Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by PSHE Association (MB 23)

Background and Overview

1. The PSHE Association is an independent charity . It is the national subject association for personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) educat ors in England , with a network of over 5 ,000 teachers and other professionals working in academies, faith schools, independent schools and maintained schools across the country . Sex and relationships education (SRE) forms part of the PSHE education curriculum and we therefore welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Marriage (Same–Sex Couples) Bill Committee.

2. We believe that trained PSHE teachers, who have for many years been dealing with a wide range of issues which are considered by some to be sensitive and contentious will be able to deal with this new legislation as they would with any other such issue: by providing balanced, factual information with lessons which take into account pupils’ beliefs and personal development as well as their family backgrounds (see paragraphs 5-10 below).

3. Schools already deal with a number of issues specifically relating to same-sex relationships and religious tolerance, and have been addressing civil partnerships for almost ten years. We do not believe that new guidance on same-sex marriage legislation will be needed if we are correct in our understanding that references to marriage under previous guidance on SRE and PSHE education will be broadened by this legislation to include same-sex marriages (see paragraphs 11-17 below).

4. We would welcome the Committee’s acknowledgment of the challenges of PSHE education and the crucial role it plays in pupil development, and would ask for the committee’s support in equipping schools to provide high-quality PSHE education for all pupils (see paragraphs 18 and 19 below).

Best practice in PSHE education, including SRE

5. PSHE education is broad-ranging and often requires schools to deal with issues which some people may consider to be sensitive or contentious. Whether in relation to SRE or any other element of the PSHE curriculum, we believe that schools should ensure that pupils are presented with balanced factual information from authoritative sources in a way which is sensitive to pupils’ personal development, family structures and religious and cultural backgrounds.

6. We promote an approach to PSHE teaching which is age-appropriate and based on each school’s unique circumstances, developed in partnership with parents, governors and staff. This type of partnership is particularly important in SRE because a maintained school’s SRE policy is determined by the governing body and Head Teacher. The same requirement is not made of Academies but we believe that in practice academy governors have a similar level of involvement in their school’s SRE policy. It is worth noting that governors will include community leaders and parents who are well placed to develop a policy which fits the school’s unique circumstances but schools may also consult with other parents to develop policies which reflect their views.

7. When we help schools to develop their PSHE and SRE policies, we promote an approach in which teachers create a safe and supportive learning environment where pupils can develop the confidence to ask questions, challenge the information they are offered and contribute their own views. We believe that this creates an ethos of mutual tolerance so that pupils learn to challenge each other’s viewpoints without judging each other. This provides pupils with the opportunity to explore and clarify their own values and beliefs.

8. We also seek to help schools to create an environment in which diversity is celebrated and where pupils are not discriminated against or bullied because of their religious or cultural background and family structure, or their own sexual orientation or religious beliefs. High-quality PSHE education ‘starts from where children are’. Good practice requires that teachers investigate through questioning the prior learning, beliefs and values pupils bring to any issue explored in the classroom. It is this process that helps teachers tailor their PSHE programme to their pupils’ specific needs and readiness to learn.

9. In that context, we promote an approach where teachers distance their own personal beliefs on any given issue from their teaching in the classroom. This is particularly important when teaching SRE when teachers are responsible for following the school governors’ policy. More generally, we believe that teachers are in a very powerful position in the classroom and their role should be to teach the facts (including the law), to facilitate discussion and enquiry and to help to equip pupils with the skills and attributes they need to make up their own mind on an issue. It is important to stress that enabling pupils to make up their own minds should not extend to accepting bullying or discrimination. Lessons should be based on ‘ground rules’ of equality, tolerance and mutual respect and teachers should model such behaviour.

10. We believe that the good practice approach set out above should extend to the external contributors schools often use to support teachers on specific elements of the PSHE curriculum. We are also exploring ways to support more rigorous quality assurance of providers going into schools and support for teachers in ensuring that external contributors provide balanced and factually-accurate input (see paragraph 18 below).

Implications of same-sex marriage legislation for teachers

11. Given the best practice set out above, we encourage PSHE teachers to provide factual information to pupils about marriage (including, if the legislation the committee is considering is passed, same-sex marriage) and give them the tools they need to make up their own minds about it. In doing so, we advise them to be sensitive: the last thing anyone in the profession wants to do is to upset a child or open them up to bullying by being insensitive either to their family background and cultural upbringing, or to their own beliefs or sexual orientation. Recent reports from Ofsted suggest that such bullying remains a serious concern and one we seek to address through PSHE education.

12. It is worth noting that schools and PSHE teachers have already been addressing same-sex relationships for many years, including civil partnerships since legislation was passed in 2004. The teacher’s job in that context is to help pupils to understand the law of the land, but also to understand that in a democracy people hold different views on different laws. Teachers should provide a rich programme of learning to enable pupils to make up their own minds in the climate of tolerance outlined above. In our view, exactly the same approach should hold if the legislation the committee is considering is passed.

13. In the large majority of cases, PSHE teachers recognise the need to provid e balanced, factual information and have great expertise in addressing issues which may be considered by some to be sensitive or contentious in a balanced way . However, PSHE is a subject often taught by non-specialist s and d ealing with such issues – not just in relation to SRE but across the whole PSHE curriculum – can be challenging for them. W e believe that they require more support to do so effective ly (see paragraph 18 below) but would emphasise our view that this particular legislation would not pose any significant additional challenges for teachers .

Definition of marriage in previous guidance and legislation

14. The PSHE Association believes that this issue can be dealt with sensitively and appropriately by PSHE teachers and external organisations using the best practice techniques set out above. We believe that these approaches would be underpinned by existing legislation and guidance, including:

i. The 2000 Learning and Skills Act amendment of the 1996 Education Act under which maintained schools must have an SRE policy through which pupils learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children, and under which schools must have regard to Department for Education’s SRE guidance.

ii. Academy funding agreements which state that they must "have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State on sex and relationships education to ensure that children are protected from inappropriate teaching materials and they learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children".

iii. The current Department for Education SRE guidance (2000) referred to under points (i) and (ii) above states that in SRE classes, "pupils should be taught about the nature and importance of marriage for family life and bringing up children … but the Government recognises ... that there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage. Therefore pupils should learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society. Care needs to be taken to ensure that there is no stigmatisation of children based on their home circumstances."

iv. It also notes: "[SRE] is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity – this would be inappropriate teaching."

15. We believe that this legislation and guidance will provide the underpinning framework teachers need to address same-sex marriage should the legislation this committee is considering be passed. We do not believe that new guidance will need to be issued if the references to ‘marriage’ quoted above are broadened to include same-sex marriage.

Implications for faith schools and teachers with strong religious convictions

16. We believe that under existing guidance, faith schools and teachers with strong religious convictions should be able to address this new legislation without any significant additional challenges. Below, we quote at length from the DfE’s guidance on the Equalities Act 2010:

3.28 Schools with a religious character, like all schools, have a responsibility for the welfare of the children in their care and to adhere to curriculum guidance. It is not the intention of the Equality Act to undermine their position as long as they continue to uphold their responsibilities in these areas. If their beliefs are explained in an appropriate way in an educational context that takes into account existing guidance on the delivery of SRE and Religious Education (RE), then schools should not be acting unlawfully.

3.29 However, if a school conveyed its belief in a way that involved haranguing, harassing or berating a particular pupil or group of pupils then this would be unacceptable in any circumstances and is likely to constitute unlawful discrimination.

3.30 Where individual teachers are concerned, having a view about something does not amount to discrimination. So it should not be unlawful for a teacher in any school to express personal views on sexual orientation provided that it is done in an appropriate manner and context (for example when responding to questions from pupils, or in an RE or PSHE lesson). However, it should be remembered that school teachers are in a very influential position and their actions and responsibilities are bound by much wider duties than this legislation. A teacher’s ability to express his or her views should not extend to allowing them to discriminate against others.

17. We believe this guidance provides a clear framework for schools and teachers to work under. Its key principles are also reflected in the Department for Education’s teaching standards, which set out minimum expectations of all teachers. We would only add that we believe it to be best practice (as set out under paragraph 9 above) for teachers not to disclose their personal views on a given issue to children. We would emphasise that we do not believe that giving such views should be unlawful but would also emphasise the influential position teachers have in the classroom and the risks of them giving their personal views set out under paragraphs 9 and 11 above.

Broader support for teachers and schools on PSHE education including SRE

18. We hope that this submission emphasises the importance of high-quality PSHE education, including high-quality SRE, for all pupils. We have long called for a statutory entitlement to PSHE education for every school pupil but there are many important steps that must also be taken in order to ensure children and young people receive the support they need. These include:

i. Greater emphasis on PSHE education in initial teacher training and in qualification programmes for head teachers;

ii. Greater recognition in the Ofsted inspection framework of the critical role PSHE can play in wider school outcomes;

iii. A national quality-assurance programme for providers of PSHE resources and training,   acknowledging that current provision is patchy;

iv. Greater support for PSHE teachers and a national campaign aimed at governors and school leaders to build PSHE into a whole-school approach to improvement and pupil wellbeing.

19. We believe that these steps forward would ensure that all children have access to the best practice PSHE education approaches that we outlined above.

Concluding comments

20. Our teachers do their jobs in one of the most diverse countries in the world. In their classes, they may have pupils from a wide variety of cultures and with a wide variety of faiths. They and their families may hold strong views about issues such as marriage and sexual orientation. Classes will also include pupils with a range of sexual orientations and children growing up with parents or other family members in same-sex relationships. They may hold equally strong views on such issues. Other pupils may hold less strong opinions and require support to explore the range of views on such issues.

21. Schools already have the legal framework in place for teaching children and young people about marriage which will now need to include same sex marriage. There is no need for new specific guidance or legislation regarding the teaching of same-sex marriage in schools. Existing equality legislation and guidance addresses concerns about potential discrimination by those who hold strong views on this issue.

22. Additional support for PSHE education in general would be the best way to ensure that a rich and non-stigmatising experience is the reality for all pupils. Teachers – and in particular non-specialists – need to be trained to enable them to provide well balanced and correct information, to support students to develop the emotional and social skills to keep safe, maintain health and well being, manage their lives now and in the future.

23. The PSHE Association believes that whilst some schools provide this kind of high quality provision, others do not. Not every child will receive such provision until PSHE is made statutory and the complementary measures outlined under paragraph 18 above are put in place.

February 2013

Prepared 20th February 2013