despite having been recently and repeatedly identified as a major area of concern by the Government
  • Homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic (HBT) bullying was addressed in just 14% of reports. This is despite renewed focus by Ofsted on HBT bullying, and a 2014 Stonewall survey finding that 86% of secondary teachers had identified homophobic bullying in their schools
  • There was only one mention of HIV/AIDS in all the reports. It referred to content on ‘emerging economies’ in a ‘geography lesson’


In addition, less than 1% of reports criticised a school’s coverage of PSHE and SRE in any way. This is entirely at odds with the findings of Ofsted’s 2013 report into PSHE, which revealed that the subject’s provision was inadequate in 40% of schools.


In light of the findings, the BHA has called once again for PSHE and SRE to be made compulsory in schools, a move that was previously ruled out by the Department for Education, but now appears to be being revisited.