Life-saving Skills in Schools

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 22nd November 2012.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education) 2:25 pm, 22nd November 2012

We have had a very good debate. I congratulate Anne Marie Morris, whose name appears at the head of the motion, on her very fine speech, which drew a lot of agreement across the House. She was absolutely right to emphasise that without compulsion, we simply will not get the levels of performance that we want to see and the number of lives saved that we want, in comparison with other countries. I shall return to that point later.

My right hon. Friend Mr Smith rightly said that we must not underestimate what children are capable of. Justin Tomlinson rightly said that we need to get on and train the next generation of live-savers, and he mentioned, as other Members did, the survival rate of 2% to 12% of cardiac arrests in this country compared with 52% in the better jurisdictions. He also, movingly, told us about his own personal experience involving his father, which brought a lot of sympathy from across the House.

My hon. Friend Valerie Vaz did her speech gangnam-style, which I thought very appropriate. On MP4’s album, track 2, “Love’s Fire,” is also about the same rhythm, although it is not as well known as the other examples given. Dr Lewis also spoke with personal experience. I can assure him that no one was saying, “Thank God it’s over,” at the end of his speech, which was a very effective contribution.

My hon. Friend Julie Hilling, who herself is common sense on legs, told us that it is simply common sense for us to be teaching these skills and making that teaching compulsory. She gave us real examples of where young lives had been saved. We also heard from my hon. Friend Alison Seabeck, who brought her personal experience as a trained lifeguard and saved her future husband as a result of that training. Only time will tell whether she lives to regret that but, all joking aside, she showed the importance of these skills. Briefly, my hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins drew on his personal experience.

We support the inclusion of live-saving skills as a compulsory element in our schools. We are open-minded, as hon. Members said, as to how we achieve that—PSHE might be the best subject in which to include that on a statutory basis. The motion does not actually spell that out, but it says that everyone should learn these skills. My question on these occasions always is, “If that is what the House wants to happen, what is the transmissions mechanism to ensure that it does happen?” The Government frequently talk about the necessity of following the examples of high-performing jurisdictions when we are looking at what schools do well and at the outcomes. So how about the Government, on this occasion, following their own advice and looking at what happens in high-performing jurisdictions around the world as far as life-saving skills are concerned? I am afraid the evidence is clear that unless the Government spell out that such training should be compulsory and must be taught in schools, it simply will not work and we will continue to have the very slow progress that the hon. Member for Newton Abbot talked about in her speech, in terms of saving lives.

That would not be acceptable, because we are talking about people’s lives. What is the barrier anyway? All the arguments against the proposal have been demolished in the debate, so the only objection can be an ideological one relating to telling schools what to do. That is not a good enough reason when we are talking about saving lives. Unless this is made a requirement in all our schools, it will happen only in some of them. We can already see that on the ground.

Earlier this afternoon, just before I dashed over here for the debate, I was talking to children from Lansdowne primary school in my constituency. I took the opportunity to talk to them about life-saving skills, and some of them had been taught those skills, but only as part of their first aid club activities. So some had been taught them, but not all. When I asked whether they thought that everyone should learn them, they were unanimous in agreeing that they should. Children and young people are up for this, and as has been observed, they are like sponges and can learn these skills quite quickly. The training need not take up a huge, burdensome amount of time in the curriculum. There is therefore no reason for the Government not to listen to what has been said by Members on both sides of the House today and come forward with proposals to ensure that this training happens in all our schools.

As the Government’s changes to the school system continue, this proposal will become more difficult to implement. It is already the case that nearly half of all secondary schools do not have to follow the national curriculum, following the academisation programme. We have heard today about the £1 billion overspend on that programme, which will take money away from other areas of the Department for Education’s budget. We have no evidence yet to show whether their academisation programme is working. It is fine to change the name and governance of a group of schools, but we need to see evidence that that is working. There is, however, evidence of the negative impact of those cuts being felt elsewhere. If academies are not required to follow the national curriculum and cannot be directed to introduce these programmes, it is likely that the life-saving skills situation will get worse. The Minister needs to get a grip on this.