Connecting Citizenship, PSHE, life skills and employability

Persona Education blog - Citizenship, Personal Development, PSHE, Life Skills

Helen Blachford citizenship education interview Part 2 – In May 2023, Persona Education’s Chief Product Officer Dr Leila Khouja Walker interviewed Helen Blachford, Director of Personal Development at Bohunt Education Trust in southern England, and Leader of PSCHE at Priory School, one of the Trust member schools. Helen is also Chair of Council and a Teaching Ambassador for the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT).



By Dr Leila Khouja Walker, Chief Product Officer & Co-founder

This is the second of a two-part UK secondary school group case study blog about a universal approach to Citizenship and student Personal Development at Bohunt Education Trust. Read Part 1 here


About Helen and the Bohunt Education Trust

Leila: Thank you for agreeing to the interview! First off, please can you tell me a little about yourself?

Helen Blachford photo

Image: Helen Blachford

Helen: I've been involved in Citizenship teaching probably from the outset in various forms before it became statutory. I'm now Director of Personal Development across the Bohunt Education Trust [BET], a high achieving multi-academy trust.

BET is a family of eight secondary schools. I work across those trying to support them and ensuring we’ve got the highest quality offer in terms of Personal Development across all of our schools so that it shouldn’t matter which school you go to, you get that fantastic and high quality education around Personal Development.


Ensuring quality Citizenship and PSHE teaching 

Leila: Citizenship and PSHE teachers are often non-specialists. How do you ensure teaching quality regardless of the teacher’s specialist subject?

Bohunt teacher and students

Image: Bohunt Education Trust

Helen: We have a real mix of teachers teaching Citizenship. Ideally it would be specialists but I don’t have that luxury and quite often I’ll be honest, it’s people who are slightly under on timetable. However I think because of the curriculum, the resourcing and also the time I’m given to work with and train those teachers, actually they understand the importance of it.

I deliver some Zoom sessions at the beginning of the year, and that’s determined by an audit of subject knowledge. This shows me the kind of areas where they would like some training, for example financial education or media literacy. 

I also record little 10 minute video recordings of subject knowledge and then provide them with a Google form where I can gauge whether they have actually understood the key messages. If it’s something like pedagogy I would probably prefer to do that face-to-face. I’ll obviously observe lessons with the curriculum leaders in each school as part of my role, so we identify particular needs.


The role of Citizenship in developing life skills 

Leila: What are the most important aspects in terms of preparing students for real life? 

Bohunt student

Image: Bohunt Education Trust

Helen: I think probably I’d start with skills. Skills that they can use throughout their life. I want them to be able to make informed decisions in whatever they choose to do and whatever context. 

What’s really important for me is to be able to give them the skills of evaluation, critical thinking and analysis. Those skills that we use in Citizenship that also underpin everything that they’re going to do in life. If we can give them those sorts of skills then it doesn’t matter what sort of situation comes along.

Another thing about Citizenship is giving those students a voice. I think it’s so important for our young people to know not only that they have a voice, but that their voice is valued. So one of the things I’m working on with all of our schools is improving student voice, so that our students have a say in their curriculum and they have a say in the topics that are chosen. 

For example, after the murder of Sarah Everard [students] said we weren’t doing enough around sexual harassment and misogyny, and – quite right – they called us out. It’s not about being tokenistic, it is about working with them and listening to them so that they realise that their voice does have some power. 

For me this underpins them going on to take an active role in society and to be those future voters, to be those future people who are going to bring about that change in society for the better and feel empowered to do that. I think for me that is at the heart of Personal Development. 

Alongside, they are developing the skill of resilience. You’re not always going to bring about the change you want but actually not giving up, if it’s something that you’re passionate about, and finding a different way perhaps, or a different person to approach, or be willing to listen to others well – I think those are skills that really matter. 


PSHE and Citizenship 

Leila: What role do you see for PSHE alongside Citizenship, and the relationship between them?

Bohunt students and Nelson Mandela

Image: Bohunt Education Trust

Helen: I’ve been in PSHE and Citizenship as long as I can remember, so I also understand the importance that PSHE plays alongside Citizenship. Of course, PSHE is more about the individual. 

So if I was looking at a topic like drugs for example, the PSHE side is about how it’s going to affect me and the impact of that. Whereas, in Citizenship, I’m going to be looking at the law and how we might want to change it, or maybe sentencing around the use of drugs. 

So it’s that bigger picture for Citizenship for me. Yes there are overlaps, but they’re very different subjects and I think sometimes that causes us issues and misunderstandings. Potentially that’s why these subjects and timetabling are siloed or add-ons in other schools.


Final words: Celebrate what you do

Leila: Do you have any final words of advice for other teachers and schools?

Bohunt A level students

Image: Bohunt Education Trust

Helen: I always say to anybody who’s asked around how they prepare for Personal Development with Ofsted, is to celebrate everything that you do. I had two one hour meetings: One was focused on curriculum and the other area was the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural [SMSC] curriculum.

You all will be doing amazing things that actually contribute to that whole judgement of Personal Development. I don’t think it’s anything to be scared of. However you do have to audit at the beginning of the year: Where are all the strengths and weaknesses? Where do we need to improve? What things are we missing? Make sure we’re compliant. 

Also make sure that our students are getting everything they should be getting, and if they’re not, well what are we going to do about that? Use audits so that you can talk to this data and have the story ready to tell them [Ofsted] about what you’re doing, and how you develop your students further.



If you enjoyed this article you might also like:

Part 1 of the blog: How a universal Citizenship Education approach resulted in an 'Outstanding' Ofsted Personal Development rating

White paper: Guide to student personal development in secondary schools and colleges

School communities – Relationships and the classroom


Persona Education offers free access to its Persona Life Skills online learning platform for secondary schools and colleges interested in developing their pupils’ social-emotional life skills, to boost wellbeing and employability. 

About the author: Dr Leila Khouja Walker has been working in the education sector for 25 years. An ex-teacher and pastoral deputy head, she is now a respected edtech and pedagogy thought leader, leading development of the personality insights life skills online learning platform Persona Life Skills, at the Bristol based edtech company Persona Education Ltd.

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