The Other 16 Hours
Academic subjects teach you how to deal with eight hours of each day. And PSHE? The other sixteen hours.
Last year, I decided to join the thousands of other teachers who have taken to Twitter to share views, ideas and resources, to expand my professional reach out of my school with a view to eventually moving (at least part-time) into outreach and consultancy work, and writing under my own personal brand. After some deliberation as to what my brand should be called, I remembered a phrase from a whole-school assembly I had given the previous year on the importance of PSHE and immediately, it felt exactly right.
So what does ‘The Other 16 Hours’ mean? I work at a school where many pupils aspire to become lawyers, doctors, or engineers, and for some, there is immense pressure from parents for them to have the kind of status that these professions bring. The pupils themselves cite a high salary as a main reason for wanting their chosen career, and can be narrow-minded when it comes to the importance of certain subjects. I want to be a doctor; music is not important. I want to be an engineer; I don’t need history. This has contributed, in my view, to the decline of arts and languages within our secondary schools, as the goal of education is increasingly seen to be to leading to a certain job, not to stretch and challenge our intellect for its own sake.
And yet, we are often told that we are not our job. Indeed, for the vast majority of us (I assume), working hours do not take up the greatest proportion of our day. Therefore, if our academic subjects prepare young people for a third of the 24-hour cycle, what will prepare them for the remaining two-thirds? Good parenting and life experience, yes. But which subject can provide a support mechanism when either of those are deficient? Personal, social and health education.
PSHE teaches pupils how long they should sleep for, what they should eat, how they can be active citizens in their communities, how to conduct their relationships, how to be safe online. It teaches them how to look after not only their physical health, but their mental and financial health too, and encourages them to explore their own values and morals. The world needs doctors, lawyers, engineers and thousands of other kinds of people in other kinds of jobs in order to be able to function, but it needs those people to be healthy in every sense of the word in order to function well.
Therefore, to deny PSHE a place on the main curriculum is to deny an interest in cultivating the whole person, to deny the definition of a successful life as anything other than professional achievement. What we need is a passionate team of specialist teachers dedicated to their own continuing professional and personal development, in order to give our children and young people the information and skills they need so they can radiate this learning outwards and onwards to their colleagues, friends and their own families. The ideal curriculum cultivates the mind as well as the brain, teaching that both are of equal importance if we are to thrive in all aspects of our life, not just professionally. Academic subjects teach you how to deal with eight hours of each day. And PSHE? The other sixteen hours.
Sophie McPhee is a PSHE and MFL teacher at a grammar school in the West Midlands. Alongside teaching PSHE, French and German, she has devised and runs a primary school outreach programme called ‘Change Your Mind’, where Year 12 pupils plan and deliver mental health workshops to Year 6 classes across the local area, and coordinates a staff and pupil Wellbeing Group.