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Tackling Tricky Topics in PSHE

Tackling Tricky Topics in PSHE

Teachers need to create a safe environment in which pupils can share their feelings, explore their values and attitudes, express their opinions and consider those of others without attracting negative feedback.  This will help to enhance self-esteem and encourage more open discussion. It will also help to make sure that teachers are not anxious about unexpected language use or comments.

To do this, teachers should:

  • Help pupils set ground rules about how they will behave towards each other in discussion
  • Judge when to allow pupils to discuss issues confidentially in small groups and when to support them by listening in to these group discussions
  • Make sure that pupils have access to balanced information and differing views, including contributions made by visitors to the classroom, with which they can then clarify their own opinions and views
  • Decide how far they are prepared to express their own views, bearing in mind that they are in an influential position and that they have to work within the framework of the school’s values
  • Make sure that they are sensitive to the needs of individuals in the class when tackling issues of social, cultural or personal identity.

Setting ground rules

It is essential that pupils and teachers develop ground rules together rather than being presented with ones produced elsewhere. They will then need to test them in discussion and group activities, amending them as necessary. Some examples of ground rules might include agreeing an appropriate vocabulary to use (during sex and relationship education activities, for example), or not asking personal questions. The rules could also include respecting what people say, listening, using anonymous examples (‘when someone…’) and having the option to ‘pass’. Using distancing techniques such as role play and case studies with invented characters can help to de-personalise discussions.

Some example statements (use pupil-friendly language):

  • Listen to each other
  • Make positive comments that help people
  • Respect what people say or do
  • Take turns and help each other
  • You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to
  • Avoid asking people personal questions
  • Use the appropriate names for things

Pupils should be regularly reminded of the ground rules (display them clearly) and of their importance when handling sensitive issues during whole-class and group discussion.  Always try to keep the statement positive i.e. what we will do rather than what we must not do

Dealing with difficult, personal or sensitive issues

Learning from real-life experience is central to PSHE. Sensitive and controversial issues are certain to arise.  Pupils should not be sheltered from such issues; through them they can develop an important range of skills, including listening, accepting other points of view, arguing a case, dealing with conflict and distinguishing between fact and opinion.

Almost any issue can prove sensitive to an individual. However, issues that are most likely to be sensitive or controversial include those that have a political, social or personal impact, deal with questions of values and beliefs or are raised by sex and relationship education.  Other issues likely to be sensitive or controversial in the context of these units of work include: family lifestyle and values (including cultural and religious values); physical and medical issues; financial issues (including unemployment); bullying (including homophobic and racist bullying); bereavement.

Examples of strategies to deal with these issues include:

  • Remind the pupil of the ground rules
  • Use a question box so that you have time to prepare
  • Refer the pupil to the appropriate person
  • If the answer isn’t known, find out and get back to the pupils later
  • If a question is too explicit, feels too old for a pupil, is inappropriate for the whole class, or raises concerns about sexual abuse, the teacher should acknowledge it and promise to attend to it later on an individual basis
  • If a question gives cause for concern that a pupil is at risk of sexual abuse, follow the school’s child protection procedures

Using distancing techniques can also help to remove embarrassment, by using case studies/role playing activities/drama/freeze-frame scenarios, etc.

6 responses to “Tackling Tricky Topics in PSHE”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mamie moore and Andrew Brown. Andrew Brown said: RT @CreativeEdu: Tackling Tricky Topics in PSHE (new blog post): #UKEdChat […]

  2. Some good thoughts here; we can all take something from this. Those expectations of talking/listening are all-important.

  3. Avatar Mike Yule says:

    Nice one Pooky. I agree with your advice on being prepared, though disarming comments frequently come without much warning- particularly racist or homophobic ones. It’s a good idea to have up your sleeve some stock responses, to buy yourself time to put the ball back in the court of the other person. For example, a comment about what (all) Muslims are like can be answered with “what’s your evidence for saying that?” delivered neutrally. Asking people where they get their information from buys time and can lead to interesting discussions about media literacy, perception, stereotyping etc etc.

  4. I don’t teach PSHE, but the science topic ‘reproduction’ covers some overlapping ideas (we teach it in year7). I start off with a lesson on ‘Fears, Words, Rules and Questions’. Students give suggestions about why someone might be nervous about the topic and then we ease the tension by writing up *all* the slang words they can think of about sex. This gives us a chance to discuss appropriate ‘classroom’ language. We then agree rules – no personal comments, no laughing *at* people, etc etc’ – before they all are asked to write something on a piece of paper. This can be a question, or just a smiley face, but doing it this way means no-one knows who has asked a questiopn at all, let alone which ones belong to who. I then answer them, where appropriate, through the topic, or signpost to other services if needed.

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