Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (Statutory Requirement)

Bill Presented — Trade Union Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 15 July 2015.

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Votes in this debate

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 2:36, 15 July 2015

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to provide that Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) be a statutory requirement for all state-funded schools;
for PSHE to include Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) and education on ending violence against women and girls;
to provide for initial and continuing teacher education and guidance on best practice for delivering and inspecting PSHE and SRE education;
and for connected purposes.

PSHE—personal, social, health and economic education—is the part of the curriculum in which pupils learn how to stay healthy and safe and prepare for life and work in modern Britain. Despite its importance and the evidence of its potential, the subject is not statutory, meaning that millions of pupils miss out on the high-quality learning they need and deserve. Moreover, the last statutory SRE—sex and relationships education—guidance was produced 15 years ago, before the mass use of mobile phones to access the internet and the rise of social media, so it is seriously out of date. All children deserve a curriculum that promotes resilience and physical and mental health, encourages life skills, and teaches about equality. A postcode lottery for our young people is just not acceptable.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank the Secretary of State for Education for her own personal commitment to this agenda and her positive engagement with me over it. As hon. Members will know, this is an important time for this debate as we await the Government’s response to the Education Committee’s report, which itself recommended statutory status for PSHE following its own very thorough inquiry. I understand that the Government’s response to that report will be forthcoming shortly, and I very much look forward to seeing it, because it is clear that the Government think that PSHE is a good thing too. Indeed, the Minister for Schools said in March:

“We believe that all schools should teach personal, social, health and economic education and, within that, SRE. Indeed, the introduction to the new national curriculum makes that explicitly clear.”

That commitment is genuinely very welcome. He went on to say that the key thing with PSHE is the quality of the teaching. I agree with that, too.

The point that I hope the Government will take today, however, is that for as long as PSHE remains a non-statutory and non-examined subject with a low priority in the Ofsted framework, there will be virtually no coverage of PSHE in teacher training. In school, PSHE teachers are not given the curriculum time or the training that they need and want. This lack of teacher training is a well-documented problem. Ofsted’s report entitled “Not yet good enough” found that teaching required improvement in 40% of schools. A PSHE Association survey of 40 local authorities suggests that 52% of teachers are not adequately trained in the subject.

So the call for statutory status has wide support that the Government can have confidence in. It is backed by 87% of parents, 88% of teachers, and 85% of business leaders. Joining the Education Committee are organisations such as the UK Youth Parliament, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, Public Health England, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and four recent inquiries into child sexual exploitation, all of which back having statutory status. In addition, more than 100 leading organisations—from Mumsnet to Stonewall, from Girlguiding to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners—have joined the PSHE Association campaign to make PSHE statutory. Support for SRE also comes from what some may see as more surprising places—for example,

The Daily Telegraph has run the Wonder Women campaign for better sex education—which reveals that PSHE and SRE are no longer so controversial.

Working with parents is critical. This is about partnership. Parents want PSHE and SRE in school next to traditional subjects. YouGov and the PSHE Association have found that 90% of parents believe that schools should teach about mental health and emotional wellbeing. I know that some people believe this issue should be left to parents, but what schools do when they provide good-quality SRE is precisely to involve parents and work with them. The truth is that many parents simply do not have these vital conversations with their children. A national survey showed that fathers were the main source of information about sex for only 3% of boys.

Union backing has come from heads, teachers, students and nurses, including the National Association of Head Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Teachers, the National Union of Students and the Royal College of Nursing. Teachers back statutory PSHE because they know it is not about dictating to schools; it is the opposite of burdening them because it is about supporting teachers with appropriate training. Making PSHE statutory is not to prescribe the detail of lessons, but to give all children the same entitlement to good-quality provision while giving all schools the freedom to meet individual needs.

Some great examples of PSHE have underscored its potential. Patcham high school in my constituency has excellent provision. It has a dedicated PSHE team and significant time on the timetable, and tough subjects are sensitively discussed with pupils, which helps them to become informed young adults. The head and the teachers are passionate about the connection between happy, healthy students and academic achievement.

There are so many areas in which PSHE plays a vital role, as numerous organisations working with children have made clear. On safeguarding, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has shown that girls and boys are gleaning distorted and inaccurate information about sex relationships via online pornography. Sexting, which is often coercive and non-consensual, is a reality—girls are far more likely to be pressured to share explicit images of themselves—as is the pressure for children to document their lives and relationships online and in chatrooms. Shockingly, ChildLine has found that 60% of 13 to 18-year-olds had been asked to share a sexual image or video of themselves.

The issue that originally led me to draft the Bill concerns the link between media sexism and violence against women and girls. One in three girls say that they experience groping or unwanted sexual touching at school. Young people are growing up surrounded with negative and conflicting messages about sex, relationships and gender roles. We do both our girls and our boys a serious disservice if we ignore the ways in which our culture routinely portrays men as sexual aggressors and women as dehumanised and objectified. It was reported last year—this was recorded by the police in 2013—that more than 1,000 alleged sexual offences had happened in schools, including 134 rapes, and that more than half of them were committed by other children.

There are so many other dimensions to PSHE—far more than I can cover now—but let me mention the need to support and protect young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexual and queer people, because homophobic language and bullying remain common in schools.

Some hon. Members may, understandably, have questions about age-appropriateness, but good-quality PSHE and SRE are always age-appropriate. For example, at primary level, SRE for five-year-olds begins with teaching children about safety and basic understanding about their bodies, about respecting their own boundaries and those of other people, and about how families care for them. Let me assure hon. Members that five-year-olds are not taught about how people have sex. Instead, lessons are designed to help children to develop the language and the confidence they need to describe unwanted behaviour, as well as where to go for help.

A key point is that SRE is part of the solution to concerns about the sexualisation of children. The evidence shows that quality PSHE and SRE delay sexual activity for young people and reduce the level of teen pregnancies. Good PSHE helps young people to make sensible choices.

As well as being an essential part of safeguarding our children, PSHE has huge potential in relation to employability and academic attainment. It raises girls’ career aspirations, and it is not rocket science that the thinking encouraged by PSHE has benefits well beyond the classroom. Business leaders want such skills. The British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI are all concerned that schools are not doing enough to equip students with skills for work. The CBI’s director for employment and skills has said that

“developing the right attitudes and attributes in people—such as resilience, respect, enthusiasm and creativity—is just as important as academic or technical skills.”

We cannot put our heads in the sand and simply hope for the best. Ministers need to make sure that quality PSHE happens for all children. I am optimistic that we will get change; I think it may just be a question of when. I am delighted by the cross-party support for the Bill. Now we are waiting for the decision of the Secretary of State for Education, and I am very hopeful that it will be positive. I close by reminding hon. Members what she said in relation to PSHE in a very excellent speech back in March:

“There is no trade-off between learning about these things and academic success—they are two sides of the same coin.”

In other words, there is a real connection with the way in which PSHE also helps people to succeed with their wider academic work.

The Bill is not about wanting to make a whole long list of subjects statutory; it is about ensuring that all children receive their right to fulfil their potential as rounded human beings and to thrive both as individuals and as members of a modern and complex society. I very much hope that the Government will listen.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 2:46, 15 July 2015

I rise to oppose this ten-minute rule Bill. I am sorry to oppose Caroline Lucas because, despite our policy differences, I admire her very much. If that endorsement does not cost her her seat at the next election, nothing will.

I believe in parental responsibility, and I make no apology for that whatsoever. The hon. Lady said that 85% of parents agree with this measure. I am surprised that she of all people advocates the tyranny of the majority over a small minority. I would have thought that she was the person thinking that the 15% who do not agree deserved to be represented and to have their views heard, but she clearly now believes in the tyranny of the majority. I will happily remind her of that in many future debates.

I firmly believe that we in this country have been going down the wrong path when it comes to parental responsibility. The message we should give to parents is that being a parent is a position of great responsibility and that certain things are the responsibility of parents and parents alone: they cannot just be farmed out willy-nilly to the state to do on their behalf. In my opinion, those things include the values with which children are brought up, and part of that involves sex education and violence against women and all the rest of it.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I am afraid that that is my entire point. If we say to parents, “Don’t worry about what you do; don’t worry about how well you bring up your children; don’t concern yourself about it, because if you don’t bother with it, the state will do it for you”, we should not be surprised when parents do not take responsibility for bringing up their children as well as they should.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

They have got to take responsibility.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

The hon. Gentleman makes my very point for me: unless and until we give parents responsibility for bringing up their children, they are not going to exercise that responsibility properly. We should not think that the state can be parents in disguise; we must trust parents to bring up their children and do the best for them.

I oppose the Bill in principle. Parents who do not want their children to have the values of their teacher inflicted on them when they may be against the values of those parents should be supported by this Parliament in being able to remove their children from such lessons if they see fit. Parental responsibility, parental choice and the freedom of parents to allow children to be brought up with their values should be protected in this House, not just trampled over because we happen to have different individual opinions.

I also oppose the Bill in practice, because I do not think that it will actually make a blind bit of difference. In this country, we have been trying sex education in schools in various forms for decades. In that time, the level of teenage pregnancies has gone up, gone down, gone up again and gone down again, and the level of sexually transmitted diseases has gone up, up and up even more. There is no evidence that this makes any difference whatsoever.

The sex education fanatics use Holland as a prime example of why we should have more sex education. Holland has lots of sex education in its schools and very low levels of teenage pregnancy. Of course, the sex education fanatics never mention Italy, which has very low levels of sex education in schools, but equally low levels of teenage pregnancy. Clearly, it is not sex education that makes the difference, so it must be something else.

I have looked at what Holland and Italy have in common, because that might help us to improve our record on teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. After all the sex education that we have in this country, we still have the fourth highest teenage birth rate in Europe, so it does not seem to be working that well. What Holland and Italy have in common in respect of teenage pregnancy is that they are spectacularly lacking in generosity through their benefits systems to single parents and they do not give single mothers priority on their housing lists. If we want to reduce the level of teenage pregnancy in this country, we would be much better off looking at the benefits system and the housing allocation system than faffing about with more and more sex education, which seems to make not a blind bit of difference.

I therefore do not think that the hon. Lady’s Bill would even bring about the outcome that she wants. There is no evidence that, as we have had more and more sex education in this country, things have got better. I mentioned sexually transmitted diseases. I happen to have the figures from Public Health England. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of people with chlamydia went up from 97,000 to 206,000, the number of people with gonorrhoea went from 17,632 to 34,958 and the number of people with herpes went from 17,379 to 31,777. The figures go on and on. These things have been getting worse since we have had more and more sex education. If sex education was the solution, presumably they would be getting better.

Over the years, when sex education has not made any difference, we have heard that what we need is more sex education. When more sex education has made no difference, we have been told that we need better sex education. Now that better sex education has made no difference, we are told that we need compulsory sex education. When that makes no difference, perhaps we will try the proper solution, which is to abandon sex education altogether and try something completely different.

The hon. Lady says that parents may not always be the best people to provide sex education. Who is to say that teachers are always the best people to do it? I keep reading in the paper about more and more cases of teachers being convicted for inappropriate sexual relations with their pupils. What about those teachers who are teaching sex education in schools? Why would she trust those people over the parents to teach sex education? It is a complete and utter outrage.

Not that long ago, we had the case of a teenage boy—[Interruption.] I am glad that everyone finds this very funny. I am talking about the case of a teenage boy who raped a female classmate shortly after a sex education lesson. The reason he did it was that after the sex education lesson, he wanted to try having sex with somebody. He raped a classmate off the back of it. I am glad that Opposition Members find that funny. I do not think that the parents of the victim found it very funny. That is how trivial Opposition Members find these issues.

We have heard about public opinion, but a poll by Angus Reid found that 67% of the public think that parents or guardians should be primarily responsible for teaching sex education to children and teens, and only 17% believe that sex education should be taught in schools to children below the age of 10. My children are 12 and 10, and I certainly do not want them going to school to learn about sex. I want them to learn about the things that I have sent them to school to learn about: maths, physics, chemistry, history—all the things that parents do not have the skills to teach their children. I do not want their teachers acting as pseudo-parents and bringing them up with their values, rather than mine.

Finally, the hon. Lady mentioned that the Bill would make a big difference to violence against women and girls. In a recent answer to a parliamentary question, I found that 23% of women and 45% of men who were convicted in court of violence against the person were sent to prison. If she really wants to tackle violence against women and children, I suggest that she joins me in calling for harsher prison sentences for the perpetrators of those crimes, rather than faffing about with sex education, which will not make a blind bit of difference.

In this House, when a politician is given a problem, their solution always has two ingredients: it allows them to be seen to be doing something and it does not offend anybody. We see that once again with the hon. Lady’s Bill. She is proposing a measure that does not really offend anybody and that makes it look as though we are doing something. I would prefer it if we took action to actually make a difference on these things. Let us adopt a benefits system and housing allocation system that might reduce teenage pregnancy, and let us send the perpetrators of domestic violence to prison for longer. That would make a difference. This airy-fairy Bill will make no difference at all; it will just trample over the rights of parents and put another nail in the coffin of parental responsibility.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23).

The House divided:

Ayes 183, Noes 44.

Division number 49 Bill Presented — Trade Union Bill — Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (Statutory Requirement)

Aye: 183 MPs

No: 44 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly agreed to.


That Caroline Lucas, Thangam Debonnaire, Caroline Nokes, Norman Lamb, Liz Saville Roberts, Barbara Keeley, Valerie Vaz, Yasmin Qureshi, Dawn Butler and Cat Smith present the Bill.

Caroline Lucas accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 January 2016and to be printed (Bill 59).