Lucy Marcovitch shows how progression and achievement in PSHE can be recognised, demonstrated and celebrated at all key stages

Assessment in PSHE has long been neglected. The QCA has found that many schools do not assess the subject at all, even where they have an established scheme of work. In other schools, assessment of PSHE is not rigorous or meaningful. Often there are no clear outcomes or objectives and schools fail to provide useful feedback to pupils for further progression. However, assessment makes an essential contribution to raising standards in the subject, and pupils are entitled to considered feedback in a subject that offers ‘the guidelines and rules of how to survive in the real world’ (a KS3 pupil’s definition of PSHE).

Assessment moves up the agenda

Assessing PSHE is not about testing or level-setting. Nor is it about judging the value or worth of an individual or their family life. The belief that somehow learning in PSHE ‘can’t’ be assessed is unfounded – if a skill or knowledge can be demonstrated and measured, then it can be assessed to show where a pupil is on a continuum of progress. You cannot ‘fail’ when you are on a continuum.
Assessment of all subjects and areas of learning is important because:

  • setting clear personal assessment objectives establishes clear expectations for standards and achievement
  • assessing work means that pupils and teachers (and parents) can be clear about a pupil’s strengths and where they need to improve
  • it enables teachers to reflect on their own teaching.

In addition, assessment in PSHE:

  • offers opportunities for schools to check and demonstrate how they contribute to the personal development of their pupils, and how schools meet the five outcomes of Every Child Matters
  • will show that pupils are learning and developing skills that can help them to succeed in other areas of the curriculum
  • demonstrates that PSHE makes a difference to pupils as individuals and to the school as a community. If a school gives curriculum time to an area of learning, it should be able to demonstrate the impact that this has.

Finding a common language

One of the difficulties for teachers is that up until now there has been no government advice or guidance on how to assess PSHE, and no criteria by which to do so. Many schools have developed their own level descriptors, progression statements or other ways to record and report progress in PSHE, but have not had a national benchmark against which to do so.

The issue centres around feedback – providing a shared, accessible language about progression and learning, so that everyone involved in the process has control of it. Pupils and teachers alike should be clear about what is expected of them and why. Within any area of learning, pupils have a right to know whether and how they are making progress, and where they can take their learning next.

Teachers, parents and others have a right to ask for evidence of progression. This is not about grading a piece of work and filing it away, but sharing what has been discovered. To address these issues, we need a common language.

Setting a national standard

In December 2005, QCA published end-of-key stage statements for PSHE. These non-statutory statements outline the skills and knowledge that pupils might be expected to have at the end of each key stage. QCA is encouraging schools to use the statements, or adapt them to meet specific needs, in order to plan and assess the subject. They provide an important step towards setting a national standard and increasing overall standards of delivery and learning in the subject.

QCA has also published a handbook of advice and guidance on how to assess PSHE, and some of the issues that might arise. There are examples of pupil work on the new PSHE pages of National Curriculum in Action. These demonstrate pupils’ work at key stages 1-3 and offer commentaries on assessment. In addition, there are new units of work covering the areas of SRE, healthy lifestyles and financial capability, with suggested activities for delivering those aspects of the framework and assessment opportunities.

Evidence of assessment can and should take a variety of forms, to ensure that every pupil of every ability has occasion to demonstrate their learning and understanding in different ways.

A well-planned programme of work should contain a variety of approaches that allow a wide range of opportunities for pupils to gain feedback and for teachers and pupils to reflect on their learning in different ways. These could include observation, role-plays, circle time, video and interviews. Assessment is not about death by worksheet.

It is also crucial for teachers and pupils to be clear about the learning objectives and criteria for assessing a piece of PSHE work – a beautifully-presented, well-spelt, grammatically-correct exercise may demonstrate a high level of literacy, but how does the content meet the stated PSHE requirements?

A piece of work should only be assessed against the agreed criteria and assessment objectives that belong to other areas should not be allowed to creep in.

Celebrating progress and achievement

Assessing PSHE is about feeding back, about celebrating progress and achievement and about raising standards in a key area of learning for personal development. To do this successfully, we need a language that all can access and use in the form of end-of-key stage statements. We do young people a disservice if we do not formally recognise and feed back how they are developing as human beings, both personally and socially, and how we are helping them prepare for adulthood. Assessment in PSHE offers a real opportunity to do this, as well as celebrating learners and learning in a way that has been too long ignored.

All guidance referred to in the article can be found on the QCA website at
National Curriculum in Action is at

Lucy Marcovitch is PSHE subject adviser, Humanities and Inclusion group, at the QCA