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Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 6:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 7:

    After Clause 116, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) The Education Act 1996 shall be amended as follows.
(2) In section 403 (sex education: manner of provision) in subsection (1) for the words "and the value of family life" substitute ", the value of family life and sexual health".
(3) After section 403 insert--
"Sex education: Secretary of State's guidance.
403A.--(1) The Secretary of State must issue guidance designed to secure that the following general objectives are met when sex education is given to registered pupils at maintained schools.
(2) The general objectives are that the pupils--
(a) learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for the bringing up of children;
(b) learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society;
(c) learn to respect themselves and others;
(d) are given accurate information for the purposes of enabling them to understand difference and of preventing or removing prejudice;
(e) are protected from inappropriate teaching and materials.
(3) When sex education is given to pupils who are in the third or fourth key stage or over compulsory school age, the general objectives referred to in subsection (1) are to include the following additional objectives.
(4) The additional objectives are that the pupils--
(a) learn to understand human sexuality;
(b) learn the reasons for delaying sexual activity and the benefits to be gained from such delay;
(c) learn about obtaining appropriate advice on sexual health.
(5) The Secretary of State's guidance must also be designed to secure that sex education given to registered pupils at maintained schools contributes to--
(a) promoting the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of the pupils and of society;
(b) preparing the pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.
(6) The Secretary of State may at any time revise his guidance.

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(7) Local education authorities, governing bodies and head teachers must, in discharging their functions under section 403, have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance.
(8) In this section "maintained school" includes a community or foundation special school established in a hospital."").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, debate so far about this amendment has been confused and disconnected from the truth. Since it was tabled, there has been a great deal of comment in the press, and I regret that much of it has been factually inaccurate or ill informed. In this debate we must at least be clear about the facts. I therefore think it important to set out at the beginning of the debate a clear explanation of what the amendment contains and a clear and unambiguous statement of why the Government have tabled it.

The amendment has been constructed very carefully to reflect the major issues that affect the provision of sex and relationships education and to create a sensitive balance. First, the amendment emphasises the need to learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children. That reflects the primacy of marriage in current society. The amendment is clear about that.

The amendment also emphasises the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society. This recognises that, while marriage is a key institution, there are other forms of relationship that are of value and provide love and stability for adults and children. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn recognised this when he spoke on the "Today" programme last Thursday. He said:

    "We have got to live in the real world. In the real world there are relationships which are outside marriage, but one would actually presume that stable relationships within society are better than promiscuous and unstable relationships".

That is a particularly important point and I know that many in this House will be reassured that the draft guidance which was issued last Thursday builds on this. It emphasises the need for teachers not to stigmatise children from families and relationships other than marriage.

In the amendment, we want to balance those positive requirements with safeguards to protect children. That is why a key objective is to be protected from inappropriate teaching and materials. There has been a great deal of public comment about the type of material that might go into schools as a result of the proposals and as a consequence of the repeal of Section 28. A great deal of concern has been stirred up unnecessarily and I am sorry that this House has played its part in that. The provision makes clear that school governing bodies and headteachers must have regard to the need to select appropriate teaching content and materials. Our guidance emphasises that this should be done in conjunction with parents.

The remaining sections of the amendment provide for children in secondary schools to learn about human sexuality, the reasons for delaying sexual activity and the benefits from doing so, and how to obtain appropriate advice on sexual health. The draft guidance backs that up by setting out very clearly the

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basis on which teachers should approach such sensitive topics. The Government hope that as a result teaching will be more confident and information more effective.

Finally, the amendment places sex education firmly in the broader context of spiritual and moral education and preparation for adult life, which have long been established as the fundamental basis of education.

Having described the content of the amendment, I shall explain why we have brought it forward. In part, we want to set aside fears and concerns relating to the Government's intention to repeal Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986; or "Section 28", as it has become known. This is not the time or place to enter into another debate on the repeal of Section 28, but I must briefly address the issue. Section 28 prohibits local authorities from intentionally promoting homosexuality or publishing material with that intent, and from promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

That provision applies to the activities of local authorities themselves and has never applied to the activities of the governing bodies and staff of schools. Section 28 has always been a negative provision. By that, I mean that it has only ever forbidden what should happen. It gives no guidance as to what should happen in this sensitive area where the needs of all young people in school are required to be met. It undermines teachers in carrying out their duties and it has caused confusion. The Government are right to seek to repeal it for that reason alone, let alone any other. What is needed is clear guidance to teachers telling them what they can do rather than what they cannot and this amendment and guidance seeks to do just that.

Many of the arguments and concerns voiced about local authorities and the provision of sex and relationship education in schools, however deeply felt, simply do not take account of the fact that a local authority now has no power to determine the sex education policy in a school. That task falls to the governing body and headteacher of the school. They do so in consultation with parents. Concerns have also been expressed about what should be taught within sex and relationships education in respect of marriage and stable relationships.

For those reasons, the Government are bringing forward this amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill which will place a clear statutory duty on the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to issue guidance on sex and relationship education in schools. Under the amendment, governing bodies of maintained schools, headteachers and LEAs are under a duty to have regard to the guidance. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, as chair of the Church of England Board of Education, and Archbishop Nichols of the Catholic Education Service Bishops said last week in their combined press release, it will,

    "provide more direct and effective protection for pupils and schools in England and Wales than Section 28. The proposed amendment will put broad responsibilities on teachers and

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    governors to protect their pupils and to provide positive sex education within the context of their spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development".

In tabling the amendment, the Government have recognised the need for the guidance on sex and relationship education to be firmly rooted within the wider general provisions of the school curriculum and the new Personal, Social and Health Education Framework which was issued last November. This is the first time that schools have had a national framework for teaching in this area. It will play a vital role in helping pupils deal with difficult moral and social questions that arise in their lives and in society.

The national curriculum and the PSHE framework now have a statement of values setting out the fundamental principles underlying the curriculum. I refer to the statement of values by the National Forum for Values in Education and in the Community, which is contained and set out in the new national curriculum handbooks issued in November. The remit of the forum was to decide whether there were any values that were commonly agreed upon across society. The forum found that there was indeed a consensus. Within the statement of values, there is a section on society. In that section, the forum found that among other things we value families as sources of love and support for all their members, and as a basis of a society in which people care for others. The forum concluded that we as a society support the institution of marriage, but crucially recognised that the love and commitment required for a secure and happy childhood can also be found in families of many different kinds.

We cannot divorce this House from this reality. We here represent a wide range of society and it is our duty to reflect not only that wide diversity, but also what is generally known as the common good. As such, the amendment and the guidance have both had to steer a sensible course between the importance of marriage and family life and the need to respect diversity and difference.

Of course the Government support the institution of marriage. How could we not? It is the mainstay of many, many families. But the reality is that not everyone chooses this course, however much some would like to persuade them to do so. I have spoken of the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community which set out to find a common consensus on values. The Government also recognise, as we did in the Home Office ministerial group on the family document, Supporting Families, that there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage. It is particularly important to signal support to those in single parent families.

Concern has been expressed about the references in Amendment No. 7 to "marriage and stable relationships". It has been argued that that gives moral equivalence to marriage and homosexual relationships. It has even been suggested that that equivalence has legal force. That is a complete misunderstanding of the Government's position. The amendment is very clear on that. We support the

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institution of marriage and recognise its place in society. We recognise that other types of relationship exist and can be stable and successful.

No realistic sex and relationship education could ignore that reality. But we are not changing the legal or moral status of any particular form of relationship in this amendment. When sex and relationship education is delivered in school to pupils, we are talking not just of what type of relationship those pupils may move on to, but their current family circumstances. It would be quite wrong to signal to those children not in conventional married households that they are of less worth than others. School is a place for children to learn, not for them to be ostracised. Care and sensitivity need to be taken in delivering sex and relationships education so that there is no stigmatisation of children based on their home circumstances.

I ask noble Lords to remember that the guidance which my department is issuing for consultation arose out of a recommendation of the Teenage Pregnancy Report, and the need to address the issue of the high rate of teenage pregnancy in this country. I should like to remind the House that the recommendations in the Teenage Pregnancy Report were also the subject of a wide debate and consensus.

Research shows that effective sex education set within a context of relationships does not encourage early sexual experimentation. It does the opposite--it delays it. We have a duty to inform pupils at school of the biological basics of sex education. That is already required by the national curriculum science order. But it is clear from talking to young people that they want not only biological knowledge, but also to talk about relationships, they want to talk about their feelings and the wider social context of those relationships.

The Teenage Pregnancy Report addressed these issues and recommended good clear guidance to help teachers. The task of delivering sex and relationship education is not an easy one. Effective sex and relationship education cannot be delivered by teachers who lack confidence and are unsure of the boundaries and parameters that they work within.

The purpose of the guidance is to set out those parameters. It gives clear guidance on the choice of materials, it sets sex and relationships education within a values framework, and how to develop the skills and understanding of young people. It gives advice to schools on how to establish and monitor their policy and how to involve parents and the wider community. In short it is a comprehensive guide, drafted to attend to the needs of all young people in our schools. I think it particularly important to stress the needs of all young people in our schools regardless of their home background, and regardless of their own awakening sexuality.

The expectations placed on this guidance have now increased substantially since the matter of the repeal of Section 28 has taken on such significance. It is precisely because of those increased expectations and the need for the guidance to reflect some of those

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concerns that we have held discussions with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, Archbishop Nichols and others to bring forward a government amendment that would place a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance, to set out the principles to inform that guidance and the objectives to be met when sex and relationship education is taught. Officials in my department have also consulted representatives of all the major faith groups and others such as those in the professional health services so that their concerns were reflected in the guidance which is now out for consultation. We are most grateful to all those consulted, especially to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and to Archbishop Nichols.

The amendment will not change the existing legislation which allows parents to withdraw their children from sex and relationship education classes over and above that required by the national curriculum. That additional safeguard is there for parents who are still not happy with the sex and relationship education being given to their children. I think it important to pause here for a moment and reflect on the fact that although this provision has existed in law for some years it is very rarely used. This surely must be a testament to our teachers and the sensitive way in which they have involved parents. It is in their hands, in partnership with governors and parents, that the task of delivering effective sex and relationship education lies.

I hope it will be helpful to clarify the position of the Welsh Assembly in relation to this amendment and to the guidance. It will be for the Welsh Assembly to decide what action it should take in relation to the provision of sex education in its schools.

I finish by reminding the House of the issue before us. Sex and relationship education is about physical, moral and emotional development. It is teaching about sex, sexuality and sexual health so that young people learn to respect themselves and others as they move with confidence from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity. This would be inappropriate teaching and both the amendment and the guidance firmly make that point.

This amendment will set in place enabling legislation and clear guidelines that will help teachers rather than hinder them. I beg to move.

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