Booking a PSHE speaker? Read this first…

When used appropriately, external visitors can be an excellent support or enhancement to PSHE. But how can you be sure their input is safe, effective and relevant? Anne Bell advises in SecEd.

When used well, visitors can add interest and expertise to enhance your planned PSHE education curriculum. Outside agencies often have specialised knowledge, resources and personnel capacity which schools may otherwise lack. They are also a great way to introduce young people to important sources of support and encourage them to access that support if needs be.

But sometimes visitors don’t live up to expectations, or, however well-intentioned, may even contribute in ways that feel unsafe, or inadvertently have a counterproductive effect. It is therefore important to be selective about visitors and prepare effectively for their input. Below are some keys to safe and effective visitor input.

Avoid shock, fear and guilt

Of course we want our visitors or speakers to be engaging and make an impact, but sessions that are shocking, designed to create a feeling of guilt, or highly emotional – perhaps due to personal lived experiences – are likely to have the opposite effect to that which was intended (Jones et al 2014 and McWhirter 2009). 

Trauma specialists highlight the risks of retraumatising people by sharing experiences which too closely mirror their own. This could force young people to relive difficult experiences – which could range from FGM, to involvement in a road accident, to witnessing domestic violence – in an environment where it is difficult for them to disengage. 

Avoid teaching or inspiring risky behaviours

Visitors also carry the potential to teach or inspire the exact behaviour their session is intended to warn against, by giving too many or inappropriate details, or by unintentionally glamorising their experiences.

For example, research undertaken by Dr Pooky Knightsmith (SecEd author and vice-chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition) found that a workshop on self-harm had had clear negative outcomes for some young people, with one young person saying that the facilitator “was really good, but she did give you ideas”.

Another young person said: “So I’d been self-harming for ages and had been on all the forums so there was nothing she could teach me about it, but I seriously had to control myself not to stand up and scream at her. It was like some kind of twisted ‘how to self-harm workshop’ and seeing as she worked so hard to ‘break the stigma’ and make us realise it was okay to self-harm, loads of kids tried it after that. A couple carried on for ages too.”

Read the full article Booking a PSHE speaker? Read this first…

Have you had PSHE speakers at your school? Did  it help the pupils engage with the subject? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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