When did PSHE grow so big and become so woke?

2 Nov

Last week, Girlguiding, the leading UK charity for girls and young women, caught my attention – and many other people’s – when it tweeted in celebration of Aceweek, “a time to raise awareness and understanding of the asexual community.”

It paid tribute to “all” of its “asexual volunteers and members” in a post that raised a lot of questions about the purpose of the organisation. What is Brown Owl doing, after all, lecturing on this matter – as opposed to teaching girls about, say, how to put up a tent?

Forget camping trips and frolics with friends, though, it seems that girls are learning about a whole host of psychosocial matters when Mum and Dad drop them off at Brownies. Indeed, Girlguiding’s Twitter page is littered with posts about “microaggressions” and diversity and inclusion, among other things.

In one post, Girlguiding warns that “88% girls aged 7-21 feel it’s urgent that we do more to protect the environment.” But why are children as young as seven even being polled on eco policy? You might ask. Is this what we want after-school clubs to focus on?

Unfortunately, Girlguiding’s Twitter feed seems emblematic of a wider trend, which is the PSHE-ification of Western society. Organisations increasingly believe it’s their role to lecture children on the birds and bees (or neither, in the case of asexuality), and everything in between.

PSHE, as many will know, stands for Personal, Social and Health Education. Back in my day that was learning about sex, drugs and eating disorders, among other interpersonal issues. Lessons lasted an hour maximum and were not the dominant feature of a child’s education.

In 2021, however, the number of social issues a child is supposed to know about goes much further, and delves into completely fringe territory. A BBC film to support PSHE in schools, for example, taught children that there are 100 or more gender identities.

Schools are also expected to teach kids about mental health and emotional wellbeing – something I fear leaves them more confused than empowered. How will young children be able to tell the difference between normal sadness, or if they have this thing their teacher told them about – depression?

Furthermore, children are learning about climate change, with no consideration for how scary some of this information is. So in depth is their knowledge, apparently, that a group of eight to 12-year-olds were recently sent to Downing Street for the “Children’s Climate Conference”, where they grilled Boris Johnson on his policies. 

It’s hard to believe that we have a Conservative government while this PSHE-ification phenomenon intensifies. We seem to talk more about these matters than traditional parts of education, and it’s become the default for the state, teachers and organisations – essentially anyone other than parents – to take ownership of personal development.

At the risk of sounding like Mary Whitehouse, I should point out that I’m not against PSHE lessons, per se; for some children, sex education is vital in homes where parents don’t want to talk about it. But it’s the extent to which PSHE now dominates education, the scope of what it covers and its lack of political neutrality – especially in the case of climate change – that is troublesome.

The PSHE-fication of our society goes further than schools, though; it now seems that in almost every area of our lives we are offered some sort of pastoral care. As Andrew Gimson recently wrote for ConservativeHome, one of the areas the nation is most bossed around over is climate change.

And, indeed, with the advent of COP26, I have been amazed at the amount of moral guidance I have received by way of adverts. My Twitter feed has had many from eco conscious companies, telling us all to do more. Eastenders and other TV shows have even embedded environmental lessons into their storylines. Industries seem to have forgotten their primary functions – to sell, entertain, and the rest, appointing themselves the teacher at school to our childhood selves.

Sadly the public does not seem resistant to this occurrence. The pandemic, in fact, reinforced people’s urge to be parented, from whether they should wear a face mask to the politics of eating a scotch egg in a pub. The apocalyptic warnings from COP26, where attendees can only wash their hands in cold water (for sustainability purposes), hint at how the state – and others – could next direct our lives.

Either way, we are heading in the wrong direction. That Girlguiding now opines on asexuality should be a wake up as to what is now prioritised in education. It’s time to let kids be kids, and for the adults to grow up.

Andrew Mitchell and Douglas Alexander: It’s time to ‘crack the crises’ on Covid, injustice and climate change at this year’s G7

1 Feb

Andrew Mitchell MP and Douglas Alexander are both former development secretaries (Mitchell: 2010-12, in David Cameron’s cabinet. Alexander: 2007-10, in Gordon Brown’s).

When President Biden comes to Britain it’s up to the Prime Minister to make sure he sees a country he can do business with. As the new president told the world in his inauguration address: any one of the “cascading crises” that the world now faces “would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact that we face them all at once, presents this nation with the gravest of responsibilities.”

Yet we cannot, and should not, expect America to save the world. As the 2021 President of the G7, Boris Johnson will have to do more, in the words of a new campaign launching today, to “crack the crises” and bring all the other countries behind a shared plan to tackle Covid, injustice and climate change.

Without global leadership, the G7 has been paralysed since 2018. With Donald Trump signing up to a communique at the end of the Vancouver summit only to trash the agreement on Twitter on the flight back to Washington, the writing was on the wall. The following G7 summit in Biarritz didn’t even have a communique for leaders to sign up to, and the one due in Camp David was cancelled by the host: Trump.

So when Biden comes to Britain, and the eyes of the world alight on Carbis Bay in Cornwall in June, the stakes could not be higher. With half of the economies of the world in recession and the IMF describing the economic impact of Covid as the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, global growth this year will inevitably be driven by China and India. We need both to kick-start the global economy in the same way the G20 London Summit did in 2009 and tackle global poverty as the UK did by meeting the UN’s 0.7 per cent aid commitment at the G7 summit in Lough Erne in 2013.

With the World Bank predicting that 150 million people have been pushed back into poverty since the start of the crisis and will be living on less than £1.50 per day, now is not the time to cut aid and turn our backs to the world. The secondary impacts of Covid are hitting the poorest hardest, both at home and abroad. The role of leadership is to put first those who have fallen furthest behind.

It isn’t hard to see what is driving this new spirit of solidarity. From applauding NHS frontline workers while rejecting anti-vax disinformation and vaccine nationalism, to standing for racial justice and demanding a just transition to net zero, we have all had a year where we have had to act local but also think global. For this was the year that Britain answered the call of a 23-year-old footballer and a 100-year-old veteran. Amid the tragedy and the horror, of both the pandemic and the recession, Britain has found a new hope.

This new hope has brought together organisations representing more than 10 million people across the UK, uniting to demand concerted action on Covid, climate change and help for struggling communities at home and abroad. The new coalition, “Crack the Crises”, is calling on the UK government to demonstrate leadership on the global stage. The coalition unites nature, development, climate change and UK social justice groups with a shared strategy: urging a just and green recovery. Members range from 100-year-old global organisations to local start-ups.

Of the crises which Biden listed in his inaugural address, the one we have the most optimism about is “America’s role in the world.” The others: “a raging virus. Growing inequality. The sting of systemic racism. A climate in crisis,” will require a global response. His call to the citizens of his own country is a rallying call to the citizens of every country: “Will we rise to this occasion? Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world for our children?”

The answer starts in Carbis Bay, in Cornwall, England. But it also has to run through the COP climate summit, in Glasgow, Scotland. The eyes of the world are on the United Kingdom and the only way to Crack the Crises is with a unity of purpose which we must rediscover again.