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I should be honoured to meet the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. They put very eloquently the case involving geography, which is an important subject. If I may be pedantic and stick with my brief, I point out that the amendment would make the subject compulsory, not optional. It is already optional to schools to offer geography. Geography is a foundation subject at key stage 3, and there is no difference between foundation and core subjects in terms of the way in which they are regarded in law. The overwhelming majority of schools offer geography at key stage 4. Nothing in the Bill will alter that position or in any way reduce the importance of geography.
The Green Paper on 14 to 19 year-olds suggests that all students should have an entitlement to study geography if they choose to do so during the 14 to 16 year-old stage; that is, schools will be obliged to offer it. As I said in relation to earlier amendments, that is arguably a more enhanced position. On the basis that I shall of course be happy to meet the noble and learned Lord, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Brightman: Before the Minister concludes, I ask for her help on one small point. I have the Education Act 1996 before me. Section 354 states that the core subjects are, "mathematics, English and science" and there is a further provision relating to Wales. It also states that, in relation to schools in England, the other foundation subjects are, "technology and physical education" and some others. What is the difference between a core foundation subject and a non-core foundation subject?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My understanding, in terms of the way in which schools deliver, is that there is no difference. If I am incorrect, I shall of course write to the noble and learned Lord and put a copy of the letter in the Library.
Lord Lucas: Does the Minister mean that there are two separate provisions in the Billone set of subjects is in one provision and the other set is in the otherand that there is no difference between the two? I am bemused.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: That is indeed the case. We should not refer to this Government in that regardI hasten to add that that is not a criticism. It is simply a result of the way in which the provisions on core and foundation subjects are laid out. We could argue about the legal position of the subjects. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, may have something to say about the background. The legal position, as I understand it, is that there is no difference in that regard.
Baroness Blatch: That is an interesting answer but the Government are in their sixth year in office. We should consider what would happen if everyone hid behind what was in an earlier statute. In the Bill, the Government are changing almost all previous statutes.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: We are quite happy with the definition; I was trying to be light-hearted. I apologise to the noble Baroness. I meant, in relation to core and foundation subjects, that there is no legal difference, which is important and relevant in this context.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 281, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 290. The current arrangements for sex education, as re-enacted in the Bill, mean that no reference to issues relating to sexual health can be included within the programme of study for the science national curriculum. The amendment seeks to remove that restriction.
In 1993, a law was introduced to separate sex education from science so as to make it easier for parents to withdraw their children from sex education in primary schools in cases where the Government had decided that sex education should be taught at all. We do not know how many primary schools do not include any sex education, although how a curriculum can be broad and balanced without it, I do not know.
However, in secondary schools, where sex education must be taught, since 1995 education about the common and dangerous disease of HIV/AIDS has been outside the national curriculumthat is, it is not examined and not compulsory for all children whose parents can still withdraw them.
I am aware that there is nothing to prohibit a teacher answering a question about any aspect of sexual health, including AIDS, during a science lesson. There is also nothing to stop a governing body incorporating sex education within its science curriculum, although parents still have the right of withdrawal. Therefore, the existence of this subsection on the face of the Bill is nonsensical because it is relatively easy to get round if one believes, as I do, that we have a duty to inform young people about this modern-day plague.
The fact that it is nonsense became very clear in the debate on the Bill in another place. The honourable Member for Epsom and Ewell, Mr Chris Grayling, asked whether it was the case that science teachers may not refer to AIDS or HIV in a science lesson or give any indication of their nature. He said that if that were true, it was nonsense. I agree. In reply, the Minister, Mr Ivan Lewis, confirmed that nonsense. He said that it was the case because of legislation introduced by a Conservative government. We cannot rely on a stray child asking a stray question or a governing body feeling so strongly about the matter as to include it in the curriculum.
It is the Government's duty to equip our children with the defence of accurate factual information against this dreadful disease. We must ensure that by removing this nonsense from the Bill. There are plenty of safeguards to ensure that the provision of sex education in schools is made responsibly, sensitively and in consultation with parents, but we must not miss out this vital information. It is more important now than it was even in 1993 because many people have become complacent now that the full horror of this widespread disease has worn off.
International travel, the proliferation of intravenous drug-taking and the earlier sexual activity of young people make it essential that we do not let them down by keeping them in ignorance. We cannot rely on peer group education. Children's misunderstandings of matters sexual are notorious among those of us who have taught it. We all have funny stories about the silly ideas that some children pick up and about the misinformation that children give to each other. They must have the facts, and they must have them from a qualified teacher and not from their friends. In view of all that, how can the Minister justify this provision? I beg to move.
Lord Peston: I want to be as supportive as possible in speaking to this amendment. Like other Members of the Committee, I have always been rather bewildered as to what this subject is about. Starting with the amendment and the science curriculum, so far as I can see it would be perfectly lawful to teach science and talk about the immune system of the body. One can give all kinds of examples so long as one does not mention HIV. More generally, in relation to biology one can teach reproductive processes in every possible way so long as one does not stray into what might be regarded as sexual matterswhatever that meansas
However, the situation is worse than that because several other subjects are taught in schools, as we well know. I start with geography. Am I to understand that, although one cannot teach children about HIV in a science class, if one was teaching the geography of sub-Saharan Africaprecisely along the lines that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, told us that geography as a science should be taughtone would be allowed to mention AIDS as a major problem in that area? I am not clear about that. Science may not mean geography in this case, or it may mean geography in which case one cannot mention AIDS and therefore cannot account for the experience of sub-Saharan Africa and teach the subject to students.
In returning to, in my case, my favourite non-subjectin the case of most other Members of the Committee it may be their subject; namely, citizenshipare we supposed to be able to teach citizenship without mentioning sexual practices or sexual morality and so on? If we can do that, are we then also to be told, "Of course, you mustn't mention AIDS"? It is rather like the famous example of "Don't mention the war". In relation to teaching, the whole matter seems to me extraordinary.
It seems to be based on the notion that, if a teacher does not mention the subjectI believe that this what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was implyingyoung people will know nothing about it. They may say, "Oh, I didn't know anything about that and now my whole life has been corrupted because the teacher has mentioned it".
Therefore, I am amazed that the Government have not taken the opportunity to do precisely the opposite of what they are doing. I am amazed that they do not say that we live in a liberal and free society and one in which children can be trusted to be taught freely and openly and that there are no major worries in that respect. That seems to be different from saying, "I don't want my children to have sex education lessons." I have never understood that attitude but I respect parental wishes. However, that is not what the amendment seeks to achieve. If parents were to ask me, I should say, "You're being silly here. This is not to the advantage of your children".
The noble Baroness said that she wished that the national curriculum had been available to her. I certainly wish that sex education had been available in my school. At my school, the children had to make it up and mostly got it wrong. We were amazed to discover what it all turned out to be. It was a better deal than we had worked out, but that is another matter.
I believe that this subject is most important. It lies at the very heart of our approach to education and education philosophy. I am amazed that my noble friend and the Secretary of State have not taken the opportunity to strike this matter from our approach to the curriculum. They should do so if on no other grounds than that the last thing young people in this country need is irrationality built into our approach to education.
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