Everything we didn’t learn in PSE

sophie mcnaughton pic

By Sophie McNaughton


PSE (Personal and Social Development Education) was always a bit awkward, but it was, thankfully, also a bit of a laugh. It was a goof. A joke. A break from real lessons. A class that was meant to teach us useful things that we would, you know, actually use in later life – as opposed to that ‘essential’ algebra and trigonometry that I, at least, am yet to use – but it didn’t.

It was a whitewash of the bare minimum and the censored. In PSE, we learned the basics of where babies come from, how they get there, how to prevent them getting there, and how to put a condom on some form of phallic-shaped object. We were taught the basics – and I mean basics – of heterosexual sex. Safe sex and relationship education for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender individuals wasn’t even glossed over but in fact not mentioned at all in my PSE classes.

As well as the presumption that the entire student body was straight, those who devised the PSE curriculum also assumed that no young girl in their classes would ever grow up to experience a pregnancy scare or an unplanned pregnancy, as we were told nothing about emergency contraception, abortion or even how to access sexual health services. Sexual violence and how to report it, consent, and explicit information on how to prevent STIs were a handful of the other topics that were also swiftly brushed under the carpet.

In addition to sex and relationship education, many students have also been left in the dark in terms of life skills they would need upon leaving school and entering the big bad world. Wouldn’t PSE classes have been a great opportunity to improvise and stage mock interviews where we could have gained the skills that could have helped us secure our first job? Or what about how to write your first CV when you’ve got no experience to write about, besides being a prefect or tutoring the kid down the street on how to pass Intermediate 2 Biology? We weren’t taught how to apply for jobs or how to get onto the property ladder, whether that be getting a council house or applying for a mortgage.

PSE also left out information about financial support, benefits, job seekers allowance, tax credits and how to manage your finances without getting in over your head at the end of the month, when you have three birthday presents to buy and a car insurance payment to make when you’re already £200 into your overdraft. Speaking of overdrafts, information on banking was also left out, including: how to get a bank account, what different types of accounts are for, interest, credit cards, borrowing, savings and more.

These topics — sexual health, personal finance, housing — may seem self-explanatory and simple now, things we pick up as we go through life. But, realistically, many of us are probably still ill-informed when it comes to things we should have been taught years ago. While PSE content in secondary schools remains limited, surface level discussion on ‘risqué’ topics, we will continue to take in basic and often second-hand and possibly inaccurate information. And, while we continue to learn more from TV and hearsay than from proper education, myths surrounding sexual health and other social issues will continue to be taken at face value.

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