By Sarah Wordlaw

Teaching PSHE can be a challenge, particularly for Primary-age pupils, who are less familiar with the curriculum content. Here, Sarah Wordlaw discussed some useful ways in to developing vital knowledge and skills in PSHE.

I have always been the teacher who merrily takes on “that class”. You know the one. The class that brings a supply teacher to tears. The class who when handed over at the end of playtime have a line of hand-on-hipped tutting adults complaining about behaviour. The class that when you’re out for the afternoon on CPD and you need cover, suddenly everyone is busy. Those classes are my favourite. Full of effervescent characters who, in my experience, make the most progress and bring the most joy! And if you can harbour that energy and frame it with an understanding of self and the world, amazing things happen.

PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic education) is absolutely vital in this development. It has such a gargantuan impact on behaviour and attitudes if done correctly. Finding a suitable programme to follow for explicit teaching of PSHE is essential, Jigsaw is a great example but also most local authorities have their own versions which are great to explore. But in addition to this, and in my opinion, more importantly, PSHE should be taught discreetly throughout the school day and threaded into everything you do.

Teaching Through Literacy

Make sure your book corner is engaging and full of books which represent the class, the local community and any issues your class struggle with. This could be novels but picture books are incredibly powerful too and are great for prompting discussions, focussed around actions and behaviours.

For example, I once had an issue with a child in my class making a joke about an older child in the school who had one arm. The rest of the class laughed. They laughed, because they didn’t understand how or why it was offensive. They didn’t understand about disability because nobody had spoken to them about it. They were yet to truly understand empathy and consequences of these type of actions. All behaviour is communication. Some other practitioners in this situation may have yelled at the child and made the whole class miss their playtime, however we decided to stop and discuss it.

I bought the following books, which arrived the next day (thank you Amazon Prime!). When they arrived I didn’t preface the reading of it with anything other than an “ooh we’ve got some new books!”. We sat and read through the texts together, looked carefully at the pictures and reflected. Through the discussions, we built empathy and a personal and social understanding. We discussed how to show respect. I never had a repeat of the incident.

In fact, the most wonderful thing happened. Another child, in a younger class on the playground, had made a negative comment towards the same disabled child. A child from my class, snuck into the building, grabbed our new reading books and sat on the playground and read it to the other child, teaching them how to be respectful. Not that we need reminding, but children are wonderful, aren’t they?

Some other fabulous texts to teach empathy about social and personal issues include:

The Arrival – Shaun Tan (KS2)

Themes: Immigration, refugees, war

Great if you have a particularly mobile cohort and often new starters with English as an additional Language.

Wonder – R.J. Palacio (KS2)

Themes: bullying, transition

Beautiful story of a 10 year old’s journey with physical difference and his transition into school.

Why can’t I play? – Elizabeth Hawkins (KS1 and KS2)

Themes: bullying

Story of a mean and bossy girl whose one wish is to get friends.

For every child – Caroline Castle (KS1 and KS2)

Themes: Children’s rights

‘Whoever we are, wherever we live, these are the rights of every child under the sun, and the moon and the stars.’ This is a child friendly version of the United Nations formally adopted 54 principles making up the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Clover’s Secret: Helping Kids Cope with Domestic Abuse – Christine Winn (KS1 and KS2)

Themes: domestic violence

Set in a land where people can fly, two girls become friends, one supporting the other with issues she is facing at home.

The Family Book – Todd Parr (KS1 and KS2)

Theme: different types of families

Wonderful book representing all kinds of different family make ups, expressing difference but focusing on the thing that threads families together…love.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book – Michael Rosen (KS1)

Themes: grief, bereavement

This book is about Michael losing his son at age 19 and it discusses what being sad is and how he dealt with it. A fabulous acknowledgement that feelings are unavoidable and how to journey through them.

The Red Tree – Shaun Tan (KS1 and KS2)

Themes: feelings, depression

This is a poignant picture book about feelings. It shows that feelings aren’t always expressed in words and I have used this many times with children struggling emotionally.

Making It About Real Life

As great practitioners we all know that linking in the “real life” into all learning is essential for learning that sticks. Asking at the start, middle or end of a lesson:

How will we use this skill in our personal lives?

Why is this important to society?

How could people knowing this skill be effective for our economy?

When a child in my Year 4 class called out whilst I was explaining the day’s lesson with, “yes but what is the bigger picture Miss?”. Despite my irritation at being interrupted, I knew I’d done something right.

Teaching Consent

Teaching the idea of consent, for boys and girls, is imperative from a young age. As simple as teaching children to ask for consent on borrowing a pencil from each other for example. And listening to the answer. My Year 6 class are quite tactile and are often touching each other’s hair or hugging each other etc. We do a lot of work on asking for consent to touch someone, to be in someone else’s space, to share equipment. We discuss when someone says no, how to react and move forward positively. This foundation of consent is extremely important.

Creating A Class Economy

Teaching children about money and the economy can often be challenging. How do you explain economics to a 6 year old? Well there are some great ways to get started. Why not create a class currency and provide opportunities for children to “spend” and “budget”. ClassDojo is great for this. Children earn positive behaviour points and you can set ambitious targets for children to meet and spend their points on. We had a hot chocolate afternoon, a school sleepover (pre-Covid I might add!) and a footie tournament. It’s a great way for children to start understanding the worth of things and what exactly it means to budget.

All in all PSHE matters because we are teaching children about relationships, to be respectful and responsible citizens, able to make informed decisions and care for themselves and others. Remember that mantra of: all behaviour is communication. Let your class and their behaviours guide you in discreetly teaching PSHE skills and watch them grow and flourish!


Sarah is a Deputy Head and Year 6 teacher with a real flare for writing, project-based learning, Music and Performing Arts.

Write A Comment