Parents and PSHE/Health & Wellbeing

Most parents are perfectly happy with the PSHE/Health & Wellbeing curriculum, but there are some with concerns. This article explores how to consult parents and guardians to offer reassurance and meet your statutory obligations.

Consultation PSHE

Why consult?

It’s best practice to inform parents and carers about what is being taught in PSHE/Health & Wellbeing. The world we live in is increasingly complex and young people will ask questions to try and make sense of it. If parents are informed about PSHE they can follow up learning at home. For example, it’s helpful for parents to know what their child has been taught in Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). This both reinforces the learning but also offers an opportunity to open dialogue between parent and child about ‘awkward’ or ‘embarrassing’ topics that might not ordinarily arise. This is protective and safeguards young people.

Consulting with parents and guardians is also statutory. A school’s PSHE/RSE/Health & Wellbeing policy should state how consultation takes place and when.

Open and effective discourse also provides an opportunity to reassure parents who may be anxious about your school’s programme. Closing ranks isn’t helpful and can lead parents to believe you have something to hide.

Why are some parents worried about PSHE/Health & Wellbeing?

There are numerous reasons why some parents/carers may feel apprehensive, these can include:

  • Protective instincts
  • A disconnect between their personal values and the school’s values
  • Faith or cultural perspectives
  • Misinformation, myths and rumours
  • Worried about awkward discussions at home
  • Feel that school should only be about academic learning

Parents who complain can make schools and PSHE/Health & Wellbeing Subject Leads feel defensive but it’s important to remember their concerns are genuine, and they deserve to be heard and reassured. They should also be informed of the right to withdraw their child (or not), depending on your locality and regional guidance.

Parents and PSHE

How should you consult?

As an absolute minimum parents and carers should have access to your school policy and be able to see teaching resources on request. However, this comes with a caveat. There is no statutory requirement for parents to be sent or take resources home. There is nothing sinister and you are not trying to hide anything. So why this caution?

It is vital that your curriculum and associated resources are seen and discussed in context. There have been occasions where schools have sent resources home which, out of context have given rise to further anxieties. Although time-consuming, it is better to invite parents into school and go through the resources with them. This gives you the opportunity to explain the materials, the pedagogy, and set the resources in context with your overall programme, school values, and statutory requirements. It is also better to be pro-active rather than be on the back-foot when a Freedom of Information request is received.

Some schools have faced a backlash where a parent has posted aspects of the school’s policy or a teaching resource on social media to curate a specific narrative or bias. This cannot happen if resources are viewed in school in the presence of the Subject Lead who can reassure and answer questions. This open and transparent consultation safeguards your school against any potential misunderstanding of your curriculum. It is also compliant with any FOI request as you are providing full access to the resources, albeit in the presence of a teacher who can explain them.

Consultation PSHE

In addition, it is often helpful to hold an open evening for all parents. This can offer reassurance to concerned parents as they can hear other parents’ views and give balance to the discussion. Although the open-evening can feel daunting, especially for a first-time Subject Lead, there are more often-than-not far more parents who support PSHE/Health & Wellbeing compared to those with worries. It can also be helpful to employ a specialist to present at the open evening. This could be your School Improvement Partner, someone from the Local Authority or a consultant with expertise in this area.

Parents have mounted legal challenges where schools have denied access to the PSHE/Health & Wellbeing policy and resources - so don’t be tempted to go down this route. Instead provide access, but ensure it is in school where there can be an open, collegiate and honest discussion between parent and school, with any resources or lessons of particular concern set in perspective.

How do you manage parental backlash?

Often parental backlash arises because consultation hasn’t been effective. PSHE/Health & Wellbeing contains topics that are challenging, and some parents/guardians are surprised when they hear about them from their child or another parent.

A helpful approach (to be used at a parents’ meeting or in a 1-2-1 situation) can be to reflect on the world their child lives in. The parent may be thinking about their own childhood where things were very different from today. For example, some parents are concerned about pornography being discussed in secondary school relationships and sex education lessons. The reality is (as shown by numerous national surveys) that at least 30% of pupils have viewed pornography by age 14, and that sending and receiving explicit images is not uncommon in secondary schools. Explaining that PSHE/Health & Wellbeing is in place to protect their child (from a world that may be alien to the parent) can help alleviate some worries.

Backlash can also come from the media, in particular social media. Some online groups are critical of PSHE/Health & Wellbeing, or aspects of it. Whilst their concerns may be heartfelt, they can be promulgated by social media posts or media stories that are biased. Pictures of resources displayed on Facebook out of context, or with an uninformed comment, do not give a balanced perspective and can be unhelpful for schools. Can you ever see the whole picture from one piece of the jigsaw? This type of backlash can be testing for the Subject Lead, and it can be almost impossible to positively engage with these groups if their purpose is to attack rather than pursue open and constructive discussion.

If your school experiences backlash it is vital you consult. Inevitably there will be more work to be done as there is already a swell of discontentment that needs to be tackled. Using any or all of the methods mentioned above will be helpful.

It is also important to not engage with backlash on social media where your comments may be misconstrued.

Even after all this work, you may be faced with a parent whose views about PSHE/Health & Wellbeing are intransigent. In this situation, it’s important that you have done all you can to explain the rationale for your curriculum (and have this evidenced). At this point the only solution may be to allow them to withdraw their child from any lessons where this is eligible. Unfortunately, we can’t please all the people all the time and you need to be confident that you have fulfilled your legal obligations and have evidence of an open and transparent consultation.

How often should you consult with parents/guardians?

If you change your PSHE/Health & Wellbeing programme and/or policy, then you need to consult with parents and guardians to inform them. If you haven’t changed your curriculum for a several years, but haven’t consulted for a while, it makes good sense to do so.

Once you have completed a consultation for parents across the school, we would recommend holding an annual consultation for parents of new students. This might be aimed at specific year groups. You may also decide to hold a consultation every year on aspects of your programme, such as puberty and sex education, to give additional focus to these important topics.

Whatever you choose to do, ensure that your policy reflects this.

How can you alleviate some common parental concerns?

Does PSHE education encourage unhelpful or unhealthy behaviour? This is often cited as the ‘Innocence vs Ignorance’ debate. There is a wide body of independent academic research that confirms teaching PSHE/Health & Wellbeing safeguards young people, and it is better to educate rather than leave them in the dark. For example, European countries that have taught sex education from early primary for many years, have lower rates of teenage pregnancy, and the average age of first sex is higher compared with the UK. Unfettered access to the internet and TV streaming services with easy to circumvent age-restrictions means young people can be exposed to content that is both damaging and confusing. PSHE/Health & Wellbeing lessons can be a place to explore, ask questions, get answers and discuss the world they inhabit, in a safe environment. These discussions may not naturally arise at home, so if parents know what you’re teaching they can continue these conversations.

Schools with effective PSHE/Health & Wellbeing also take an evidenced-based approach. Chameleon PDE partner schools consult their students using our unique ‘How Are You?’ survey which is included with our resource libraries. This gives an annual data set that enables schools to look at their students’ needs in PSHE. Our partner secondary schools report that topics such as LGBTQ+, which can be controversial to some parents, are often the most requested lessons from the student body. This is from LGBTQ+ students and non-LGBTQ+ students alike. Pupil voice data such as this can be helpful in providing a strong rationale for your approach and curriculum coverage in line with statutory duties.

Quality assure visitors

If your school uses outside speakers for assemblies or direct delivery to students it is vital that you have a quality assurance process in place. Some parental concerns result from content that has been delivered by a visitor. This can be avoided if you have quality assured their input beforehand. Chameleon PDE partner schools have access to our visitor protocol for this purpose. Equally, if you have quality assured a visitor and parents complain about them, you have evidence of the QA process and were satisfied that their session was appropriate and meets statutory guidance. The QA procedure is also helpful for the visitor and will allow them to plan their session appropriately for your setting.

In summary

  • When did you last consult parents and carers about your PSHE/Health & Wellbeing curriculum?
  • Was this ‘light touch’ or more in-depth?
  • Do you need to plan a consultation?
  • Do all your staff know the process for managing parental complaints or backlash about PSHE/Health & wellbeing content?
  • Is your PSHE/RSE/Health & Wellbeing policy up to date regarding how you consult with parents and carers?
  • What is your process for quality assuring visitors who support your PSHE/Health & Wellbeing programme?

If you want some advice or guidance about consulting with parents and guardians we'd be happy to help. Contact us