Education and Inspections Bill
Lord Northbourne (Crossbench)
My Lords, I support Amendments Nos. 91A and 91B and shall speak to Amendment No. 92. Unfortunately, I was unable to be in my place when the noble Baroness moved her amendment in Committee, as I was chairing a conference on the implementation of the Every Child Matters programme in my county of Kent. In spirit, I supported the amendment; I wrote to the Minister about it and received a very helpful reply, for which I am most grateful.
I have carefully read the Official Report of the debate. Somehow, it seems to have been entirely hijacked by sex education and health education. I admit that sex education and health education are probably much more fun than what I am going to talk about, which I believe to be another very important aspect of personal, social and health education.
When she opened the debate in Committee, the noble Baroness pointed out that the non-compulsory elements of PSHE are being crowded out of the curriculum by other compulsory subjects—especially, of course, those that will improve the school's position in the dreaded league tables. I remember—was it 10 or 12 years ago?—with what high hopes we fought to get PSHE into the syllabus. It is sad that it is still not being well delivered in schools. I strongly support the government policy to train more PSHE teachers, but that will not solve the problem if the non-compulsory elements of PSHE are crowded out of the work programme, especially in the most vulnerable schools.
If, on reflection, the Minister is prepared to accept Amendments Nos. 91A and 91B, I shall be very content. If not, perhaps my amendment, Amendment No. 92, may suggest a basis for compromise or a different way to look at the problem. If accepted, it would ensure that personal and social life skills would have to be taught and learnt in all schools, at least in key stage 4. I must admit that it would be better still if they had to be learnt in all key stages, because those skills should start to be learnt early and developed throughout the child's life at school—and before. I am sorry that I did not frame my amendment to give effect to that; I may do so at the next stage of the Bill if that becomes relevant.
Personal and social life skills and education are important because they are essential in the workplace and in the family. In short, social education is about the skills that one needs to get on with other people, and personal education is about the skills that one needs to get on with oneself. A child's ability to be comfortable in their own skin is fundamental to success in school and in later life. It is vital to develop enough self-esteem and communication skills to be able to listen, to express oneself, to negotiate, to resolve conflict, and to establish and sustain effective and positive relationships with adults and within peer groups, as these are the most crucial skills of all in life, whether in the workplace, the family or elsewhere. Most children start to learn these skills very early on in the family but, for those who are not so lucky, it is crucial that the school is ready to move in and fill the gap.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has given several examples of what is going on at present. Research shows that, in most disadvantaged families today, verbal and social ability has deteriorated since 1999—a statistic that the noble Baroness did not give us. In her studies on child health, Professor Stewart-Brown has shown that relationships in the home during childhood are a determinant of mental and physical health in childhood and in adult life, and that this effect is independent of socio-economic factors. That also applies to relationships at school. The National Autistic Society has told me that it surveyed 35,000 parents, almost all of whom put better teaching in personal and social education first in meeting the needs of autistic children.
Family breakdown, domestic violence, anti-social behaviour, school failure and bullying at school can be traced back in many cases to poor communication and negotiation skills. It is at least arguable that, for the most disadvantaged children in our society, better interpersonal and communication skills are the key that could unlock the prison of exclusion, frustration and hopelessness.
In his amendment to Clause 6, the Minister has introduced a duty on local authorities to provide or procure out-of-school activities for all young people. I welcome this proposal. Out-of-school activities are an excellent way of developing self-confidence and teaching personal and social skills, but they should be additional to, not instead of, an obligation on all schools to provide effective PSHE, especially to the most disadvantaged. Unless someone is obliged to deliver this subject, some of the most vulnerable children will fall through the net.