Clause 11
Children, Schools and Families Bill
6:15 pm

PSHE in maintained schools

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I beg to move amendment 55, in clause 11, page 13, leave out line 11.

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Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe, Labour)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 58, in clause 11, page 13, line 11, after ‘education’, insert

‘(but constituting no more than 5% of the curriculum time)’.

Amendment 106, in clause 11, page 13, line 15, after ‘education’, insert

‘(but constituting no more than 5% of the curriculum time)’.

Amendment 56, in clause 11, page 13, leave out lines 16 to 19.

Amendment 59, in clause 11, page 13, line 19, after ‘education’, insert

‘(but constituting no more than 5% of the curriculum time)’.

Amendment 77, in clause 11, page 13, line 20, leave out subsection (4).

New clause 6—Capacity of schools to implement PSHE

‘(1) Before requiring maintained schools or Academies to implement PSHE the Secretary of State shall carry out an impact assessment into the capacities of such schools to provide PSHE and any such impact assessment shall be reported to Parliament.’.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

We have spent a long time doing geography, English and history. We are now going to do sex, and personal, social health and economic education as part of it. The next few clauses are clearly a contentious part of the Bill. They concentrate on what is in PSHE. We have all been lobbied heavily, particularly on how far the sex and relationship education elements of the Bill should go.

At the outset, it is worth saying that my worry about the way in which this part of the Bill is structured does not derive from an objection to PSHE. A lot of stuff mentioned in the Bill should be taught to children. I am a big advocate of far better sex and relationship education, which historically we do badly in this country, and I am sure that many members of the Committee have all had some pretty inadequate experiences of its teaching in our schools. It is a bit of a postcode lottery.

There are three matters at the heart of why we are worried about the structure of this aspect of the Bill. First, I am concerned about pressures on the curriculum and the timetable in schools. Secondly, our overriding concern must be about the quality of what is taught to our children under the headings of PSHE, and sex and relationship education in particular. A third important matter that we must bear in mind is the rights, responsibilities and considerations of the parents.

Clearly, what is at stake is parents’ power to withdraw their children from particular aspects of what is now being proposed as compulsory in schools. That is a problem. A parent’s right to withdraw their child from certain forms of teaching is a principle that has lasted until now and that goes to the heart of parental choice, by which we still set great store.

This part of the Bill is a bit of a muddle, and I think that it will cause problems if it passes as currently structured. That is why we have taken as the basis for a proper debate the principle that PSHE should not become such a structured, compulsory part of the curriculum. Schools are successfully incorporating it in other ways into their curriculum and timetable.

Virtually every week—I am sure that the same goes for my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and other hon. Members—I am approached by some outside organisation such as a charity, voluntary group or business saying what amounts to “Such and such a subject really should be part of the national curriculum. This is such an essential subject that we must make sure it’s absolutely up there with all the other subjects that children must learn in schools.”

As part of the lobbying and briefs that we have had for this aspect of the Bill, I received a perfectly reasonable brief from St. John Ambulance saying that basic first aid should be part of the national curriculum and that we must find time to ensure that all our kids have basic first aid skills, because it is an important subject. I am sure that we all agree that it is an important subject. If more people knew basic first aid, perhaps fewer people would suffer from accidents and so on.

We also had a brief from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds saying that there should be a statutory purpose for the environment and sustainable futures as part of the national curriculum. Again, it is an important subject—I am sure we all agree that we want our children to be more environmentally aware—but the RSPB thinks that it should be part of the national curriculum.

The list goes on and on, with various organisations with axes to grind. The trouble is that the time in which our children can learn in schools is limited. If we cram more and more into the compulsory part of the national curriculum, something must give. Either we must drop other subjects altogether, or the other subjects that remain compulsory will be diluted in some way. That is the balance to be struggled with, and that is why objections to the structure of this part of the Bill are based largely on what is practical in our schools and what children can actually cope with.

Amendment 55 is a way of plotting territory. It would remove PSHE as a compulsory subject. A selection of our amendments have been grouped together as an either/or option. If PSHE is to become a statutory part of the curriculum, amendments 58 and 106 would cap the amount of time overtly devoted to it in the curriculum.

That is part of the nonsense of including such a subject in the compulsory curriculum. It may be that PSHE is being taught successfully now through other subjects and a range of different media. My concern is that everything that comes under the heading of PSHE and all the things that I would describe loosely as healthy living—domestic science, healthy eating, cooking and doing additional sport—are largely academic if  children do not have the core skills, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton articulated so well, of being able to read, write and understand what they are being taught. We must strike a balance in what we are teaching our children.

So we have sought to put some limits on the amount of time that will be taken up by PSHE if it is to remain as a core curriculum subject. I am probing the Minister to tell me how she thinks that such a matter will be articulated within the school timetable.

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Ann Cryer (Keighley, Labour)

Just for clarification because I have never been very good at maths, how many minutes a day will this amendment mean? We are talking about 5 per cent., but has the hon. Gentleman worked out what will happen in the classroom if the amendment is accepted? Will the subject account for half an hour or an hour? I am just not sure what sort of proportion it will be of the week’s lessons and time.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

The hon. Lady makes a good point. My hon. Friend tells me that the time roughly equates to that of half a GCSE. A GCSE takes up 10 per cent. of the curriculum time, so PSHE will take up roughly half that. The hon. Lady can then work out how much physical time in minutes and hours that will take. Putting it alongside other GCSE subjects puts the matter into a more useful perspective.

I have outlined the basis of amendments 58 and 106.

Amendment 56 takes a PSHE requirement out of the Education Act 2006. Amendment 59 inserts the 5 per cent. cap in subsection (3), and amendment 77 would take PSHE out of the core curriculum.

We all know that we have a very serious problem with sex and relationship education in this country, and we need to ensure that our children and young people have a far better grasp of responsible sexual relations and responsible relationships. Let me touch on some of the figures. One in 10 sexually active 16 to 24-year-olds have chlamydia, 75 per cent. of sexually active 16 to 24-year-olds do not use condoms. The number of under-age children having sex doubled between 1990 and 2000 and continues to increase. The cases of HIV have trebled since 1997.

Part of the problem is the quality of the teaching of sex education. The UK Youth Parliament has produced a very interesting study about the existence of a postcode lottery in the teaching of sex education. In an analogy that I have given in the past—this was the case in my school although with different names—Mrs. Miggins, the geography teacher, happens to have a couple of free periods on a Thursday afternoon so she gets to do sex education this term. We need far better standards in the quality of sex education, which need not be taught by teachers who are in school. There is a case for saying that a better quality of sex education can come from outside bodies. By that I mean specially trained teachers from voluntary organisations who have their specialisms and a better empathetic relationship with the children, who are not in front of the same teacher in a class on some completely unrelated subject for other parts of the week.

So we must concentrate on the quality of how we teach some of those subjects, and that is not solved by just saying, “It must occupy a certain part of the curriculum in the classroom now.” There are far more imaginative ways in which we can do it.

The third consideration is the role of parents. One of the witnesses, Gill Frances, made the point that the number of children being withdrawn from sex and relationship education is so small that the age consideration is something of a red herring. The withdrawal rate is 0.04 per cent., according to Ofsted, which equates to around 3,000 children in England. We shall come to the issue in a later clause, but I cannot understand why the right to withdraw children from the subject is to disappear in respect of a certain age level under the changes recommended by the Government.

I welcome the new guidance that the Government recently distributed about changes proposed for clause 13, which emphasises the important nature of marriage and family life. Genuine improvements are being added. Some have queried whether the Government are changing their policy, in respect of giving parents the ultimate right over whether to withdraw their children from certain subjects if that conflicts with their ethos, religious instructions and so forth.

The Government’s own public consultation on the subject showed that the majority of parents, carers and guardians wanted to retain their current right to withdraw children from the sex and relationship element of PSHE. The Government need to make a better case for why they want to bring about substantial changes to the curriculum in schools. They need to make a better case to assure people of what is going to give if we place greater emphasis on PSHE, and why the quality of the teaching of those subjects would be improved greatly if it were made a compulsory curriculum subject.

That is the reasoning behind the amendments. We shall come to a little more detail about some of the aspects of sex and relationship education during discussion of the age opt-out considerations in the later clauses in the group, but that is broadly why we think the clause, as structured, would prove a muddle, with unintended consequences. It would not necessarily improve the quality of teaching of some of the important aspects under the heading of PSHE and it would alter the relationship between the school and the community of parents. The best way of teaching such subjects has been through an understanding between the schools and the parents about what is best for the children. Making the subject compulsory changes the dynamics of that relationship. The Government need to make a stronger case for why they want to do so.

In many ways, the amendments are probing, but they set out the premise on which we want to address some of our later amendments in more detail, as part of the changes to PSHE and to sex and relationship education in particular.

6:30 pm
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Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole, Liberal Democrat)

I have often proposed that PSHE should be compulsory, because it is so important that it is carried out well. Every child should have the opportunity to learn about the whole range of issues. Every child should have the entitlement to learn about life skills, as we have often heard from other Members of Parliament. I do not think that we can go on any longer with how the subject is being delivered across the whole run of schools. Of course there are excellent examples within  individual schools, but I do not think that anybody would attempt to argue that overall we are dealing well with PSHE in this country.

New clause 6 touches, in part, on some of the points that have been made. The compulsory element must be matched with quality provision; that is so important. One element of that would be an assessment of the capacities of schools to provide quality PSHE. Equally, what proportion—it need not be a rigid proportion—of the curriculum PSHE might take up must be established. Obviously, a lot of PSHE can be delivered in a cross-curricular manner, and it would be very well delivered in that way. However, there is a lack of clarity at the moment.

In retrospect, I applaud the Government for how long they took to consult with everybody. I was so anxious that we should get on with things that I think I criticised them for the length of the consultation. However, having reached the point that we are at today, we can look back and say that a thorough job has been done.

So it may be that our new clause is redundant; it may be that the Government have actually done the work already. Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats very strongly support in principle what the Government are doing in this area.

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Caroline Flint (Don Valley, Labour)

I concur with the hon. Lady; I firmly support the idea that PSHE should now be a compulsory element of the curriculum. My understanding is that the Youth Parliament, which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham referred to, has also supported it for some years. In fact, I remember that when I was Minister of State for Public Health, we were lobbied to that effect and I supported the idea then. I am very glad that Ministers in the newly formed Department for Children, Schools and Families have come round to that point of view today.

However, the issue is also about the quality of education that is provided. I am afraid to say that many young people that I have spoken to over the years have complained bitterly about the quality of how aspects of PSHE were taught within schools. First, there was the embarrassment of teachers who were not trained to teach it. Secondly, we need to think about how we need to deal with these issues, particularly sex and relationships education, given that a teacher may have a very mature 11-year-old—I use my words wisely here—and a very young 11-year-old in the same class. There are many issues about how to deal with this subject in a mixed-sex school, given that some sessions are more appropriate for girls-only classes and some sessions are more appropriate for boys-only classes.

For a long time, whenever we have debated sex education—it is why the relationships aspect is so important—we have adopted a rather schoolboy-ish and giggling attitude towards it; I do not want to be gender-specific, but that is the case. That means that we do not really get into the depth of relationships, as we need to.

The issue is about informing young people about how to use contraceptives, whether condoms or other forms. However, it is also about the ability to give young women and young men an understanding of the dangers  of what happens if they do not use contraceptives, and about teaching them to say no or to demand that such protection is used if they are going to have sex. It is about being assertive and having control over their relationships, and that has been missing from our debates on the issue. Whenever we debate it, all the shutters go down and we do not have an adequate conversation that really equips young people to make the right decisions at the right time when they are on their own and faced with peer group pressure. Undoubtedly, peer group pressure is hugely significant.

As for parents, I was pleased to hear Gill Frances, the lady from the Teenage Pregnancy Advisory Group, say in her evidence to us the other week that, overwhelmingly, parents do keep children in these classes. She also agreed that 15 was the right age for these young people to have the appropriate support in terms of sex and relationship education.

I also remind the Committee that parents often say, in every survey, that they do not feel equipped to have such conversations with their own children and that they want others—whether the school or others acting on behalf of it—to provide the opportunity for their children to have those conversations in an atmosphere of privacy, trust and confidence. That is an important element of the proposed legislation and it is long overdue, but the proof will be in how it is delivered. How well it has been done will be apparent when young people in five or 10 years’ time speak about the quality of that experience.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

At this late stage in the day I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Betts. I am pleased finally to be on my feet. I apologise for sniffling and coughing throughout today’s proceedings.

I welcome the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley, who as usual took a common-sense approach to the issue, and those of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, who welcomed the fact that PSHE will now be made statutory. I hope that I will be able to deal with the three areas that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is concerned about: pressure on the curriculum, the quality of PSHE and the rights and responsibilities of parents.

This group of amendments covers a number of aspects of PSHE provision and serves to raise concerns about the nature, content and merits of statutory PSHE being introduced in schools, the overall impact it will have on schools and delivery of the existing curriculum.

New clause 6 would introduce a new clause into the Bill requiring the Secretary of State to assess the capacity of maintained schools or academies to deliver PSHE by way of an impact assessment, and to have a report produced for Parliament.

I shall deal with amendments 55 and 56 together. Amendment 55 would prevent PSHE from becoming part of the statutory secondary national curriculum at key stage 3. Amendment 56 would create a strange position, in that PSHE would become part of the statutory secondary national curriculum at key stage 4 by being inserted into the existing section 85 of the Education Act 2002, but would then cease to be part of the national curriculum once the new provisions  introduced by the Education and Inspections Act 2006 are commenced. Presumably, the intention of the hon. Gentleman who tabled the amendments was that PSHE should not be part of key stage 4 at all.

We all know that PSHE prepares children and young people to deal with real-life issues, giving them the knowledge, skills and understanding they require to lead confident, healthy and independent lives. Research has shown that young people want opportunities to discuss issues that are relevant to their lives, including emotions, relationships and health issues such as mental health, sexual health, diet and exercise, not to mention topics such as careers. Of course, many families discuss such issues, but children and young people tell us how important it is to have a perspective in school, where they can discuss these issues among themselves. Sad to say, those things are not always discussed anywhere near adequately at home. Children tell us that clearly.

We have also consulted schools, teachers, parents and faith groups. There was strong support for making PSHE part of the national curriculum at all key stages, including primary. PSHE contributes to the Every Child Matters agenda and to fulfilling the five outcomes framework 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.

We know from Ofsted reports looking at PSHE that although in some schools it is taught well, provision varies throughout the country. That is why it is important to make PSHE statutory. The key point in that regard is to ensure that PSHE at key stages 3 and 4 builds on pupils’ own experiences and on the work carried out at key stages 1 and 2, and complements other areas of the curriculum. We need to be clear that if PSHE is to be effective, it must be delivered in a variety of ways to the different age groups.

Let me give Committee members an example of the topics that children and young people will be deprived of if the amendment is accepted. At key stages 3 and 4 they will not be able to explore and learn about topics such as drugs and alcohol, bullying, body image and the changing nature of the relationship between the sexes. It is in the crucial later years that young people should have the opportunity to look in depth at topics such as sex, sexuality and relationships; they should benefit from the wider range of experience and knowledge with which they will engage.

6:45 pm
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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I do not disagree with the hon. Lady about the importance of those subjects. However, she needs to say why they would be much better taught, but not to the detriment of the other things that children are at school to learn, if they were a statutory curriculum subject. It is the quality that concerns me, and the hon. Lady should address that aspect.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I agree that quality is most important in making PSHE work for our young people. I shall speak in a moment about the amendment, which would restrict the amount of PSHE taught in schools. The wider expectation is that PSHE will help with combating social exclusion and disaffection and equipping young people with the skills and attitudes needed to react positively to the pressures of modern life.

I now turn to amendments 58, 59 and 106. They would restrict PSHE to no more than 5 per cent. of curriculum time at key stages 3 and 4, presumably so that it does not impact on other parts of the curriculum or on school activities. That is entirely unwarranted. The national curriculum has always left it to schools to decide the proportion of the school timetable that is to be given to subjects. I see no good reason to change that.

The amendments would also contradict the provisions of section 87(4) of the Education Act 2002, which prohibits programmes of study from requiring the allocation of particular periods of time to the study of a particular subject. The comments of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton about a 10 per cent. figure for GCSEs are not correct. Timetabling has always been the preserve of the school, and it would be strange to impose such a requirement in respect of only one subject.

Allocating curriculum time for PSHE would be detrimental to a school’s flexibility to organise the content and delivery of the curriculum to meet the needs of its pupils, and to introduce approaches to teaching and learning within and across curriculum subjects and on a cross-curricular basis. We already know that when PSHE is taught well, it does not have to be a discrete subject taught once a week. It can be taught with a variety of other curriculum subjects.

Amendment 77 would remove the definition and overarching principles that have been designed to safeguard the delivery of PSHE. It is particularly important for statutory PSHE that we provide clear and consistent messages, and they should be underpinned by a clear definition of PSHE. Schools, parents, children and young people and the wider public need to be kept aware of the range of issues covered by PSHE, as well as being given more opportunity to consider the rationale, key concepts and topics that underpin the subject.

It is important to embrace a number of key principles that we believe should underpin the teaching of elements of statutory PSHE. They are equally important. Responses to our consultation on PSHE revealed concern that protection was needed against inappropriate and unbalanced teaching, particularly of some of the more emotive elements. Although it is important to recognise that pupils in schools come from various religious and cultural backgrounds, we should not ignore the wider religious and cultural make-up of the nation. It is this balance that the principles strike.

Requiring PSHE to be taught in a way that promotes equality will encourage the acceptance of diversity and emphasise the importance of rights and responsibilities, along with other principles. We wish to strike an appropriate balance. Removing those principles would remove some of the safeguards and assurances that parents and pupils seek for the teaching of this subject. As I have said, many elements of PSHE raise contradictory views. The principles will enshrine in legislation the need for teachers to be sensitive to those views, providing children with information but always in the context of a balanced view. Amendment 77 would remove that protection; it would damage rather than improve effective PSHE provision in our schools.

New clause 6 would require the Secretary of State to assess the capacity of maintained schools and academies to deliver PSHE; it would be done by way of an impact assessment and a report would be produced for Parliament. The Committee may be aware that an impact assessment  for the delivery of statutory PSHE was published by my Department last November. Copies were laid alongside the draft Bill for hon. Members in both Houses. A further impact assessment would be both unnecessary and a costly burden.

Let me take the opportunity to address the issue of the capacity and ability of schools to deliver statutory PSHE, and the perception that the subject will be an additional pressure on the existing school curriculum. I am aware that little primary research has been conducted on the delivery and impact of statutory PSHE education as a whole. Most research that has been undertaken has been small-scale and focused on specific strands within the context of PSHE, such as education about sex and relationships, or drugs and alcohol.

Much of the commentary available on the quality of PSHE in schools is based on inspection evidence gathered by Ofsted, and suggests that the quality of PSHE programmes is generally improving. From what we have seen and heard, my Department would generally endorse that position. However, as I mentioned earlier, Ofsted’s latest report concludes that

“this broadly encouraging picture conceals some variation”.

Inconsistency in coverage and variability in quality is of concern. By making this subject statutory, we can achieve a step change in the quality of that provision.

The number of pupils currently withdrawing from sex education probably reflects the fact that there is no core content. Schools provide sex and relationship education in many different ways, and what they teach depends on which part of the country they are in, and what kind of focus and attention the leadership of the school gives to that issue within PSHE. With PSHE becoming statutory, and given the list of what is expected to be taught in sex and relationship education, it is not clear whether the numbers will change. That is why it is important to put the right of withdrawal in the Bill. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham knows, we will discuss that matter under a different group of amendments.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I did not disagree with a lot of what the Minister said. Towards the end of her comments she said that by making PSHE statutory, we can achieve a step change. I want to achieve a step change, because a lot of the things that are defined—somewhat rigidly—in the Bill are things that we need to do a heck of a lot better, such as teaching kids about the downside of binge drinking, achieving better mental health, being more aware of mental health and emotional problems at an earlier age, and ensuring that they are more conscious of how they can live, eat and exercise more healthily. We all agree that we need to achieve a lot more than we currently do—one need only look at the figures for the obesity epidemic, or at the one in 10 school-age children with a mental health problem and so on. We all agree on what we want to achieve, but simply saying that by making something statutory we can achieve a step change does not actually achieve it. Our concern is that making PSHE a statutory subject in the curriculum per se will not achieve that change—it all depends on how we go about it.

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Caroline Flint (Don Valley, Labour)

Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that alongside making things statutory we need other additions to the Bill? If that is the case, will he explain what we need to get a more quality product at the end?

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

Right at the beginning, I made it absolutely clear that this was about the way in which, and the imagination with which, PSHE is taught, and about how it engages children to ensure that they learn more and that they want to learn. We do not necessarily achieve that just by making it a statutory subject. In these probing amendments, I am trying to get at why the Minister thinks that the act of making something a statutory subject will automatically lead to a step change, in her words, that will improve quality in all subjects, which is what we all want.

We have taken a slightly more analytical role. We are not saying that PSHE should not be taught. Of course it should be taught, but there are many ways of doing that. We heard a very good example during the witness stage when John McIntosh, I believe, alluded to the British Museum series that is currently on Radio 4, which was mentioned earlier. It is a brilliant series about the history of the world in 100 objects. Having listened to some of the programmes, I invested in an iPod so that I could download them all and listen to the whole lot.

A 15-minute programme about a paleolithic hand axe from the 14th millennium BC can teach a whole range of subjects: eating; how our ancestors used tools; and how those tools influenced their living habits, grazing habits, and lifestyle. The programme discussed geography and changes in the climate that affected the lifestyle of those people. It dealt with a whole load of subjects, all within the analysis of one lump of old flint—[Laughter.]

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Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness, Conservative)

You can learn such a lot from it.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

That is entirely the point, because it is not the object in itself that teaches people, but what you do with it.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

While this is interesting—the hon. Gentleman was about to say what you do with it—it is important to recognise that by making PSHE statutory we are not saying, “That’s it, everything will be fine from now on.” Having a statutory programme of what we expect to be taught in PSHE will give schools the focus to ensure that they deliver the skills and knowledge that we want our young people to have.

Perhaps I did not mention bringing in experts. I went to see a class in a Catholic primary school in south London where PSHE is taught effectively. The school brought in a local GP and an expert who worked with young children to address how bodies change as a baby becomes an old man. The children had a basket of underwear, and they picked up various items of underwear and talked through who they thought would wear them.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in that we need to be imaginative and we need to use experts, but I do not think that his idea about prescribing less than 5 per cent. is what this is about. We need to recognise that we need to do this much better than we have in the past, and that we need to use a variety of methods to do that.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

What I want to prescribe is that schools have maximum flexibility to teach PSHE as imaginatively and effectively as they wish. To return to my analogy, it is not the lump of stone that matters, but  the explanation to the children, and the way in which their imagination is fired so that they want to listen and learn more as a result.

The Minister gave an excellent example, and I am sure that all of us have come across others. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and I are patrons of Life Education Centres, which is a charity that takes its mobile classrooms to schools to teach kids in an imaginative way about problems with smoking and drugs, and about healthy eating. It uses a high-technology classroom and some really inspiring teachers, and gets a very different result and reaction from the children than might have been achieved with the same old teacher in the same old classroom teaching PSHE as one of the statutory subjects.

We are not saying that PSHE should not be taught. Of course it should be taught, but it needs to be taught much better. We are saying not that it should not be part of the curriculum, but that schools should have much greater freedom to be able to inspire their kids in the way in which they think is best to get the results that we all want.

This comes down to quality. Simply putting a subject on the curriculum in this raw way will not on its own lead to the results that the Minister seems to think will automatically be achieved.

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Caroline Flint (Don Valley, Labour)

I do not think anybody believes that just putting something on the curriculum produces results in and of itself, which is why we need other mechanisms to ensure that delivery actually happens. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that making this statutory is harmful to the prospects of delivering PSHE, particularly sex and relationships education? If that is the case, what is his alternative? I asked him that question before and he did not answer it.

7:00 pm
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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I started off by saying that something has to give, because there is a finite amount of time in a school day to teach the things that we want our children to learn. Simply introducing a more regimented requirement in relation to how we teach PSHE and all the things in this list that go with it must have an impact on what the school is teaching in the rest of school time to everybody else. This is the Government’s own policy. Again, I note that, according to Ministers,

“Recent curriculum developments have been aimed at reducing the statutory core and allowing schools even more autonomy to organise their curriculum.”—[Official Report, 3 November 2008; Vol. 482, c. 185W.]

That was stated by a DCSF Minister. Making PSHE a statutory subject in that respect would appear to be a step in the opposite direction. That is the point we are making.

We have had something of a debate, but we must go a lot further to reassure people about what we are going to achieve. Will the Minister say how the simple act of giving PSHE a higher profile and greater weight within the school day, and prescribing it for schools to follow, will improve the quality of the teaching? At the end of the day, the quality of the teaching will make the difference, and that is what we are trying to get at.

It is all too easy just to bung the subject on the curriculum and tick the box, but that will not achieve the outcomes that I think we all want to achieve for our  children. Having said that, I do not want to take up the Committee’s time any further, so given the Minister’s reassurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I beg to move amendment 76, in clause 11, page 13, line 12, leave out ‘modern’.

I shall deal with amendment 76 quickly because a dinner break beckons. We tabled this probing amendment because one of the subjects that the Bill provides that schools will have to follow is “a modern foreign language”, and we are purely querying why that is set out in clause 11(1). By proposing to take out the word “modern,” I am asking whether the Minister thinks a classical language—be it Latin or Greek—would hold the same weight as the modern foreign language that she wants to be taught to our children. Hence, this is a probing amendment to establish her views on Latin or other similar subjects that are not classified as “modern”.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

Perhaps I ought to start by paying tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s creativity in moving the amendment in the middle of our debate on PSHE.

The amendment would change what constitutes a language for the purposes of the curriculum at key stage 3. The study of modern foreign languages has been statutory at key stage 3 since the inception of the national curriculum. Until the implementation of the new secondary curriculum in 2008, schools had to teach a working language of the European Union before offering any other language, so a school could not just teach Chinese, for example.

In the revised secondary curriculum, schools no longer have to teach a working language of the European Union before offering any other language. Instead, their teaching of a modern foreign language may include major European or world languages, such as Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and so on. The list is not closed, so schools may make their choice on the basis of supply and demand in their area. Importantly, the programme of study for modern foreign languages contains requirements for inter-cultural understanding, which are met by communicating in the target language with speakers of that language, including native speakers where possible, and studying similarities and contrasts between the cultures of different countries, including our own. These requirements could not properly be covered if the language taught—Latin, for example—was not spoken by a contemporary culture.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

Is the Minister aware that in a remote part of Albania there is a group of people who still speak a form of Latin?

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I am delighted to hear that. I did not know, so I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information. The key point is that the languages taught in mainstream schools are ones that allow children and young people to interact with different cultures, talk to people and spend time in the relevant countries. However, there is nothing to stop schools from teaching Latin or Greek, if they wish. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I am glad I have taught the Minister something about the fascinating group of people called the Vlachs. I do not want to pursue the matter further, however, so I am happy to accept what she said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe, Labour)

As the Committee intends to sit late this evening, it is now appropriate to have a break for something to eat, so I shall suspend the Committee for one hour.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

8:10 pm
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David Laws (Yeovil, Liberal Democrat)

On a point of order, Mr. Betts. I cannot be the only Member to have noticed that we are on clause 11 of a Bill that has 50 clauses, including many controversial clauses that people outside this place will expect us to scrutinise properly. Have you had any suggestions from the Government or the usual channels that there should be some attempt to modify the programme order, so that the Committee can discharge its responsibilities?

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Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe, Labour)

I have not had any representations, but my understanding is that if the Committee was to have gone through the procedure of modifying the motion passed in the House, it would have to have done so before now. As things stand, we are bound by the decision of the House that we have to finish at 5 pm on Thursday.

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David Laws (Yeovil, Liberal Democrat)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Betts. Would it be possible for the Government to bring forward a motion on the Floor of the House tomorrow to extend the period beyond 5 pm on Thursday?

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Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe, Labour)

I understand that if the Government were to give notice of that today, that could be done, but that is a matter for the Government, not for me.

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Vernon Coaker (Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families; Gedling, Labour)

On a point of order, Mr. Betts. This is on another matter. I have put on the Table some examples of the report card, which members of the Committee may wish to look at. That refers to clause 20. It never occurred to me before that it would be useful to do that, so I apologise for not doing so before. It does not make any real difference, but people may find the examples interesting.

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Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe, Labour)

I thank the Minister for that point of information, rather than point of order.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I beg to move amendment 78, in clause 11, page 13, line 23, leave out ‘shall’ and insert ‘may’.

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Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe, Labour)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 57, in clause 11, page 13, leave out line 31.

Amendment 79, in clause 11, page 13, line 36, leave out from ‘that’ to end of line 6 on page 14 and insert ‘PSHE is taught appropriately,’.

Amendment 249, in clause 11, page 13, line 39, leave out ‘and balanced’.

Amendment 250, in clause 11, page 13, line 40, leave out from beginning of the line to end of line 2 on page 14.

Amendment 251, in clause 11, page 14, line 3, leave out ‘should’ and insert ‘must’.

Amendment 60, in clause 11, page 14, line 10, leave out from ‘State’ to end of line 11.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

Duly refreshed by supper, we are now dealing with further parts of PSHE. These are probing amendments. We are trying a slightly different tack here. We have bunged everything into them to test the Government’s determination and where they are going on this. On the basis that the Government are clearly determined to keep PSHE as a statutory subject in the Bill, the aim of the amendments is to give schools, governors and heads of schools more discretion in how they teach it; we are trying to be as unprescriptive as possible.

Amendment 78 would therefore change “shall” to “may”—a favourite amendment of Public Bill Committees. Basically, subsection (4) of clause 11 would state that PSHE “may comprise” the seven categories that are listed. It would be up to schools what emphasis they placed on certain criteria in the list, what other aspects they thought should be included in PSHE, and how best to teach the subject as an integrated part of any new or existing subjects. The amendment is quite straightforward and gives schools greater discretion to decide how they can most effectively teach PSHE to their pupils, given that they will have to teach it.

The second amendment—amendment 57—seeks clear clarification from the Minister on why she thinks that proposed new subsection (2) is necessary. This is one of those Henry VIII clauses that give enormous powers to the Secretary of State. Whatever we decide in Committee, whatever the eventual Act looks like, whichever parts of these components end up in the legislation, the Secretary of State can change it all. The Secretary of State, of whatever political persuasion, can all of a sudden decide on a whim that education about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and education about emotional health and well-being should not be a requirement. Those provisions would then drop off, be replaced with other things or be amended in another way.

Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into what the Government say that PSHE should consist of, and the headings are quite broad, so the Government need to justify the position whereby, on a whim, all of them could be wiped out through secondary legislation. We would appreciate some examples of how a future Secretary of State might seek to make such changes without further proper reference to this House.

The latter part of subsection (4) is an absolute minefield. I am referring to the terminology used in some of the provisions. For example, proposed new section 85B(5) of the Education Act 2002, relating to the three principles of teaching PSHE to which governors and heads need to pay close regard, states:

“The first principle is that information presented in the course of providing PSHE should be accurate and balanced.”

What on earth does that mean? Who will judge whether information is balanced, let alone accurate? These are not scientific subjects that are being taught. Certainly, emotional health and sex and relationships are highly complex subjects, and people have different views on how, to what age groups and to what groups of children they should be taught. How on earth can a governing body make a case that the way in which its school is teaching such a subject is balanced, let alone accurate? Again, some guidance from the Minister would be helpful.

Similarly, we have already heard from other members of the Committee about age appropriateness. Clearly, different children grow up at different speeds. Different children from different ethnic backgrounds will have a different level of education on sex and relationship matters, and on attitudes to drink and drugs. I am sure that the hon. Member for Keighley will have some comments—

Mrs. Cryerrose—

8:15 pm
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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I thought that the hon. Lady would have some comments on that subject, and I am happy to give way.

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Ann Cryer (Keighley, Labour)

I was just going to say that there are very different attitudes towards homosexuality, as to whether it should, say, be punished or treated.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

Absolutely, so how on earth can we devise a system of PSHE that can be gauged to be age appropriate, let alone balanced, for a school in the hon. Lady’s constituency, of which we have heard a lot, where there may be a predominantly Muslim population who have come from backgrounds and homes with parents who have very strong views on drink, sexuality and other such matters? Such a school may be very different from a school at the other end of the country in my constituency or the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, or from a school in a neighbouring constituency with a very different constituency of pupils. It will therefore be an enormous task to try to make meaningful regulations out of these provisions.

Let us go to the further provisions. Under proposed new section 85B(6)(b), PSHE has to reflect

“a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives.”

The reasonableness test is always a big hurdle in these Committees. How on earth will a Minister define a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives? Should that just be the mainstream religions? Should it reflect the religions that are represented in a particular school, even if they are not the mainstream religions that form the majority of religions in the country? Again, it is a minefield.

Proposed new section 85B(7) states:

“The third principle is that PSHE should be taught in a way that—

(a) endeavours to promote equality”.

Again, what on earth does that mean? If there is a phalanx of pupils who clearly do not appreciate the merits of equality, but the school has done its darnedest  to teach them those merits, is that good enough, even though the school has clearly failed and something is wrong with the system?

The second consideration in that principle is to encourage “acceptance of diversity”. People in this Committee would come up with many different definitions of diversity and different ideas about how we could accept it. It is a sensitive area that is fraught with all sorts of problems. Our constituencies are made up of all sorts of different communities that have different perspectives. One would hope that the majority of parents take a close interest in what their children are being taught at school. That is particularly true of children from close family backgrounds and certain religious communities where they have a strict upbringing.

The clause will impose a lot of arbitrary and highly subjective judgments on whether a school is promoting PSHE in the best way. We are removing the rights of parents to withdraw their children from exposure to this sort of PSHE to a certain degree, because it is becoming a statutory curriculum subject. We will also greatly diminish parents’ right to withdraw their children from sex and relationship education, which we will come to.

When discussing an earlier group of amendments, I stated the principle that the choices of parents must feature more heavily than they appear to feature in the Bill. I have always followed the philosophy, including over the many years that I have been shadow Minister for Children, that in the vast majority of cases, the people who know what is best for children and what is in the interests of their welfare are their parents. We are taking away some of the powers of parents to make decisions about what is best for their children in an educational context. In so doing, we must be assured that what we are putting in place of that, and what we are subjecting children to with a degree of compulsion, is absolutely in their best interests. That point goes back to the paramountcy of the welfare of the child set out in the Children Act 1989.

What we are doing must be clearly defined, so that the benefits are clear to all. The clause is pretty mushy. It is full of subjective judgments that have to be made and contains pretty subjective and undefined language. That is why I would like to hear how the Minister intends the law to work in practice. On paper, it may sound fair game, but in practice it is a minefield.

The final amendment in the group, amendment 60, again refers to the powers of the Secretary of State. I do not think that I have seen a clause before quite like this one. It empowers the Secretary of State to issue guidance, which is perfectly reasonable. The governors or the head teacher will have to “have regard to” that guidance. We could have a whole debate about what “have regard to” means, and about how compulsory that is. However, they not only have to have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State, whom we can hold to account in this House, whoever he or she may be. The guidance could also be issued by

“a person nominated by the Secretary of State”.

We might not be able to hold that person to account. They might not appear before parliamentary Committees, such as the Children, Schools and Families Committee. They might not be beholden to the people in this House, who make laws such as those that we are debating. It would be useful if the Minister gave us some examples  of the sort of people she thinks will act in loco of the Secretary of State, as they will be responsible for changing all sorts of guidance, potentially relating to some sensitive subjects, for some vulnerable young people and for many parents who will be concerned.

Parents have written to us with their concerns about how their children might be exposed to some of those changes. One parent who wrote to me stated:

“Where a school gains consent and cooperation from parents, it preserves the community values, rather than imposing materials and topics with ideological issues attached.”

That parent’s view—I have some sympathy with it—is that if we can gain consensus, we can encourage parents to feel part of what their children are being taught in sensitive areas, without removing their power to withdraw their children from certain aspects that they do not like. If we consult fully with them, we are likely to get a much more effective way of teaching the disciplines of PSHE to a much more responsive audience, and so a much better-informed set of pupils will have been exposed to it.

Those are our probing amendments. There are many details missing to which the Minister must now turn her attention. I worry greatly that the highly subjective and rather mushy language used in the clause will not survive being put into practice.

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Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton North East, Labour)

I will deal with amendments 249 to 251, which relate to proposed new section 85B(5), (6) and (7), as set out in clause 11(4). My first point is on the question of balance. I agree with the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham on that matter. It leaves so many openings for propagandising almost anything someone might want to say.

Proposed new subsection (1)(a) to (g), which sets out what will be taught, includes “economic education”. Some of us could do a splendid job of saying how wonderful Keynes was, and no doubt others could put the opposite point of view. That would be no more balanced than anything else that could be thrown into an economics lecture. Economists, of course, are known for saying, “On the one hand this, and on the one hand that”, but I suspect that someone teaching that part of the curriculum would be unlikely to have a detailed knowledge of economics. That could get a little more serious in some schools, particularly faith schools and academies that are run by people with fundamentalist beliefs. They might want to teach intelligent design and tell us that the world has existed only for 6,000 years and that all that business about evolution is so much nonsense. That word “balanced” gives the opportunity to bring in any crazy notion that a teacher or school might feel inclined to give vent to, and that is extremely concerning.

The paragraph would be made entirely acceptable by removing “and balanced” and relying on the word “accurate”. I believe that all of those subjects can be taught with accuracy, particularly those relating to physiology and biology. Those are matters of fact and not about balance. They are the things that make us human and give us a common grounding. It seems to me that talking of balance in those circumstances is nonsense.

Education about personal finance is also listed, but again, what has balance got to do with that? It is perfectly feasible to teach finance, physical activity and sex and relationships education on the basis of evidence, accuracy and facts. I will dwell no longer on that point. I think that the clause would be improved enormously by the removal of the words “and balanced”.

8:30 pm
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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I am following carefully what the hon. Gentleman is saying. On financial education, does he agree with the fact that it would be better for children to invest in shares than to put their money in a building society—a fact based on actuarial evidence? Would he be happy with that sort of fact?

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Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton North East, Labour)

I would be entirely happy for a teacher to explain the savings principle and the number of vehicles that a person can use to save, explaining risks along the way in each of those different saving opportunities. Provided that we are not on a mission, it is perfectly easy to teach such matters in a factual and accurate way by giving information that is already in textbooks and in the public domain.

As for proposed new subsection (6), the second principle is that PSHE should be taught in a way that

“is appropriate to the ages of the pupils”.

That should almost go without being written down. It beggars belief that someone could not recognise a class of five-year-olds from a class of 17-year-olds. That provision is a bit unnecessary, but the rest of the subsection is a travesty. As for “religious and cultural backgrounds”, when it comes to economics, individual safety, physiology and biology, that is a sop to those who have come to the Government and said that they do not like it. It is the language of obfuscation. It is along the lines of, “Let’s not really talk about these things at all. It’s not very nice, you know.”

The Government have actually listened to the voices that have dominated not only sexual education, but education for two centuries. It is now time to recognise that there are some straightforward ways in which to do things that will enlighten young people and allow them to live their lives hopefully to the full extent, so on and so forth. The provision

“a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives”

is not at all necessary. What does it mean? Does it include scientology? Can we call in Doris Day and Tom Cruise to give us a lecture? It is absolute nonsense. I fail to recognise that when teaching basic biology there is much of a cultural bias to be taken into account. For even a semi-enlightened group of people, the provision will have to go. It is an insult to modernity. It must go out of the way.

The clause goes on to say that

“the third principle is that PSHE should be taught in a way that...endeavours to promote equality”.

I agree, but “should” is simply not enough. There will be schools, especially those owned by individuals who allegedly intended to put up a couple of million quid, but the money never left their backside pockets. They will have religious fundamentalism on the brain. We even have the Pope now telling us that he does not like our equality. What on earth does it have to do with the  Pope? Why is he not dealing with the spiritual for his flock and leaving the rest of us to get on with our lives in an equal and proper way? That is the sort of thing that we could expect unless we state that the subject “must” be done. I checked, as I thought that “should” would mean to most people that they ought to get on and do it. According to the lawyers, it does not mean that. If we have to have PSHE taught in that way, it “must” be taught. With those few words, I endorse amendments 249 and 251.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

This group of amendments is dealing with the content of statutory PSHE and the principles underpinning it. In particular, amendment 57 would prevent the Secretary of State from being able to amend the content of statutory PSHE in proposed new section 85B by order. Amendment 60 would prevent the Secretary of State from asking other organisations to issue guidance on his behalf.

Amendment 78 seeks to make the contents of the programme of PSHE optional. One clear consequence would be that that would leave the content of PSHE undetermined and would in fact permit the Secretary of State more discretion, not less, in determining its actual content. It might also be intended to give schools the right to determine for themselves what should constitute PSHE, if taken with some of the other amendments tabled by the same hon. Members. By extension, amendment 79 seeks to prevent the Secretary of State from imposing any principles that underpin and safeguard the teaching of all aspects of PSHE.

Amendment 57 would prevent the Secretary of State from using secondary legislation to amend any definition of PSHE, so that any further change would necessitate primary legislation. It is unfortunate that PSHE as a subject has often been defined in the media solely in terms of the more sensitive issues it explores, such as sex and relationships, drug use and misuse, and now debt. That may create the impression that PSHE education is simply a patchwork quilt of disconnected topics, with teaching focused solely on content and the transmission of information. More broadly, it helps young people to understand themselves, their relationships, the situations, opportunities, choices and experiences that they are likely to encounter now and in the future so that they can be safe, healthy and economically secure. However, its content may well change over time, as the topics that are relevant to young people change. For example, the economic element is new. A definition of PSHE five years ago would not have mentioned that, whereas now it is accepted by all sides that we were right to introduce it. Things will change and the amendment would make it harder, rather than easier, to reflect that reality.

To respond directly to the point raised by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, the power to amend the content of PSHE is an order-making power, which is subject to an affirmative resolution procedure through Parliament. Therefore, it could not be changed on a whim, and those clauses are inserted into part 6 of the Education Act 2002. I hope that that will provide some reassurance.

Amendment 78 would make the contents of PSHE more fluid and allow schools or, in another interpretation, the Secretary of State greater discretion to amend the constituent parts. We all appreciate that PSHE is a complex area of learning. Unlike some of the more  traditional curriculum subjects, its components are many and varied. It is a fluid subject that needs to reflect and meet the expectations of children and young people as they face the challenges of adult life. Effective PSHE education equips children and young people with the core knowledge, understanding, attitudes and practical skills to live healthy, safe, productive and fulfilled lives. It is those that are reflected in the Bill’s provisions, which the amendment would change. Therefore, we have concluded that it is essential for all children and young people to have an entitlement to a common core of knowledge, skills and understanding in PSHE education. The depth and range of the learning experience should no longer be determined solely by individual schools and teachers. I should, of course, make it clear that having a definition of PSHE is quite different from telling schools and teachers how the different components should be taught. While we say that, for example, personal finance must be covered and set out key elements of that in the more detailed programme of study, it remains absolutely a matter for schools to determine detailed content and teaching methods, so long as those are consistent with the principles of balance set out in the Bill.

Before I address the group of amendments that deal specifically with the principles governing the delivery of PSHE in the classroom, I would like the opportunity to speak to amendment 60, which seeks to prevent the Secretary of State from asking another organisation, or individuals, to issue guidance on PSHE on his behalf, to which a local authority governing body or head teacher must have regard. I accept that for the most part, stakeholders will look to the Secretary of State as the source of guidance. Indeed, such guidance already exists: for example, we published updated guidance on sex and relationship education last week.

However, suppose for a moment that the Secretary of State might occasionally take the view that guidance would best come from somewhere else—a panel of experts on personal finance, for example, or an expert with views on drugs. The amendment would not permit that and it would prevent organisations such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency from issuing guidance on the Secretary of State’s behalf. It is surely right to think that that might happen at some point.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

What confuses me is that neither the Minister nor we expect the Secretary of State to come up with all the ideas about what should be in the PSHE guidance; he or she will be advised by experts. However, we do not expect the experts to be the final arbiters and signers-off of the changes that will be imposed on schools. Surely their advice must be given to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State should then issue guidance and be accountable for that decision to the House, not to some anonymous bunch of financiers.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I was using personal finance as a concrete example of how expert advice and guidance might be useful. The flexibility in the provisions will allow the Secretary of State to draw from experience and knowledge in the widest possible sense. I also referred to a panel of experts on drugs, who might bring with them the respect of a community dealing with drugs when proposing what issues need to be addressed in schools.

To move on to the group of amendments dealing specifically with the principles that would govern the delivery of PSHE in the classroom, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, the schools doing PSHE best at the moment are already engaging with parents and explaining exactly what will be taught. I know that some schools provide worksheets, especially on sex and relationship issues, so work can be taken home at the end of a PSHE lesson and parents can understand and engage fully with that part of PSHE. Engaging with parents is absolutely the right thing to do. Schools and parents should work in partnership to ensure that PSHE is delivered in the best possible way.

Amendment 79 would remove the principles underpinning the teaching of PSHE. It is particularly important for statutory PSHE that we provide clear and consistent messages, which need to be underpinned by a clear definition of both PSHE and how it can be taught. We consider it important to embrace a number of key principles that we think should underpin the teaching elements of statutory PSHE, all of which are equally valid.

The responses to our consultation on PSHE revealed concerns that some protection was needed against inappropriate and unbalanced teaching, particularly on some of the more emotive elements. It is vital that the teaching be factually accurate, as the first principle requires, but at the same time it is important that we recognise the particular religious and cultural backgrounds of pupils and schools without ignoring the wider religious and cultural make-up of the nation as a whole. The principles strike that balance.

The principle of requiring PSHE to be taught in a way that promotes equality—

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Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton North East, Labour)

Will the Minister give me an example of balance? Incidentally, on a point of order, Mr. Betts, I need the microphones turned up. When the Minister speaks in that way, I can scarcely hear what is being said. Is it possible to do that? I do not think that I am the only 70-year-old in the room, but I need them turned up a bit.

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Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe, Labour)

Someone will turn them up.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I am sorry; it might be my voice. I have a bad cold as well.

An example that I think it is useful to give involves marriage, civil partnerships and how a faith school might teach about marriage. It might say that marriage and bringing up a family is seen as important in terms of the faith. However, to get balance, the school would also have to talk about civil partnerships and recognise that in society, we have civil partnerships and that there are legal protections for civil partners. That is the kind of perspective.

8:45 pm
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Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton North East, Labour)

That is not balance; it is simply stating that there is more than one way for two people to enjoy their lives together. What is the problem here? There is no balance in that. Are we taking the view that marriage is much more important than a partnership? I hope not,  because if we are, we are probably offending other legislation that we are trying to bring through this place right now.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I was trying to give an example of where balance could be given within PSHE. Faith schools have certain beliefs about marriage and homosexuality, as we have already discussed in this Committee. It is important that we recognise that balance is given when we teach PSHE. Obviously, my hon. Friend will not agree with me on this point. [Interruption.] I will try harder. The principles require PSHE to be taught in a way that promotes equality, encourages the acceptance of diversity and emphasises the importance of both rights and responsibilities. We seek to strike an appropriate balance. Removing them would remove some safeguards and assurances that parents and pupils have on the teaching of the subject, which many schools are already doing very well.

Amendment 249 would remove the requirement in the first principle for schools and governing bodies to ensure that the information presented in the course of providing PSHE is done so in a balanced way; we were just having that discussion. I did not agree with the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East made earlier on. Balance is a key element of the first principle, which has been designed to underpin and safeguard teaching of all aspects of PSHE. It is vital that the teaching is not only factually accurate but delivered in a balanced way. The principle of requiring PSHE to be taught in a way that is not only accurate but balanced will allow children and young people to approach issues and topics in an objective way, thereby encouraging them to consider not only their attitudes and values, but acknowledge and reflect on those of others and the wider society. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that children and young people need to be given the opportunity to reflect on contrasting experiences, where they are able to appreciate fully a more holistic and arguably more inclusive view of the environment in which they live, which will help them prepare for the challenges that they will inevitably face in their later years. If schools were to present children and young people with a myopic or distorted view of real life issues and topics—such as the realities of drug use and their implications—we would be depriving them of the wide range of skills and knowledge that will help them to prepare for all the challenges, opportunities and responsibilities that they are likely to face in later life.

Amendment 250 would remove the second principle, which states that

“PSHE should be taught in a way that—

(a) is appropriate to the ages of the pupils concerned and to their religious and cultural backgrounds, and also

(b) reflects a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives”,

which underpin and safeguard the teachings of all aspects of PSHE.

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Ann Cryer (Keighley, Labour)

If we are going to apply it to reflect cultural and religious backgrounds, I do not want to hear in any school in my constituency the view that sharia law should apply to homosexuals and people who are having same-sex relationships. I am dealing with that sort of thing. Young homosexual men who have been forced into a marriage come to me, and I am  having to deal with the consequences. I do not want to hear such views being put out through the schools as well because it would start to defeat me.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I want to reassure my hon. Friend. If she looks at the third principle set out in clause 11, it is clear that

PSHE should be taught in a way that—

(a) endeavours to promote equality,

(b) encourages acceptance of diversity, and

(c) emphasises the importance of both rights and responsibilities.”

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Caroline Flint (Don Valley, Labour)

Surely it should also be talking about the context of the law of this country.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

Of course. The law of this country is important. I imagine that it would crop up in PSHE on a number of occasions; for instance, there would be a full discussion about the law in drugs education and about the age of consent and rape in sex and relationship education. There are all sorts of ways that the law of the land would be raised and discussed with young people.

To carry on with amendment 250, it is vital that we recognise that pupils come from particular religious and cultural backgrounds, while not ignoring the wider religious and cultural make-up of the nation as a whole. No one would disagree that teaching needs to be appropriate to the age of the child, but it must also reflect the range of values and beliefs of pupils and expose them to the values and beliefs of others, not least for the purpose of examining and exploring their own views.

In today’s society, children and young people are very interested in the religious and cultural frameworks that bind them together, and the benefits of that need to be reflected and reinforced in the classroom. Pupils often welcome opportunities to talk about issues on which people have strong views—about religion, culture and other perspectives—free from the bias and prejudice that has afflicted society negatively. It is important to remember that talking in a balanced way about differences in opinion does not promote one set of views over another, or mean that one agrees with a particular view. Part of exploring and understanding cultural, religious and other views is finding out that people can agree to disagree. That principle, in particular, underpins and fills an absence in some schools where the make-up has not reflected the community.

PSHE education covers a range of important issues and, in doing so, helps pupils to prepare for the challenges of later life. Those issues are sometimes sensitive, can provoke strong feelings and give rise to a range of views. For PSHE education to be effective, it needs both parents and pupils to be assured that it will not be delivered in a dogmatic, unbalanced or inappropriate way, but in a way that respects and reflects the range of views and beliefs that exist. We believe that those principles, enshrined in legislation, provide an important safeguard that will provide that confidence, while allowing pupils to receive accurate information about important topics.

Amendment 251 would make teaching in accordance with the third principle mandatory. It states:

“PSHE should be taught in a way that...endeavours to promote equality,...encourages acceptance of diversity, and...emphasises the importance of both rights and responsibilities.”

The amendment suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East is unnecessary. Although the principles underpinning the teaching of PSHE are expressed as things that schools, governing bodies and head teachers should do, that stems only from the fact that they are expressed as principles. My hon. Friend will see that proposed new subsection (4) imposes a duty on the governing body and head teacher to secure that the principles are complied with. Therefore, there is already an obligation at the level he wants.

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Martin Linton (Battersea, Labour)

Is my hon. Friend sure that proposed new subsection (6)(a) could not be used by a parent who was concerned that gay or non-marital relationships were being talked about in class? It states:

PSHE should be taught in a way that...is appropriate to their religious...backgrounds.”

Could parents use that subsection to say that their children should not be taught something that is inappropriate to their religious background? I fear that such phrases open up the possibility of schools being sued by people with strong religious beliefs on the grounds that their children are being taught about things that may be factual, but which they consider inappropriate to their religious background.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

My hon. Friend might be right if the subsection was taken out of context, but it is the second of three principles. It has to be seen alongside the first principle, about accuracy and balance, and the third principle, which is about promoting equality, encouraging acceptance of diversity and emphasising the importance of both rights and responsibilities. Under the second principle—proposed new subsection (6) (b)—PSHE must reflect

“a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives.”

My understanding is that a school would not be able to say, for instance on homosexuality, “We are not going to discuss it, because our religion does not accept that it exists, or we see it as absolutely wrong”.

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Martin Linton (Battersea, Labour)

I take my hon. Friend’s point, but if proposed new subsection 6(a) can be overridden by appealing to the principle in clause 5 or proposed new subsection 6(b), what function does it serve?

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

Perhaps it would be helpful to say that it is not what is taught but the way it is taught that can reflect cultural and religious views. I do not know if that helps my hon. Friend.

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Martin Linton (Battersea, Labour)

That confused me even more. I wondered about the way that something is taught. At a banal level, the way something is taught is completely separate from what is taught. Surely, this can only make sense if we are talking about what is being taught.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

It might help my hon. Friend if I say that facts can be taught as facts, but have to be clearly distinguished from beliefs or doctrines of faith. They have to be taught separately. Facts are taught as facts; beliefs and the views of the faith school would be taught as, “This is what the Church believes or what my particular religion believes.” I do not know if that helps. Perhaps we can come back to that point.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

The Minister is confusing facts and opinions. The proposed new subsection 6(a) principle is about being appropriate to the age. A fact is a fact, whatever the age of the person. A fact to do with sex and sexual encounters is a fact, whether one is six, 16 or 96. This is rubbish.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I do not accept that it is rubbish. What one teaches a five-year-old in a primary school about relationships is different from what one would teach a 15-year-old in secondary school about sex and relationships. [Hon. Members: “ Facts!”] I do not accept that. Hon. Members are assuming that all facts are taught to all ages. There are facts taught to five-year-olds, and other facts taught to 15-year-olds. For instance, one would not teach a five-year-old about contraception—[Interruption.] That is a fact. One would teach that at 15. Contraception exists.

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Bill Wiggin (Whip, Whips; Leominster, Conservative)

One wouldn’t lie about it either.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

No, of course not. We are getting rather hung up on this. The idea is that whatever is appropriate for a particular age group within the school, the facts are relayed—[Interruption.]

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Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe, Labour)

Order. Perhaps we could have fewer sedentary interventions.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

Religious and cultural beliefs are part of that context. Perhaps we need to come back to this, but to me it seems quite clear.

In conclusion, I reiterate that the provision is about promoting equality, inclusion and acceptance of diversity. PSHE should promote awareness, respect and understanding for the wide range of practices and beliefs that exist in our society. Personal identities and diversity are two of the key concepts in the national curriculum programme study for PSHE education—personal well-being at key stage 3 and 4. PSHE should support pupils to value differences between people, to challenge stereotypes and to understand the world around them. The effect of all the amendments would be to remove that protection, and would damage rather than improve the confidence of parents that their children are receiving effective and balanced PSHE education.

Many elements of PSHE raise contradictory views. However, these principles will enshrine in legislation the need for teaching to be sensitive to those views, but at the same time provide children with accurate information in the context of a balanced view, as well as taking into account their background and the wishes of their parents. I urge hon. Members not to press the amendments.

One final point in relation to faith schools: it has become obvious to me in talking to teachers and parents, that although many faith schools already deliver very good PSHE education, there are concerns that they should be able to deliver it, particularly the sex and relationship component, in a way that has regard to their religious character. I will continue to give that particular issue my consideration.

Finally, the physical and biological facts about sex are taught as part of the science curriculum, from which there is no right of withdrawal. PSHE will be teaching the social and emotional aspect of sex and relationships.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

The Minister made great play of needing to get the confidence of parents that what their children are being taught is right and appropriate, but she is seriously in danger of losing the confidence of the Committee. She read out her brief perfectly competently and accurately.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

9:15 pm
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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

As I was saying, confusion reigns after our short debate on these amendments. The Minister read out her brief perfectly accurately and competently. However, accurately reading out the recipe for apple pie, does not mean that it makes apple pie good for you or that it will cook properly. The debate has shown that the clause is pretty half baked. The fact that she had many legitimate queries about the possible implications and legal challenges that could face schools shows that the clauses have not been thought through properly. I fear that she has been confusing facts with beliefs and subjective notions, which is inevitable when we are dealing with this sort of subject.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East had a bit of a tirade against the Pope. It was reminiscent of one of his predecessors in a Wolverhampton constituency, Enoch Powell, who expressed some views about the authority of the Pope back in 1982. But they are not facts. He asked what the Equality Bill had to do with the Pope. I have some sympathy with that opinion, but it does not make it a fact; it is an opinion. The way that we deal with most of what we are discussing here today is subjective, discretionary and subject to opinions and there will be contrasting opinions within the same community, within the same body of teachers and within the same body of parents.

The fact that the Minister said that at the moment sex education is only dealt with on a compulsory basis through the science curriculum and is based purely on facts suggests that everything else we will add to it will not be facts. It is subjective stuff, particularly around relationships. When is a relationship suitable or appropriate for a 14-year-old girl, for a 15-year-old Muslim girl, for a much more mature 12-year-old girl or whatever? That is all subjective; it is not a fact. How an individual has developed physically might be a fact, but as to what it is appropriate to teach that pupil about the sort of relationship it will be right, proper, suitable or appropriate to engage in is not a fact.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I want to make it clear that what I said was that the physical, biological facts are taught as part of the science curriculum.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I was not disputing that.

The hon. Member for Keighley made some pertinent points. There are some people who will have strong views on what would be appropriate for their children to be taught about sexuality, sexual relations, drinking, drugs and everything. That is highly subjective and not factual. I trust most schools already to teach the elements of PSHE sensitively and appropriately for my children, which is why I choose the schools I send them to and I can exercise that choice. It is up to the school to devise the most appropriate method, and up to me to decide  whether I think that is appropriate for my children. If it do not, I will withdraw them, either from those lessons or from that school.

I will lose that choice under these proposals and it changes the whole dynamic of the relationship between the parent and the school. I am happy to trust the school to do what is best for my children, knowing that I have the power to do something about it if my views change. I have rather less trust in the Secretary of State decreeing what the school should teach my children when my power to exercise choice by opting to withdraw my children from those lessons has been taken away. It changes the whole dynamic.

As we said earlier, it is not really a problem now. Some 0.04 per cent. of parents withdraw their children from sex and relationship education—around 3,000 children. There is no evidence that those 3,000 children are more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases or to end up as teenage pregnancy statistics. It may be the case; it may not. There is no empirical evidence—there are no facts—to suggest that those children who are being withdrawn from that form of education in schools are any worse off for it.

I think that those children would be better off having a decent sex and relationship education, but that goes to the quality argument that I set out at the beginning. None of the things that the Government are trying to do, none of the things that are being imposed on schools and none of the powers that are being taken away from parents will lead to any improvement in what we are trying to achieve, which is a better understanding of and sensitivity towards issues such as sex among our children. That will not happen if, as the Youth Parliament revealed, the quality of what is being taught to them is still poor, as it is in too many cases because of the postcode lottery that we have now.

Key to all of this discussion—it would make this discussion redundant—would be improving the quality of sex education in every school in this country. If that is not achieved, all the other necessary elements of PSHE, which have been outlined here, albeit in a very prescriptive way, could turn out to be counter-productive.

That goes to the heart of what we are saying. I believe that the elements of PSHE are very important. I believe that our children need to have a grasp of those elements in a way that will benefit them most and that will fire their desire to understand them and want to learn about them. That will lead them to adopt healthier lifestyles, which we would loosely agree is in their best interests.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s argument and I wonder if he might explain his policy further. What would he do to make PSHE much better? I ask that, because I am failing to understand what he thinks he could do better that we are not putting in the Bill.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I repeat, for the third or fourth time, that we would improve the quality of how we teach PSHE.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

How?

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

By training teachers, or training experts who are not teachers to go into schools, and by having a stronger relationship with voluntary bodies that have  expertise in this area, such as FPA, Life Education Centres, various faith groups or whatever. In many cases, they can teach the subject more imaginatively outside the classroom, in a mobile classroom or in a different centre altogether. They can teach it in such a way that the quality of the teaching is absolutely the identifying feature. None of what is suggested in the Bill guarantees, in any way, an uplift in the quality of PSHE teaching.

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Caroline Flint (Don Valley, Labour)

I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s point about using other organisations. Often, they bring something to PSHE in their engagement with young people that teachers, who might be doing other subjects or activities, such as marking homework or testing for exams, might find more difficult.

However, I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. Is he suggesting that we can just rely on that type of activity by the third sector being provided in an ad hoc way outside of the school day and outside of schools? I have not got anything against that idea, but it still raises the question of the number of children who might miss out on such teaching.

For example, the town centre in Doncaster is not in my constituency. My constituency is a community of mining villages and rural villages and to access many of services that the hon. Gentleman described, local children have to go to Doncaster town centre. We have mobile units, but they can still be hit and miss. At least within a school, regardless of who is providing the teaching, we can be pretty sure that the children are receiving the information, advice, support and facts that they need.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

Why is such provision hit and miss? The right hon. Lady reveals that the biggest challenge that we will face if the regulations come in is the people running the schools. Why would a school not want to have the best quality PSHE, including sex education, for its pupils? Surely it is in the best interests of all our pupils to learn all the sort of things that we are trying to ensure they learn, albeit in the rather haphazard manner set out in the Bill.

Caroline Flintrose—

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

Hold on. Surely, the hallmark of a decent head backed by decent governors is that they want to get the best for their children in PSHE now, without the extra imposition that will be placed on them. One of the reasons they do not get that is because the curriculum is crammed full, and because of the lack of availability of quality education in these matters. The Bill does not address that quality deficiency.

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Caroline Flint (Don Valley, Labour)

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not suggest that the delivery of the legislation will cause an overnight sensation. However, in its own way it can contribute to resolving one of the problems with the current system. As far as I can see, the hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing for the status quo. There is nothing wrong with schools using voluntary organisations and other groups, but evidence suggests that some of the better practice is not being provided in a more mainstream way in our schools. Unfortunately, schools and head  teachers do not have the support and resources. Making this subject statutory will not solve all those issues, but it will go some way towards encouraging the voluntary sector to get more involved and help ensure that best practice is better spread and discussed. I have still not heard from the hon. Gentleman what his alternative would be. He seems to be arguing for the status quo.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I am not arguing for the status quo. At the start of the debate on the clause, I set out all the things that are going wrong with sex education, in particular the lack of decent sex and relationship education which one could say results in the outcomes that we are getting in terms of teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and everything else. Absolutely fundamental to that issue is the quality of what we teach, and the clause does not address that.

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Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that over the past five years, we have trained more than 2,000 teachers in the PSHE continuing professional development programme. Through the initial teacher training opportunities, we are also looking to train new specialist PSHE teachers to join the profession. That would fit with the argument put forward by the hon. Gentleman about improving quality—we all want to do that, and we are starting to do it.

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Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister (Children), Children, Schools and Families; East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

If those teachers inspire kids to learn this stuff, that will be a contribution. However, that is all being done without the Bill. The Minister has just admitted my point—a real result will be achieved by having people who know what they are doing teaching our kids in a way that makes them want to learn. Given what she has just said, we do not need this provision.

I seriously believe—and the Minister’s hon. Friends have made this point to her—that if we want to achieve better learning in all those elements of PSHE about which we agree, the clause’s wording contains some potential minefields. For that reason, the Minister should go away and think about better phrasing of the clause, as it could turn out to be counter-productive. All sorts of people and communities with particular agendas will start picking holes in the Bill, and it will become a legal minefield.

On amendment 60, the Minister completely failed to address the genuine concerns that I raised. The final line of clause 11 still allows an expert—she referred to financial experts—anointed by the Secretary of State to act in his place. That expert would be unaccountable to any of us, could act without reference to the Secretary of State, and would not need to have instructions, of which schools must take regard, approved or directed through the office of the Secretary of State. That has serious ramifications for the accountability of the legislation. Are we to believe that a head or governing body should take instructions from somebody such as Professor Nutt, the adviser on the misuse of drugs? I would not want to accept his views on drugs if I were a head or a governor. Are we to believe that a head or a governing body should take advice on financial education from the former chief executive of Northern Rock, rather than the Secretary of State? I would have serious qualms about taking instructions for my pupils from him in  place of the Secretary of State, who can be held accountable in this place. I see absolutely no basis for the final line of the clause, certainly without a rider that everything has to be approved through the Secretary of State, who is accountable to this place.

The clause gives an unelected individual huge powers to instruct schools in how to teach various aspects of PSHE in potentially sensitive areas. We have not heard even an attempt to justify the final line of the clause and therefore, on that basis, rather than press the lead amendment I ask that the Committee be invited to vote on amendment 60, when appropriate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 60, in clause 11, page 14, line 10, leave out from ‘State’ to end of line 11.—(Tim Loughton.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.