Personal and social education needs more focus on mental health and relationships, MSPs told
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Scotland’s schools need to move away from ‘preaching’ on drink and drugs and focus more on mental health and discrimination, pupils and teachers have told MSPs.
In submissions to an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, school children, parents, teachers, academics and charities called for personal and social education (PSE) to be given more prominence in the curriculum.
Mental and sexual health, citizenship and wellbeing were all highlighted as suitable topics for the lessons, while many pupils called for more practical advice on taxes and other life skills.
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One pupil said: “It should include things like banking advice, tax lessons, how to change a fuse and a tyre.”
Another said: “For me and my peers, PSE is extremely repetitive as the only topics we really discuss are: alcohol, drugs and how we should be revising for our prelims.”
A group of pupils in Edinburgh said: “It feels as if the PSE teachers try to scare us with the end results, with shocking videos of people dying, rather than educating us on how to actually avoid situations.”
Recent research by the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) has shown education in mental health varies wildly across the country.
“Young people have told us that there is not enough focus on mental health in PSE,” SYP’s submission to the inquiry said.
Barnardo’s Scotland warned teachers often refer directly to mental health services instead of using PSE as part of an early intervention approach.
“We would hope that PSE could have a role in making sure that schools adopt a ‘no wrong door approach’ to when children want to talk about/get advice on mental health,” it said.
Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHPE) was also raised in many submissions.
The NSPCC said: “We want to see improved, consistent, high-quality, age-appropriate open and discursive RSHP delivered across schools in Scotland. This should give children the opportunity to learn about and explore topics like safety, respect, consent, stereotypes, equality and rights.”
“My PSE sex education was given by embarrassed teachers who spoke only about straight sex, discouraged discussion and put on loads of videos about STIs,” one former pupil said.
Campaign group Zero Tolerance warned young people turn to pornography to learn about sex which leads to poor understanding of consent and violence.
“RSHPE should contain a focus on emotional literacy, consent, dealing with pornography and improving attitudes towards gender equality and gendered abuse,” the group said.
LGTBI issues were also raised by parents, staff and former pupils who had experienced bullying at school, who felt let down by a lack of coverage.
The Education and Skills committee will now host a roundtable on the issue on Wednesday, which will include the campaign group Time for an Inclusive Education (TIE).
Convener James Dornan said “We have already had a fantastic response and have heard from young people, parents and teachers about what they want from PSE. Our round table will help us explore the impact these classes have on pupils and what could need to change.”