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House of Commons

Monday 17 November 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Children, Schools and Families

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sex and Relationships Education

1. Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of school teaching on sex and relationships. [235753]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): The review of sex and relationships education has now been completed and the Government response to the review group's report was published on 23 October. The response includes a range of measures to raise the quality of SRE in schools, including our decision to make personal, social and health education statutory. It also includes action to address the key delivery challenges, the most significant of which is to improve the skills and confidence of those who deliver SRE.

Dr. Pugh: I thank the Minister for that answer. This is a complex and important matter, on which the evidence is quite mixed. Does he share my view, based on some experiences, that many modern schools are more comfortable teaching about biology and the plumbing and, rightly or wrongly, experience more difficulty in teaching about relationships? What can be done practically to prevent lop-sided education from being given to children?

Jim Knight: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that young people are taught about sex within a moral framework and within one that teaches about relationships. That is one reason why I was persuaded by the arguments of the review group that we should make PSHE statutory. In primary schools, the focus should particularly be on relationships and their importance so that there is a proper setting for going on to talk about the sensitive matters around sex.

Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a place in sex and relationships education for teaching about sexually transmitted diseases, particularly for ensuring that young people get a realistic and accurate appraisal of HIV/AIDS and its consequences?

Jim Knight: My hon. Friend is right that the subject of sexually transmitted diseases should be covered as part of sex and relationships education, on an age-appropriate basis, which currently means from secondary school age. It is compulsory for young people to learn about HIV/AIDS, and I am sure that that will continue to be the case.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Minister not accept that many parents—and, indeed, grandparents—of primary school children are extremely concerned that this should become statutory? They believe that the right place for children to be taught these things is in the home—and, in some cases, a church—and they do not want the mechanics of sex taught at a very early age and to see the further destruction of childhood innocence.

Jim Knight: I have always made it clear—I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to make it clear again—that we are not proposing that five, six and seven-year-olds should be taught the mechanics
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of sex. We are suggesting that they should be taught about relationships, as I mentioned in response to the question of the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh).

The hon. Gentleman is right that parents should be involved with the school in making decisions about what should be taught and when. It is very important that parents are properly engaged and that much of this education takes place at home, but we have to take account of the fact that on some occasions some children are not taught these things at home, so we need to able to fill in for that absence, in school.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): As well as dealing in school with sexual relationships, we need to look at general and social relationships with adults. Has the Minister had the chance to look at the details of the Barnardo’s survey of 2,021 people, which shows that 54 per cent. of adults believe that children are starting to behave like animals and that 45 per cent. believe that children merit the adjective “feral”? Unless the survey was drawn entirely from the Daily Mail readership, can the Minister think of any other reason for such a distorted view of young people in this country?

Jim Knight: I am aware of that report and the reporting of it in the media today, but I have not had a chance to study it in full because of preparation for consideration of Lords amendments later today. I share the concern that I think was expressed by Martin Narey, the chief executive of Barnardo’s. In my experience—there is considerable evidence to prove it—the vast majority of young people are responsible: they are more likely than any other age group, for example, to volunteer in our communities. We should do everything that we can to ensure that we provide positive images of young people to counteract the stereotype that sometimes comes across from certain parts of the media.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Does the Minister not accept that the more sex education we seem to have had, the more unwanted and teenage pregnancies we seem to have had, and that more sex education is not the answer and that perhaps less or even no sex education might be better? Moral upbringing should be the responsibility of parents, not teachers, and if we really want to tackle this problem it would be much better to look at the benefits and housing allocation systems than throw in more sex education for pupils in schools.

Jim Knight: I am pleased to note from the expressions on the faces opposite that the hon. Gentleman’s comments do not reflect the opinion of his party’s Front Bench.

All the international evidence that we examined suggests that the opposite is the case. The number of unwanted teenage pregnancies fell by 12.9 per cent. in this country between 1998 and 2006, but it is still too high in comparison with the numbers in other western European countries. In European countries that create, through schooling, an environment that makes people happier and more confident about discussing sex and relationships at home, we see the rates of unwanted teenage pregnancies fall.

Sports and Arts Participation

2. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): What progress has been made towards implementing the Government's strategy to increase school sports and arts participation; and if he will make a statement. [235754]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Sarah McCarthy-Fry): Since the introduction of the national strategy for physical education and sport, the percentage of pupils engaging in two hours of high-quality PE and sport each week has risen from an estimated 25 per cent. in 2002 to 90 per cent. in 2008. We are investing £332 million to 2011 specifically to increase music participation. Building on that, the Find Your Talent programme will trial ways of providing five hours of arts and cultural experiences in and out of school.

Judy Mallaber: Amber Valley has an outstanding sports development and leadership programme, including holiday programmes working with schools and even a mini-Olympics. The arts officers also do excellent innovative work with schools. Will my hon. Friend ask Amber Valley council to think again about whether it can possibly meet the sport and arts participation targets if it persists in its current plans for everyone in sport, arts and health development posts to be made redundant?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I know that my hon. Friend is an ardent advocate of the good work being done in her constituency, particularly on sports development, sports leadership and arts and cultural events. It is of course for a local authority to decide how to allocate its budget, but I hope that that local authority will find ways of meeting the national targets that it is expected to meet, using the posts designed to meet them within its budget.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Facilities—as well as excellent teaching, of course—are crucial to delivering the targets. St. Tudy school in my constituency has been given a grant to fund a new school building, but it now faces a shortfall. Were it able to complete the project, it would have a proper school hall and outside facilities for the first time. Will the Minister or one of her colleagues agree to meet me to discuss how the funding shortfall might be overcome?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I am pleased that there is to be a new school in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. It is important for new schools to have a broad range of facilities, but it is for local authorities to use the funds at their disposal to meet the national strategies that we have established and to deliver our requirement for school sports.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Wright Robinson specialist college, a sport and arts college in my constituency where a £47 million project was opened two months ago by the Prime Minister, on its fantastic achievement as most improved school of the year? Will she also note the wonderful artwork at Acacias community primary school, also in my constituency, which was shown when the school celebrated its centenary earlier this month? We have seen wonderful demonstrations of the talent and innovativeness of children throughout the country, but especially in my constituency.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the good work being done in his constituency. It demonstrates that both sport and arts can play their part in developing a rounded education for young people
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and giving them different activities in which to participate, especially at specialist sports colleges. Ten per cent. of secondary schools are now specialist sports colleges. We recognise that sport is an excellent way of involving young people involved in education, and we expect the Olympics to enthuse even more of them.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Dance involves both physical activity and artistic benefits. What will the Minister do to make dance opportunities more widely available in our schools?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: We intend to enable specialist dance colleges to work with other schools. I agree with the hon. Lady that dance is an excellent way of involving young people. One of the main problems with sport in schools is getting girls involved, and dance is an excellent way of getting them involved when they may not feel quite so keen on other forms of physical activity.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): In my constituency, there has been a massive increase in sporting facilities in schools over the past 10 years. Participation is important and any increase is to be welcomed, but what is the Department doing to make sure we have more competitive sport, as competitiveness in schools is very important in improving our chances of success later on in various sports?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I assure my hon. Friend that we are encouraging competitive sport in schools. We have a national network of 225 competition managers working in partnership with schools, alongside national school sport week and, of course, our UK school games.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I noted the Minister’s original response, but is she not concerned that participation in sport among older children and teenagers is particularly low? Only 67 per cent. of pupils in year 10 and 63 per cent. in year 11 participate in the two hours of physical activity each week. What more can be done to encourage them to participate more?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: It is important to recognise that there is a huge increase in the number of young people of all ages doing sport compared with six years ago when we first started this programme. There is a particular issue with pupils at key stage 4, and there is pressure on the curriculum, particularly when pupils are doing their GCSEs. We should note, however, that, overall, participation has risen among those pupils and that they have also achieved better GCSE results —so these aims are not actually in competition with each other.

Youth Crime Action Plan

4. Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Which local authorities are to receive additional funding through the youth crime action plan. [235758]

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): The youth crime action plan sets out the Government’s triple-track approach of tough enforcement, non-negotiable support and early intervention.
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We have committed £100 million to implement the plan, starting in 69 local authorities and, by 2010, all local authorities will have received a share of the additional funding.

Natascha Engel: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but can he reassure me that as much is being done to promote positive images of young people as to deal with youth crime, particularly in the light of the Barnardo’s report published today, which revealed that an alarming number of adults described young people and children as “feral” animals, with some even suggesting that teenagers should be shot?

Ed Balls: My hon. Friend has been a great campaigner for youth services and a positive view of young people. We must remember that it is often young people who are the victims of crime. It is important that a small minority are not allowed to ruin things for the vast majority of our young people, who are not only law abiding but wonderful examples of volunteering, working hard and doing best by their communities. It is important that we celebrate young people, but we must not let the minority ruin it for everybody else.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I understand from the Government’s press release that they selected the first tranche of 69 local authorities to be funded by using

May I give the Secretary of State some data? In the last year, seven young people have died in the borough of Enfield from knife crime. Is that not a sufficient number of wasted lives for it to be considered a priority for funding?

Ed Balls: As I said, every local authority will be receiving funding over the next three years, but we have started the funding in those areas where levels of crime, truancy and deprivation were highest. We will make sure that this happens in every part of country, because no community should be blighted by youth crime or the kind of terrible issues that the hon. Gentleman raised. It is important that in every part of the country we focus on preventing crime through the kind of early intervention set out in the children’s plan; that matters in Enfield as in every part of the country.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I strongly welcome the emphasis on early intervention as part of an anti-crime initiative, as well as positive activities for young people, but may I ask the Secretary of State to ensure that we have long-term research to find out just how powerful the impact of early intervention is? The High/Scope Perry project in America did not reveal how effective it was until about 30 years after the early-years intervention, when it could show that those young people were less likely to end up in prison and were more likely to go to university than their peers.

Ed Balls: It is vital that we have such evidence, but we already know that children with a special educational need, and those in care or with a parent or sibling who has spent some time in prison, are much more likely themselves to end up getting into trouble with the law. Given that we know that, we should be intervening
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early to make sure those children get extra support, starting in primary school. That is the right way to support them and their families, and to keep young people and our children on the right track.


5. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): What guidance his Department plans to issue to children’s trusts on the provision of an all-round regime of support for young people with autism up to the age of 16 years. [235759]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Sarah McCarthy-Fry): The Department is planning to issue revised statutory guidance to children’s trusts in November. The guidance is intended to explain what a children’s trust is and what it needs to do to improve outcomes for all children. Children’s trusts also have available to them the autism exemplar that we published in 2004 under the national service framework, which shows how multi-agency support should be provided to meet these children’s needs.

Mr. Marsden: I thank the Minister for that answer. Her Department has supported the Autism Education Trust, which has just published a major report on the joint experience of families and schools in this area. The Department has done a great deal to support education and training in respect of autism, but will she carefully examine that report to see what more can be done to strengthen support on the social service side of children’s trusts, as well as the educational side?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I commend my hon. Friend’s work in the field of autism. I have seen many examples of it, and I know that he works very hard in his constituency. I am also aware of Blackpool’s good reputation; it is represented on our autism working group and provides a good example of work as part of a multi-agency approach. We will certainly keep in touch to see whether lessons can be learned from that. I emphasise that the multi-agency approach, which includes all people who are involved with children with autism, is part of the principle of children’s trusts. As I said, they are not just for children with autism, but for all children.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): It is too easy to forget the contribution that parents of children with autism make, and I cannot speak highly enough of the parents who set up the Spectrum club in Newbury. However, it runs only up to the age of 15 for children with autism, and it is trying to work with West Berkshire council to extend provision to cover the crucial years between 15 and 18. I would be grateful to know what the Minister can do to encourage provision in this key area, so that these children can continue to improve so dramatically that they can go on to achieve at university and beyond.

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