How do I assess pupil progress in PSHE? (Personal, Social, Health Education)?
Do I have to assess PSHE?
Until relatively recently PSHE was one of the only subjects in England where there was no expectation to assess learning. The introduction of statutory Relationships Education, Sex and Relationships Education and Health Education (RSHE) has brought England in line with the other UK nations, and now pupil progress in these specific aspects of PSHE must be tracked.
The RSHE assessment guidance is scant compared to other UK nations and is set out within three paragraphs in the statutory RSHE document (DfE, Relationships Education, Sex and Relationships Education and Health Education, 2019, p43):
123. Schools should have the same high expectations of the quality of pupils’ work in these subjects as for other curriculum areas. A strong curriculum will build on the knowledge pupils have previously acquired, including in other subjects, with regular feedback provided on pupil progress.
124. Lessons should be planned to ensure that pupils of differing abilities, including the most able, are suitably challenged. Teaching should be assessed and assessments used to identify where pupils need extra support or intervention125. Whilst there is no formal examined assessment for these subjects, there are some areas to consider in strengthening quality of provision, and which demonstrate how teachers can assess outcomes. For example, tests, written assignments or self-evaluations, to capture progress.
What does the requirement to assess PSHE mean for my school?
The three statements in the RSHE guidance unequivocally state that RSHE has to be assessed. When read in conjunction with the Personal Development criteria in the updated Ofsted handbook, schools will need to show how their PSHE teaching programmes are closely aligned to student need and pupil progress. It’s challenging to see how a school could achieve this without having a formal taught PSHE programme including regular pupil assessment.
Many schools won’t have this in place right now, but fortunately, the pandemic has bought them some time as the most recent Ofsted handbook (September 2021) states:27. When forming judgements about personal development, inspectors will seek to understand what took place before the pandemic, what the school has in place currently and what its future plans are. Inspectors recognise that many elements of personal development that were in place before the pandemic may have been disrupted. Therefore, they will focus on understanding the steps that leaders have taken to offer a wide range of personal development opportunities since the school opened to all pupils in March 2021.
What should we be assessing in PSHE?
Any teacher knows that knowledge accumulation is only one aspect of learning, and this is particularly relevant to PSHE where skills and exploration of attitudes and values are also major components of any taught programme (or should be). However, when looking at the RSHE mandatory guidance it is heavily biased towards knowledge (as are the Scottish and NI curricula). We (Chameleon PDE) and the PSHE Association would argue this is insufficient, but knowledge is the easiest aspect of PSHE to assess and far less controversial.
If we are to assume that PSHE is a major benchmark towards 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? But how would a school even start to assess this type of personal development; and who wants to be told they are failing at life!
Should we use criterion referenced assessment in PSHE?
Many off-the-shelf PSHE schemes, the PSHE Subject Association and the Scottish Curriculum have produced benchmarks or assessment statements for PSHE / health and wellbeing. While these may help a teacher and school gather evidence of pupil progress, there are some flaws with this approach. Pupil progress in PSHE is not linear and any set of criteria developed either in school, or in published schemes of work are unlikely to meet the needs of all pupils. There will always be pupils who don’t ‘fit’ the criteria in some way and who says the criteria are correct, especially as we are assessing personalised human development?
Many of these criteria are based on age-related “norms” so who decides what these are? What sort of attitudes should a pupil have at age 11, 14 and 18? It’s far easier to assess knowledge in this way, but not skills or personal values. We can fine tune these criteria by having them split into working towards, working at, and working beyond, but if we are to make assessment meaningful to individual students there should be a dialogue between teacher and pupil. What pupil wants to be told they are working towards being kind or resilient? Criterion-based assessment in PSHE is available, but it needs to be treated with caution.
What about using formative assessment in PSHE?
This seems a natural fit for any Personal Development curriculum as it allows students to receive feedback to move their learning forward. They are not necessarily working towards an end goal so the assessment is personalised to each student and ‘where they are’. On the other hand, one of the main drawbacks of formative assessment is that it can become time-consuming for staff. If a Subject Lead already has a PSHE-resistant staff, this is just one more barrier.
An additional challenge is that PSHE can be largely discussion based. The danger with the formative approach is that assessment could begin to wag the tail of the dog, with PSHE becoming a series of worksheets, or written pieces for the teacher comment on. Ask any students who value their PSHE and they will nearly always say they enjoy the discussion and that ‘there isn’t much writing’. It would be a shame if this was lost.
Is ipsative assessment in PSHE the way forward?
This is certainly the method of assessment that we at Chameleon PDE favour, and our assessment guidance and proformas are based on this approach. Ipsative assessment is pupil-led where they compare their learning between two points in time. This requires some form of ‘baseline’ to be planned into the teaching programme at set points; perhaps at the start of a topic or half-term. This creates a space for the students to assess themselves at the start of each learning journey. The NWH approach can be useful (Now, Want to learn, Have learned) where students complete the N and W at the start of a topic and then review their learning at the end (H). At this point they can also set themselves targets for the next topic or term as some self-formative assessment. Through careful handling by the teacher it can also guide pupils to consider skills development, attitudes and values, as well as knowledge. Students are only judging themselves whatever their ability, not against their peers, or against arbitrary criteria- what’s not to like?
So, what form of assessment in PSHE should we adopt?
Ultimately it is a school decision that you will need to make with staff as to the type and frequency of the assessment undertaken in PSHE. This depends on your school’s assessment policies and practice. However, it can be helpful to consider that any assessment in PSHE is fundamentally there for the pupils to aid their personal development rather than to evidence an inspection.
How often should we assess?
There is no right or wrong answer to this as any assessment should be meaningful and manageable so that pupils can see a progression in their learning. It also needs to be manageable for staff.
Many published PSHE schemes have designated assessment points, e.g., every half-term, and these can be a helpful starting point. Equally we don’t want to have assessment unstructured and left to chance. Look at your taught programme and plan in some assessment points in agreement with SLT and your teaching team.
What can be assessed in PSHE and what pupil work should we collect?
PSHE can be assessed in the form of:
- Questions the pupils ask
- Written work
- Pupil reflections
- And much more….
Much of PSHE learning comes from pupil discussion. This is challenging to ‘collect’ which is why we favour continuous pupil self-reflection (ipsative assessment), rather than assessing specific pieces of work. If schools adopt this assessment strategy, pupil work can still be collected in individual pupil folders, exercise books and class books to provide evidence of pupil work for parents/carers and inspection if appropriate. If pupils record their thoughts at the beginning and end of a period of learning as part of their ongoing ‘profile’ it would be appropriate for teachers to comment on this. This reduces teacher workload, but also allows for meaningful teacher comment and some teacher formative assessment. It also sits nicely with the RSHE guidance where self-reflection as a form of assessment is specifically mentioned (ignore the written assessments and tests that are also mentioned in the same paragraph as suggested approaches!)
If we’re using the Chameleon PDE resource library, what assessment would you recommend?
As the PSHE packs in our resource library are so adaptable and contain more activities that can fit an hour-a-week lesson, it affords schools a great deal of flexibility. All and any of the activities could be used as an assessment focus. Here are some practical examples from schools using our library:
Homework activity: Most packs have an optional homework task which is nearly always based on pupil self-reflection. Some of our schools use the homework tasks as regular homework, others select one or two homework tasks per half term. For schools using tutor delivery, the homework task provides an ideal mechanism for some pupil self-reflection during tutor time- just because these activities have been badged as ‘homework’ they don’t have to be used in this way.
Home Learning Tasks: A Home Learning task sheet is a component of most of our library packs. These were born from the pandemic and schools used them as part of their home learning programme. Now students are back in school (mostly), some of our schools have been using these as a form of assessment for students to complete independently either at home or at a designated time in school.
Chameleon PDE Pupil Profile: We have designed a pupil-profile that our schools can use once or twice a year for students to record their self-reflections. These can build year on year, with the aim that students use them as a record of skills and attributes they have gained through PSHE to support applications for further study and the workplace. As all our teaching packs have core skills and values, as part of their design (as seen on the first page of the teacher notes) the pupil profile proforma is based on these. This benefits the school and pupils who both know which PSHE skills, knowledge and values they are developing. In addition, all our library packs are mapped against the Gatsby Benchmarks, so schools can be reassured they are delivering these as part of PSHE.
Chameleon assessment ideas: We have provided our schools with some simple proformas that could be adapted to record pupil self-reflections. Some of our schools plan to use these at the start and/or end of each PSHE theme or topic. These proformas include:
- 3-2-1 : 3 things you have learned (or want to learn), 2 things that surprised you (or 2 things you know already), 1 question you would really like answered (or one question that you were pleased to have answered)
- Draw and write: Draw or write what you know, feel and think about the topic (done at the start and end of a theme or half-term)
- Power of three: 3 skills you have already, 3 skills you would like to develop (completed at the start of a topic) then 3 skills you have improved (done at the end of a topic)
Where can I get some further advice about assessment in PSHE?
We provide a free PSHE Empower Hour with no obligation to purchase our resource library or pupil voice services. Email us to arrange a phone or video call: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re happy to chat anything through with you about PSHE from staff training to programme development- whatever your needs.
You can also look at the PSHE Association website