Let's talk about PSE A Scottish parliament education & skills committee quick-read

In early 2017 the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee undertook a short piece of work to examine Personal and Social Education (PSE) in Scotland's schools.

The Committee discussed this issue and heard people's views in a range of ways - through formal evidence at its meetings, in focus groups with teachers and students, and by asking the question online - 'what should personal and social education sessions be about?'

The level of response was tremendous. Hundreds of submissions, Facebook comments, emails and tweets later, the Committee is clear how valuable good PSE is to young people. It is also so important that young people experience a broad PSE curriculum to support the goals of the Curriculum for Excellence "to help young people become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors." Your views also made clear that every individual has a distinct view of what should feature in their 'lessons in life', and also that the approach to PSE appears to be patchy across Scotland's schools.

A lot of young people's experiences show a variable picture in terms of the delivery of PSE in their schools, suggesting it is not always a priority. The Committee has also heard excellent best-practice examples with innovative ideas on how to have interactive sessions that enthuse young people and equip them for the challenges life brings.

Members of the Committee, including convener James Dornan MSP, met with pupils in Dalkeith to hear first-hand about their experience of PSE

Findings and recommendations

Core issues

The Committee suggests a number of topics that are essential to PSE. This should not be taken as an complete list of what the Committee considers to be core PSE topic areas, but are important areas which we believe currently face significant challenges in being delivered effectively and consistently.

  • Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) is essential and must feature. This should go beyond biology and involve talking about sex and relationships.
  • In looking at SRE the issue of consent and what it means must be covered. The evidence received indicated strongly that this is not happening consistently enough.
  • Inclusivity, including understanding and valuing diversity, should also be covered. This also includes an understanding of binary and non-binary identities and the need for SRE to cover more than just heterosexual relationships.
  • Learning and talking about mental health issues should be a priority, including understanding how to listen to and interpret how young people are feeling, and how to talk about it and ask for help when needed.
  • Drugs and alcohol misuse should be a core issue and our evidence suggests that this was an area that was thoroughly covered by many schools.

From all of the views that we have received, these seem to be the cornerstones of effective PSE that we consider PSE programmes must feature. We are talking about the support young people require to understand and care for themselves and others.

However, the Committee heard a lot of evidence which painted a picture of patchy provision of PSE. The Committee has therefore recommended that the Scottish Government sets up a review of PSE across Scotland led by Education Scotland.

Co-design and co-production

This wordle from Perth Academy highlights the number of topics that just one class came up with

There were so many other topics suggested by young people in evidence, but when we asked about how these suggestions fed into PSE, very few young people suggested they had ever been asked what they wanted to learn about.

The best means of ensuring the issues that matter to the group of young people in a PSE class is to ask them.

The Committee are not saying that the voice of young people must be the only one in determining how to use PSE sessions, but we are saying that they should have to be part of the conversation.


PSE is a challenging thing to define meaning effective delivery is time consuming and complex. Teaching PSE also requires a specific skillset, including the ability to discuss sensitive issues with young people in an open and candid way. We have heard evidence of a lot of best-practice work being undertaken within schools by motivated talented teachers and by organisations providing training to teachers or delivering elements of PSE directly to young people where appropriate.

In the Committee's view, PSE can be delivered effectively when designed as a programme which engages specialists in various topic areas where beneficial and practical.

Ideas from Bearsden Academy first year pupils on what PSE lesson should be about

Age appropriate learning

There is sensitivity around the issue of what age young people, and in particular children, should start learning age-appropriate elements of personal and social education, particularly SRE. The need for crucial conversations to happen as early as required is explored in the report.

Support and information

PSE should be part of a supportive ethos in a school.

PSE is likely to generate thought processes and questions from young people that they may not want to share in a classroom setting. Effective PSE also needs to be supported by the availability of one-to-one time with guidance teachers, tutors or other support staff when requested. It also needs to point young people to appropriate informative online resources.

More and more of young people's time is used in the online space, be it on webpages or social media, and there is a wider social issue with young people's online safety and the appropriateness of the material young people have access to online. PSE programmes should seek to ensure young people are aware of where to find the right information online on healthy relationships, including healthy sexual relationships.

The Committee wants to offer its thanks to all those who took the time to contribute to its work, the findings and recommendations have been based on the comments you provided.

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