Teaching Personal Development Education (PSHE / Health and wellbeing) in the current Covid climate
From what we hear from teacher friends and colleagues and on the news channels, it's not easy in school at the moment. It's never been EASY, believe me, we have been there at the chalk-face, but we didn't have to manage Covid-19 and the additional pressures and responsibilities that come with it. One of my best friends had to go to the GP this week as she has been doing so much cleaning in her Early Years class that her hands needed to be bandaged. These are unprecedented times for sure. And, we haven't mentioned the pupils, who mostly seem to be managing admirably, but nevertheless seem to be showing increased levels of anxiety across the board (even if they don't want to talk about it). It must be incredibly challenging as a learner when the Covid situation changes on a daily basis with mixed messaging and general confusion in the populous. How can we reasonably expect students to learn in this environment?
It therefore seems counterintuitive when we hear that some secondary schools have actually cut the amount of PSHE/ health and wellbeing curriculum hours to put in 'catch up' lessons, at a time when students need wellbeing the most. Don't take this the wrong way, we aren't criticising these schools who are under enormous pressure to help students 'catch up' after months away from school, but we are back to the age old conundrum of personal development (PSHE) lessons not being valued and seen as essential. This is partly because schools are measured and valued on results so it's obvious that's where schools will put most effort. It seems the logical thing to do to create catch up classes, but these would be so much more effective if the students were in a 'better place' and personal development classes are the most obvious lessons where students can express how they are feeling about the current crisis, and develop skills to help them manage it better...therefore putting them in a more conducive state for learning. One colleague messaged me to say her PSHE time had been cut to 15 minutes a week from an hour a week, and yet she is still expected to deliver a full student mental wellbeing programme, and prepare for statutory Relationships, Sex and Health Education which has to be in place by Easter 2021 in England. This seems an impossible ask.
We also know that staff having to cover classes due to absentee colleagues has become 'the norm' in some settings. Given the choice of covering a class that teaches a core or foundation subject or a class that teaches about mental health, many staff opt for the former. Why? It's easier to teach a curriculum topic, and let's face it, who in their teacher training has ever been trained to teach about mental and emotional wellbeing?
Then we have the fluctuating class issue. Some of my friends have been saying it's like a lottery as to which pupils will actually show up every day. Class sizes we know are down on average by 20% due to pupils needing to isolate at home, or in some cases because their parents/carers don't want them in school. How do you deliver a planned teaching programme when kids are in and out of class like a proverbial 'yo-yo'?
No wonder teachers are counting the days to half-term!
So what's the solution? Fortunately we have some wonderful and creative teachers out there who are adapting to the situation and doing their best to get it right for the students.
We've been lucky enough to hear how schools have been using our materials creatively and effectively to manage the issues we've talked about. That's great. We write our resources, not as a prescriptive 'immovable' programme that has to be followed by rote, instead they are a toolkit which empowers teachers to create personal development education programmes to the best of their ability and within the constraints being placed upon their timetables.
Every 'lesson' we write for ages 11-16 has a home learning version. These are coming into their own, as they can be sent home to pupils who are absent, and in some cases as the PSHE programme itself due to having reduced or no curriculum slots available. We ensure that the 'home learning' materials are age-appropriate and do not stray into complex and controversial territory that needs to be taught in school with a teacher. However, they do cover the essentials of a sound PSHE/ personal development/ health and wellbeing curriculum, and at least the pupils are experiencing this valuable learning albeit remotely.
Some schools have used a small amount of tutor time (15 minutes or so) to introduce the home learning topic using activities from our main resources. The beauty and simplicity of these is they contain a range of suggested activities that can be taught in as little as 10 minutes, 20 minutes or 30 minutes. If more time is available activities can be combined to create longer sessions. So, if you only have 15-20 minutes of tutor time each week it's perfectly possible to use one (or two) of the activities in our lesson plans and then students can follow up with the home learning tasks. And the activities are written so that any non-specialist teacher can teach them with clear notes and editable PowerPoint slides already prepared.
If this blog resonates with your experiences in school at the moment why not create a free account with us and download some free sample materials to see if they would work in your school?
As and when we get more feedback from schools who are using our resources we'll keep adding to this blog to share their ideas and the incredible amount of creativity and passion to make personal development education lessons front and centre for students in what can only be described as a once in a lifetime experience (we hope!).
You can download free sample materials by creating a free Chameleon PDE account on our website homepage. www.chameleonpde.com
You will be asked to confirm your account by email so please check your junk and spam email just in case you don't receive a confirmation email.
Once logged in you will be able to download a range of sample materials for students aged 11-18, and also find out details about our full scheme of work and the introductory offer prices at just £199+VAT for each key stage/ age-band.