How do I assess pupil progress in PSHE?

Do I have to assess PSHE?

What is the purpose of PSHE?

Before we dig into assessment it's helpful to take a step back and consider the aims and objectives of PSHE. While seeming obvious, it is relevant to examine this when thinking about your programme and the purpose of assessment within it. Teachers will be able to list many reasons why PSHE should be taught and these ideas can be distilled into a single phrase; 'life-skills'. We want our students, whatever age, to be able to manage the increasingly complex world they live in. We also want them to take learning from their PSHE lessons now, and apply it in their futures.

However, there's a problem! Educational research (Ebbinghaus's Forgetting Curve - in Jon Tait, “Teaching Rebooted”, 2020, Bloomsbury) suggests that new learning is rapidly forgotten within days, and within a few months less than 10% of it is still likely to be there. This can be overcome by repeated recall (and other things we can do - more about this later on). Jon Tait succinctly describes this as, 'use it or you lose it'.

Let's think about a fictional student who we will call Jay. Jay is 14 and has just had a lesson about sexual consent. It's the only lesson on this topic that Jay will receive as part of the school's PSHE programme. Fast-forward four years... Jay is now 18, at a party, maybe had one drink too many, and is now contemplating having sex with another partygoer. And that's the problem right there...Have we placed unfair expectations on Jay to remember that single lesson from 4 years' ago and apply the learning in the 'heat of the moment'? Where has Jay had the opportunity to 'use' the learning in the past 4 years? In PSHE a large part of the curriculum aims to futureproof students with learning they may not need immediately. Some content is about managing risks or coping with the aftermath of a poor decision, we hope they won't ever need to use.

What does the requirement to assess PSHE mean for my school?

What are the implications of this for programme design?

We know that recall of learning aids long-term retention so your programme should be spiral and progressive revisiting content as students move through the school. Taking a 'siloed' or 'tick box' approach isn't going to maximise student learning either. But what do we mean by 'tick box'? Jay's experience is a perfect example. One lesson on sexual consent was taught which 'ticked' that particular curriculum requirement but was never addressed again. This is often the result of PSHE being such a vast topic with limited curriculum time to squeeze everything in. Even with adequate curriculum time, what can we can do to make every PSHE lesson count? Research about interleaving and spacing content (Bjork & Bjork, 2014, Kornell & Bjork 2008, Rohrer, 2012) implies that if students 'forget' and recall information from longer ago, then long-term retention is enhanced. Another good reason for a spiral programme. Interleaving is best described as comparing, contrasting and making links between different areas of learning, and this can enhance long-term memory. PSHE has the potential to be a naturally interleaved subject but only if we plan it this way and rail against the 'siloed' model. Chameleon partner schools will recognise this approach in every one of our PSHE library packs.

What should we be assessing in PSHE?

Making every lesson count

If we acknowledge that PSHE is a major component of wider Personal Development and preparing students for life beyond school, then we also need to look at skills, attitudes and values. What use is knowledge about illegal substances, unless we have also helped pupils develop skills for resisting peer-influence, or how to respond in an emergency? What about the impacts on mental health and skills needed to stay emotionally well? Why do people take illegal drugs - what are differing attitudes and values about this? This is interleaving in practice and great PSHE programmes help students make these sort of connections.

We should also recognise that if students value their PSHE it will be more MEMORABLE. There are some easy wins here:

1) Don't teach them stuff they already know - they hate it!

2) Ensure relevance and avoid being patronising

3) Make lessons enjoyable - not an endless parade of videos and worksheets or the same type of activities ad infinitum

4) Make sure it's not all doom and gloom - not all of life is horrible or risky

5) Give them plenty of time to discuss, cut back on writing and too much 'teacher talk'

We know this from the annual results of our 'How Are You?' survey - (11,000 student responses 2022/23). Students tell us (and their schools) what they like and dislike about PSHE. Student consultation is invaluable, and some will be brutal in their evaluation of your programme. However, it's better to know this and be able to do something about it, rather than stick your head in the sand and hope everything is OK.

Should we use criterion referenced assessment in PSHE?

Making every assessment count

When asking students to complete an assessment activity in PSHE we should be applying the same principles to ensure the assessment is useful and maximises learning. If it's just a 'tick box' exercise then it's a wasted opportunity. Employ student-led ipsative assessment where they compare their learning between two points in time - this spaces learning and they are having to recall information from longer ago. This is enhanced if you are interleaving the assessment tasks and increase the spacing - perhaps by asking them to make connections between the current topic and last term's, or the one they did last year. This requires ‘baseline assessments’ to be regularly planned into the teaching programme at set points; perhaps at the start of a topic or half-term. This creates an opportunity for the students to regularly assess themselves on their learning journey and tell you what they already know and what new learning they need (or find relevant). The teacher can then amend the learning rather than wasting precious curriculum time on content that is superfluous to need.

What about using formative assessment in PSHE?

Through effective teacher guidance, ipsative assessment can also support pupils to develop skills, attitudes and values, as well as knowledge. At the end of a topic ask the students do some personal reflection (you might want them to write this bit down as evidence of learning).

This approach removes the problems associated with arbitrary age-related criteria to measure student progress and saves time for busy teachers as there is limited marking. This assessment process is useful. If you're interleaving your assessment tasks at baseline and end of topic even better. You will also be more likely to help students like Jay make vital connections about their PSHE learning that will hopefully stay with them longer-term. What's not to like?

If you interleave and space assessments well, you can challenge students to make links between their current (and past) learning to other aspects of your Personal Development Education programme. This might be to CEIAG (Careers Education Information & Guidance), SMSC (Spriritual, Moral, Social, Cultural), school and community values, and even other curriculum subjects like English and humanities. How many of us can instantly recall all 9 'protected characteristics in the UK Equality Act? This is a favourite question inspectors tend to ask students- maybe if they have made links between these and other areas of their learning, recall and understanding will be better?

What can be assessed in PSHE and what pupil work should we collect?

But don't we need 'evidence 'for inspection?

Using our recommendations would imply the bulk of learning in PSHE comes from student discussion and personal reflection and not what they write down. That's why we favour continuous pupil self-reflection both in lessons and assessment tasks; well-planned, interesting, relevant, spaced and interleaved learning experiences. If schools adopt this assessment strategy, student work can still be collected to provide evidence of learning in individual pupil folders or exercise books (whatever your preferred method). There just might not be so much of it! So to counteract this, you and your team will need to be prepared to justify the way you assess in PSHE and why it is of benefit to the students. When looking for impact, inspectors are more likely to talk to and observe students rather the wade through files of completed worksheets. Therefore, what students say and the way they behave is vital, and you can increase the likelihood they will show the inspectors what they want, by making every PSHE lesson in your programme valuable. Chameleon partner schools do well in inspections because they have taken this approach and have much better student engagement as a result.

Is ipsative assessment in PSHE the way forward?

Next steps...

PSHE is a constantly evolving area of the curriculum because it is tied to societal change. Nothing stays still for long and this can make the role of a PSHE lead challenging. Remember you are on a journey, and a stepped approach will allow you, your staff and students to progress without feeling over-burdoned. In summary, consider the following questions as part of your ongoing development plan:

  • How do you make every PSHE lesson in your programme count?
  • Do you know the needs of your students? Do you feel assured there is a needs-led programme that is engaging and helps them learn?
  • When did you last consult students about their PSHE? (Be prepared for some harsh critiques, but act on their feedback so they can see they are agents of change in PSHE and being listened to).
  • Is your current assessment model 'tick-box' or relies on too much evidence collection? Is it helpful for students and maximises their learning? Make every assessment count!
  • Would students be able to tell a positive 'story' to inspectors about their learning in PSHE?

If we’re using the Chameleon PDE resource library, what assessment would you recommend?

What further support can we get around PSHE assessment?

We regularly hold FREE webinars on a range of PSHE practice, and some focus on or include assessment. Attendance at the LIVE webinars (usually twilight) is free for any school and you don't need to be a Chameleon partner school to attend.

The benefit for Chameleon partner schools (have a subscription with us) is they will also get the slide deck and the training in an online format so they can disseminate it to their teams. They will already have access to our PSHE resource library, 'How Are You?' student voice survey/reporting tool, and a recommended assessment programme including tasks and suggested content. Both our library and assessment model are based on research, best practice and feedback from our partner schools about what's working well.

You can book onto our FREE webinar programme here:


Bjork & Bjork (2014) ‘Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning’

Kornell & Bjork (2008) ‘Learning concepts and categories: is spacing the ‘enemy’ of induction? , Psychological Science, 19, (6), 585-92

Rohrer (2012) ‘Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts, Educational Psychology Review, 24, 355-367

Tait, J. (2020) 'Teaching Rebooted', Bloomsbury

Where can I get some further advice about assessment in PSHE?

Find out more...

We hope you have found this article helpful and it has provided you with some time to reflect on your programme and current assessment practices.

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