Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Sir Alasdair Macdonald, who advised the Government, established that PSHE should be seen as a distinct subject with its own body of knowledge, understanding and skills. I shall be objecting to the deletion of each of these clauses. PSHE in secondary schools, and the subject called understanding physical development, health and well-being in primary schools, are desirable for six reasons. First, children, their parents and teachers want it. Research shows that they want opportunities to discuss issues that are relevant to their lives and their well-being, including emotions, relationships, health issues such as mental health, sexual health, diet and exercise. In a recent document circulated by Brook-better known as the Brook Advisory Centres-young people said why that is. "I didn't have a clue before sexual health outreach workers came into my school. They gave me the knowledge I hold today", said a young

7 Apr 2010 : Column 1580

man. "I only know what I know about sex through the internet. I can't talk to my parents. I can't be honest with my boyfriend and my sex education taught me nothing", said a 17 year-old girl. "My sex education was basically one science teacher, one lesson and a lot of giggling", said another young woman. I could go on, but I will not.

The UK Parliament has collected nearly 22,000 signatures from young people demanding a right to good sex-and-relationship education. Making PSHE statutory will also provide a stronger framework for parents to be consulted, involved and engaged with what is taught. According to a Populus survey last October, 81 per cent of parents agreed that every child should attend sex-and-relationship education as part of the national curriculum.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: I suspect that she was not taught all this when she was at school. How did she manage?

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, people manage despite all kinds of disadvantages, and somehow people managed to procreate. But sometimes they regret the ways in which they went about it. I am not referring to myself in that case.

As I was saying, 81 per cent of parents want it, and a survey by Parentline Plus shows that 97 per cent of parents believe that drugs-and-alcohol education should be delivered in schools.

Secondly, making the subject statutory will improve quality and enhance parents' confidence that it is being taught appropriately by improving teacher training and inspection. The Macdonald review concluded that effective learning in PSHE is dependent on the quality of teaching. The preceding reviews into sex-and-relationship education and drug-and-alcohol education both provided evidence that the quality of PSHE education being delivered was too variable and was failing to meet children and young people's needs. In all cases, the conclusion of these reviews was that PSHE education should become statutory to compel schools to tackle this.

Children and young people themselves regularly report that the quality and quantity of their PSHE education is failing them. While the PSHE continuing professional development programme has gone some way to improving this situation, there is currently a limited number of specialist PSHE teachers, a situation which, along with the low prioritisation of the subject in schools-because it is not statutory-means that the quality of PSHE provision has remained unacceptably patchy for too long. Ofsted has confirmed this. Statutory foundation subject status will mean that the subject is not only prioritised in curriculum planning but will lead to an upsurge in teachers specialising in PSHE through initial teacher training and other routes. Statutory status would impact on not only the consistency of provision but the quality of teaching and, subsequently, learning. Making PSHE education statutory should make consultation with parents and their engagement with the subject stronger, not weaker.

PSHE is unique, in that through sex-and-relationship education in particular it places a premium on building relationships with parents in order that they can understand and exercise their rights and responsibilities

7 Apr 2010 : Column 1581

in this area. Additionally, school governing bodies will consider the delivery of SRE in PSHE education-increasing the potential for parent scrutiny, accountability and engagement. Making this type of education statutory provides a lever through which parents can exercise their need to understand and question the quality of provision with a degree of certainty that is not available while PSHE delivery remains so variable from one school to another. I should like schools to publish an annual statement on their approach and provision on this subject as part of encouraging parents to engage.

The third reason is that PSHE supports academic achievement in other subjects and helps children and young people to develop key life skills, including skills for work. Educationalists recognise that children do not learn well when they are in emotional turmoil. That is why the Government introduced the SEAL programme which has been so successful. Many barriers to learning lie outside the classroom, and supporting children's personal development and well-being, in part through learning PSHE, impacts positively on raising standards of achievement in all subjects. It is self-evident that the knowledge, skills and understanding that children and young people can learn or develop through effective PSHE in school have the potential to be vital in life and work. While it is hard to quantify the impact of PSHE on academic achievement because of the indirect nature of the skills taught, such social skills are widely accepted to be important in schools and the workplace. These life skills include perseverance, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, self-management, self-respect, teamwork, time management, financial capability, risk competence and managing stress. The Tomlinson report on the 14 to 19 curriculum, the Steer report on behaviour and the Ofsted report on PSHE have all emphasised the importance of children and young people developing life skills to help them to learn, to achieve and to gain employment.

Fourthly, PSHE promotes health, well-being and, crucially, safety. It helps to achieve the Every Child Matters agenda so close to the Government's heart, and connects directly to the five outcomes by helping children to understand what it means to be healthy, to stay safe, to enjoy and achieve, to make a positive contribution and to achieve economic well-being. Evidence from organisations concerned with the safety of children shows us that PSHE is crucial to safeguarding children. Good PSHE education helps them to learn about personal safety and to improve their understanding of respectful relationships-including parenting and family relationships-as well as recognising abusive, harmful or inappropriate behaviour.

Every week, hundreds of children are involved in, or witness, domestic violence, and experience physical or sexual abuse. It is a major and expensive problem in our country. We will never address the problems unless we start at the beginning with the children. Good PSHE teaches about what is acceptable behaviour, about personal space, about appropriate and inappropriate touching, and about being self-confident and assertive in maintaining personal integrity. It also helps children to develop the skills to ask for help. This can contribute to a reduction in childhood abuse and neglect. Similarly, evidence shows that PSHE education is an important

7 Apr 2010 : Column 1582

intervention for the prevention of bullying. Yet these are the things that the Conservatives do not want to ensure that every child is taught. I am disgusted by that, and so are the many organisations and millions of children who have campaigned for it.

Fifthly, PSHE teaches about values, including respect, morality and an understanding of cultural diversity. It plays a key role in promoting inclusion and reducing inequalities. It provides myriad opportunities to explore difference and diversity, and learn skills for living in a multicultural and diverse society. The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency has long recognised the important role that PSHE plays in promoting respect for diversity and difference.

Sixthly, making the subject statutory will improve access for all to PSHE. Although the most recent report from Ofsted suggests that on balance provision has improved, there are serious inconsistencies in delivery and children confirm this. The current non-statutory status of much PSHE education means that some schools are not prioritising the subject and not allocating sufficient curriculum time to it. Some schools are not delivering it at all. This runs counter to the belief that access to high-quality learning that can have a positive effect on well-being should be an entitlement for every child and young person in English schools.

Finally, in primary schools the Understanding Physical Health and Well-being primary curriculum area of learning would provide the right framework for PSHE topics to be taught in an age-appropriate way. Perhaps those noble Lords who do not wish to listen to this speech could leave the Chamber in a courteous manner. The current laws regarding PSHE are confusing. Secondary schools are obliged only to teach the biological aspects of sex, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. These are usually covered in science lessons, giving children no opportunity to discuss the issues that face them in real life. Human beings are not diagrams on the page of a biology textbook. They are much more than that, and we should recognise this in 21st century education.

There are many myths about PSHE. Some say it would mean sex lessons for five year-olds. It would not. Learning about growing up should start in primary school and focus on empathy, respect for self and others, diversity, understanding relationships with family and friends, looking after yourself and being healthy.

Some say that SRE does not work and that it encourages early sexual experimentation. This is not true either. There is good international evidence that SRE, particularly when linked with contraceptive services, can have an impact on young people's knowledge and attitudes, delay sexual activity and reduce pregnancy rates. In countries where it is taught well, the rate of teenage pregnancy is much lower than it is here. The Minister herself, in her letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, of 24 March, referred to this research. She said that two-thirds of the curriculum-based sex education programmes that were considered had positive effects on teenage sexual behaviour by either delaying the initiation of sex, increasing contraceptive use or both. Nearly all the programmes that were studied had a beneficial impact on young people's confidence to say no to unwanted sex. They were also shown to improve knowledge and communication with parents.



7 Apr 2010 : Column 1583

10.15 pm

Some say that SRE will make children lose their innocence. No, it will not. Children need it not only to answer their questions but also to provide balance to the range of often misleading and inappropriate messages about sex in the media. Good-quality SRE provides children with factually correct information and helps them to challenge and be critical of the media.

Children have a right to all this information under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Minister herself emphasised this in two references in her letter of 24 March. Responding to the Second Reading debate on the rights of parents to withdraw their children, she said:

"Parental rights exist for the protection of the child, not to serve the interests of the parent. The most fundamental and important aspect of the convention protocol, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred, is that a child has a right not to be denied education. The European Court has consistently held that respect for parental philosophical and religious convictions is a secondary consideration and not a trump card".

Later in the same letter she said:

"With the greatest respect to them, parental rights do not and should not take precedence over those of children themselves"-

a point that was made very eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I agree with the Minister's words.

This brings me to address the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, to raise the age up to which parents may withdraw the child to 16 years. Evidence shows that there is widespread support for abolishing the right of parental withdrawal or lowering, rather than raising, the age at which parents can withdraw their child from SRE. A recent nationally representative poll found that the majority of parents believe that the right of withdrawal should either be removed or cease when the child is 11 years old. In the England submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2008, more than 100 non-governmental organisations endorsed a report recommending that the Government should remove the right of parents to withdraw their child from SRE in school.

The right of parental withdrawal is a relatively modern provision, introduced through the Education Act 1993 and later consolidated in Section 405 of the Education Act 1996. It currently affects any child or young person up to the age of 19 but the Conservatives would like to make it 16. This is nonsense. It would mean that a young person had no right to any SRE until they reached the legal age of consent. This ignores the reality of children's lives. Each year in England and Wales about 300 children under the age of 13 become pregnant. They become pregnant-in case I need to spell it out-because they have sex without any protection.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me but the Companion is quite clear that length of speeches for opening debates such as this one should be limited to 20 minutes, and we are now into the 21st minute. I hope that she can conclude shortly.

Baroness Walmsley: I point out to the noble Lord that this is our only opportunity to debate this subject in any depth. We on these Benches object very strongly to the way in which this has been dealt with by the

7 Apr 2010 : Column 1584

other two Front Benches. We have a right to put our case. If we are not able to do so in private discussions with the other parties then we have to do it here. The Government have forced us to do this.

Since 2002, there have been more than 63,000 pregnancies among under-16s so it is clear that many young people do not have information, access to help and advice or the self-confidence to take precautions or to say no. International human rights obligations towards children and young people are clear: the parental right of withdrawal is unnecessary and should be repealed altogether.

With respect to the Minister, I shall cut out one page of my speech.

I am dismayed at the betrayal of children that is apparent in the way in which the Government have caved in to the Conservatives on this matter. As I said earlier, that was unnecessary. We on these Benches would have supported the retention of Clauses 11 to 14 in the Bill, despite their imperfections. They are throwing away children's chances to be informed, healthy and safe. The next time a 10 year-old becomes pregnant; the next time a child is sexually abused by an adult because she had not been given the chance to develop the self-confidence to resist and to seek help; the next time a mother and her child are violently abused by a man who never had any education about the right way in which to treat and respect others; the next time any one of those things is in the news, I hope that noble Lords on the government and Conservative Benches will reflect that they had a chance to do something about it and they did nothing. I will not do nothing in the face of these threats to our children. I shall seek the opinion of the House when the time comes.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I shall be very brief. I agree with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said. I am saddened and dismayed that we seem to be about to lose personal, social and health education as a statutory component of the curriculum. Many noble Lords on this side of the House are also regretful. I am saddened and dismayed because some colleagues on all sides of the House and on all sides of another place have fought for many years to include PSHE in the curriculum. It would be of benefit to young people and a support for parents, 81 per cent of whom support the measure. I am saddened and dismayed that teachers, the voluntary sector and other campaigners have been let down by our parliamentary procedures and lack of will. They are very angry.

I remember this measure on personal, social and health education being announced at a teachers' conference last year. There was a spontaneous standing ovation at that conference which went on for several minutes, all seemingly to no avail. E-mails that I have received today describe the dropping of PSHE from this Bill as "a great betrayal of future generations", as-[Interruption.] thank you-a "disaster", as a "catastrophe", or in the words of one young woman, "disgraceful ... we have been totally let down". I wonder how we as politicians can go against the views of young people, parents and teachers. PSHE enables young people to examine and make decisions about their health and their relationships; it helps them to

7 Apr 2010 : Column 1585

understand the risks of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancy; and it helps them to deal with bullying, abuse and the essential emotional issues surrounding adolescence. I cannot believe that any politician would wish to deny young people the right to that understanding. By reversing the inclusion of PSHE in the curriculum, we are insulting young people, teachers, parents and campaigners. We will not be thanked. I urge colleagues on all sides of the House to protest against the suggestion that PSHE as a curriculum subject be removed from the Bill.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I do not believe that this time of night is the moment at which to have a profound debate on this subject. However, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on a brilliant exposition of what PSHE should mean.

Good PSHE is absolutely desirable and should probably be compulsory. The trouble is that we do not have any guarantee that the PSHE to be taught under the Bill would be of appropriate quality. There is certainly circumstantial evidence to suggest that in some schools today, PSHE is not being taught by suitably qualified, trained and experienced teachers. The extension of PSHE on a compulsory basis to all schools would leave an enormous gap in the availability of teachers and teacher training.

When a new Government are elected, we should try to resurrect the issue and press whatever Government are in power to give proper training to PSHE teachers and to make public the curriculum, what PSHE is about, and to explain it and sell it to the public so that they are not so suspicious of it and do not feel so threatened by it. That is why I introduced some modest amendments to try to improve the Bill. I am delighted that the Government have withdrawn the clauses, because I believe that that gives us the opportunity to look at the matter in a more holistic way after the election.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I rise with great regret to say that I will do something that I have never done in the 13 years of the Labour Government: I shall be going into the Lobby with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I have never felt such distress, anger and frustration as I felt this morning when I discovered what was going to happen in respect of the Bill. People have fought for 20-odd years to get this on to the statute book. Suddenly to discover at the last moment that it will be removed because it is the wish of the Conservative Opposition I find absolutely distressing. I do not blame my Government-I say that most sincerely-because that is the nature of the wash-up. My Government produced and fought for the legislation. It may be a little late, but we proposed it for the statute book. To find it removed in this way I find unbelievable.

As I said, I shall do that with the greatest regret. I cannot express how I feel about it. Deleting the clauses will mean that young people will grow up without the proper support that they desperately need to deal with relationships, bullying, abuse and to equip themselves with the skills to manage their lives. That is now being denied them. I take the point that we need more and

7 Apr 2010 : Column 1586

better trained teachers, but it worries me that withdrawing the clauses will deter people from training. If it is not statutory, people will say, "Why should we go through the training process?". I fundamentally disagree that we need to get the teachers before the statute; we need it on the statute book and then make sure that we have the teachers. The noble Lord is absolutely right: we need properly trained teachers. That is true.

In the words of the PSHE Association:

This appears to be a tragic betrayal of children. Politicians had made a commitment to education that promotes the safety, health and well-being of our nation's young people and I cannot believe that they intend to reverse it".

We are denying young people. It is they who have campaigned for access to high-quality PSHE education. After considerable discussion, we had arrived at a consensus of support from parents, teachers and schools, but principally it is young people who have demanded and insisted on the changes. Many children and young people say that the information that they receive at school about sex and relationships is too little, too late and too biological.

As was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, a survey of more than 20,000 young people carried out by the Youth Parliament found that 40 per cent of young people aged 11 to 18 thought that SRE in schools was either poor or very poor. That is not good enough. Sixty-one per cent of boys and 70 per cent of girls aged over 17 reported not receiving any information at school about personal relationships. That is what we are talking about: people being nice to people. That is what we want to ensure that our young people are trained to do. Removing these clauses makes sure that schools are not able to do that.

10.30 pm

More than 43 per cent of young people surveyed said that they had not been taught about those important personal relationships. Those children are being let down again after the Government had accepted the need to make PSHE and SRE statutory. Children have the right to learn how to stay safe and to be healthy in these challenging times. They have the right to learn how to manage their lives and their money. They have the right to learn about how to avoid drug and alcohol misuse, about safe sex and about public health. Not to provide them with that opportunity will continue to cost not only them as individuals but also their families and the nation as a whole a great deal. A great responsibility is on us all to make sure that that does not happen.

Parents play a crucial role in promoting positive sexual health, development, behaviour and attitudes among children and young people. I hope noble Lords are listening because 81 per cent of parents said that this should be taught in schools and were pleased that this provision was to be on the statute book. There has been a broad consensus among those young children, parents and professionals that the Government had got it right. It may have taken a little time to get there, but we did get there. The value to young people is reiterated in the recent government consultation on the reduction of teenage pregnancy rates, making it clear that the inclusion of these clauses in the Bill was essential in bringing about a further reduction in

7 Apr 2010 : Column 1587

teenage pregnancy. Somehow or other, that seemed to have been forgotten when the discussions were being held with the Opposition.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page