Children and Social Work Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by the Terrence Higgins Trust (CSWB 07)

Terrence Higgins Trust is the UK’s largest HIV and sexual health charity, with over 30 service centres across England, Scotland and Wales. We are a campaigning organisation which advocates on behalf of people living with or affected by HIV or poor sexual health.

THT provides services around Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), as well as health promotion campaigns and initiatives which target populations most at risk of HIV and poor sexual health.

Executive Summary

1.1 Rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections continue to rise with the UK now seeing more people than ever living with HIV. This is especially the case for young people.

1.2 The UK Government must ensure that the Children and Social Work Bill requires all academies (primary and secondary) to teach SRE through a contractual requirement – giving PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education) including SRE the same compulsory status as religious education.

1.3 Whilst at least two recent committee reports (Education and Women and Equalities Committees) have recommended that PSHE and SRE become statutory in all schools, both primary and secondary, and five Chairs of Select Committees have together written to Government calling for statutory status for PSHE and SRE, Government still have not actioned this.

1.4 Good quality, age-appropriate, inclusive, SRE needs to be given to all children and young people, regardless of the type of school they attend or their sexuality so that they are all protected on and offline, and so that they are all prepared for life beyond the school gates.

Background

2.1 The latest Public Health England (PHE) statistics indicate that the number of new HIV infections in the UK continues to rise with one in seven people living with HIV in the UK remaining undiagnosed.

2.2 Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) also continue to increase especially amongst young people, who, aged 15-24 represented 51% of all new STI diagnoses in 2015.

2.3 Young people continue to experience the highest impact of chlamydia, genital herpes and genital warts and accounted for nearly 65% of chlamydia diagnoses

2.4 PSHE and SRE essential if the UK is to address the continued increases in rates of HIV and STIs.

2.5 SRE prepares children and young people for the physical, social and emotional changes they are going to face. All children and young people deserve high quality, comprehensive, age-appropriate, LGBT-inclusive SRE, in order to protect them and to prepare them for life.

2.6 The UK Government must ensure that the Children and Social Work Bill requires all academies (primary and secondary) to teach SRE through a contractual requirement – giving PSHE including SRE the same compulsory status as religious education.

2.7 SRE improves young people’s sexual health, delays sexual activity, reduces the number of people young people have sex with, increases use of condoms, safer sex resources such as barriers to STIs and HIV, as well as contraceptives.

2.8 When PSHE and SRE is made compulsory then current teachers need to be given the proper training and support they require, or for schools to work with external specialist organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and Brook.

2.9 The Government’s guidance on SRE, which is now 16 years out of date, needs to be updated.

Support for, and education of, looked after and previously looked after children

3.1 Local authorities now play a key role in commissioning young people’s sexual health services including in schools.

3.2 Research conducted by YouGov shows that 90% of parents want compulsory SRE because they understand the pressures that their children are under.

3.3 The Department for Education itself told the Education Committee that good PSHE underpins good academic achievement.

3.4 The last Ofsted report which looked into PSHE and SRE in 2013 (PSHE: Not yet good enough) showed that SRE was inadequate in 43% of secondary schools that taught it, and that it is not taught at all in many schools.

3.5 Although the Government states that PSHE is something that all schools are expected to teach, and SRE is something that must be taught in all maintained secondary schools (which make up a mere 40% of secondary schools), PSHE and SRE do not have the same status as other subjects and this is problematic.

3.6 There is very clear evidence from Ofsted, local authorities and in a report published in 2016 by Terrence Higgins Trust (SRE: Sshh…stop talking), highlighting from young people themselves that SRE is inadequate or absent in many schools. The report revealed that half of young people rated the SRE they received in school as either ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’ and just 2 per cent rated it as ‘excellent’ and only 10 per cent rated it as ‘good’.

3.7 Current legislation does not mandate all schools, both primary and secondary, to teach PSHE and SRE. Furthermore, the Government’s policy is that more schools (both primary and secondary) should become academies or free schools. Yet these schools, which sit outside of local authority control, have no statutory requirement to teach PSHE and SRE.

3.8 The Government has not provided any evidence to support their feeling that ‘we believe that most secondary academies and many primary schools also teach [SRE]’. Terrence Higgins Trust’s report (SRE: Sshh…stop talking) has revealed that most of the 900 young people surveyed thought SRE should be mandatory in all schools.

3.9 The Government’s own guidance on PSHE and SRE is 16 years out of date, and it hasn’t provided any data to show that this guidance is being used in those schools that it is relevant to.

3.10 The Government’s guidance on PSHE and SRE is in desperate need of updating, as much has happened over the last 16 years, both in terms of advances and access to technology but also in terms of the law around, for example, same-sex marriage. How can this out-of-date guidance actually achieve what the Government states is does: ‘It also sets out that they should understand how the law applies to sexual relationships’ when it was written long before the advent of smart phones and before same-sex marriage was introduced?

3.11 The Government has highlighted their talks with head teachers to produce an action plan for improving PSHE and SRE, however there is still no plan, or timeline.

3.12 In July 2016, the United Nations recommended that SRE becomes mandatory in UK schools, which was part of the UNCRC verdict on the UK’s child rights.

3.13 Whilst at least two recent committee reports (Education and Women and Equalities Committees) have recommended that PSHE and SRE become statutory in all schools, both primary and secondary, and five Chairs of Select Committees have together written to Government calling for statutory status of PSHE and SRE, Government still have not actioned this.

Child safeguarding and proper performance

4.1 Child safeguarding is a big issue for Government, and whilst teachers and other professionals are taught about what to look out for and who to report it to, many children are not. In Terrence Higgin’s Trust’s report SRE: Sshh…stop talking , several key topics were conspicuously absent from respondents’ experiences of SRE including 75 per cent of young people were not taught about consent and three out of five respondents either didn’t remember receiving information on HIV in school (32 per cent) or didn’t receive information on HIV in school (27 per cent).

4.2 Given that more than 70,000 children are effectively children of the state, that so many more children are subjected to sexual abuse and given the historical sexual ​abuse that has taken place, the Government’s failure to incorporate PSHE and SRE in the Children and Social Work Bill is a safeguarding failure in itself.

4.3 One third of young girls in this country report being sexually harassed at school. Three quarters of girls in a Girlguiding survey said that they were anxious about sexual harassment in their age group, and 5,500 sexual offences, including 600 rapes, were recorded in UK schools over the past three years alone.

4.4 Two thirds of girls regularly experience sexual harassment in school. Children as young as eight are seeing online pornography as a place to learn about sex, and there were 47,000 sexual offences against children in this country in the last year, a third of which were perpetrated by children against other children.

4.5 When we look at what happens to children after their school life, we find that, according to a study by the National Union of Students, 68% of students say that they are subject to verbal or physical sexual harassment on campuses. The problem does not stop there, as some 85% of women are experiencing unwanted sexual attention in public places.

4.6 The Government states that ‘SRE can provide the knowledge needed to tackle negative attitudes that lead to sexual harassment and violence’ and that they are committed to safeguarding, yet they are not educating children about safeguarding, both online and offline, adequately in every school, both primary and secondary.

4.7 In 2015 a Cochrane review concluded that ‘Children who are taught about preventing sexual abuse are more likely than others to tell an adult if they had, or were actually experiencing sexual abuse.’

4.8 We know that children who have received PSHE and SRE more broadly are less likely to engage in risky behaviour and much more likely to seek help when things go wrong. Children need to be able to recognise abuse, grooming and predatory behaviour. As Alison Hadley of the University of Bedfordshire told the Education Committee, if children have no "ammunition to understand these things, no wonder they are ending up in very dangerous situations."

4.9 In order to ensure that safeguarding is being taught to all children, it needs to be interwoven in the curriculum. Statutory SRE and PSHE play a vital role in ensuring that safeguarding requirements are met, however they are only statutory in maintained secondary schools.

4.10 The Parliamentary Education Select Committee Inquiry into SRE and PSHE concluded: "We accept the argument that statutory status is needed for PSHE, with relationships and sex education as a core part of it. In particular this will contribute to ensuring that appropriate curriculum time is devoted to the subject, to stimulating the demand for trained teachers, and to meet safeguarding requirements" (Life Lessons, 2015).

4.11 Only with statutory SRE can we ensure all children and young people receive PSHE and SRE and only then can we ensure that standards are driven up as more resources, time and money are given to the subject, ensuring that all children are adequately safeguarded, both on and offline.

4.12 The guidance commissioned by Government to support the teaching of PSHE and SRE does not cover the breadth of the subjects. For example, the PSHE Association guidance published in 2015 on consent only applies to secondary schools, but primary-aged children can be and are sometimes victims of sexual abuse.

4.13 The Government needs to stop using delaying tactics and respond to the persistent calls from teachers, parents and health and chid protection experts to make PSHE and SRE a requirement in all schools.

4.14 Good quality, age-appropriate, inclusive, SRE needs to be given to all children and young people, regardless of the type of school they attend or their sexuality so that they are all protected on and offline, and so that they are all prepared for life beyond the school gates.

Conclusion

5.1 Whilst we fully support many aspects of the Children and Social Work Bill, the exclusion of PSHE and SRE will directly lead to increased safeguarding risks for children and young people. It will also lead to increased pressures and costs on NHS services as young people are not able to access the knowledge and gain the skills that they need to remain healthy – both mentally and physically.

December 2016

 

Prepared 13th December 2016