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With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to update the House on the Government’s proposals for the draft regulations and guidance on relationships education, relationships and sex education, and health education, following public consultation.
It is 19 years since the sex and relationships education guidance was last updated. The world that our children and young people face today is very different, and the way in which they build relationships, interact with their peers and manage their own mental and physical wellbeing has changed significantly. Along with all the positives of modern technology and new media come great risks, as children and young people are exposed to information, content and people that could and do cause harm. For many young people today, there is little distinction between their online and offline lives. That is why I believe that, now more than ever, it is necessary for us to give young people the knowledge that they need in every context to lead safe, happy and healthy lives.
During the passage of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, with strong cross-party support, the Government brought about the introduction of compulsory relationships education for all pupils in primary schools, and compulsory relationships and sex education for all pupils in secondary schools. In July I announced that, in addition, I would make health education compulsory for all pupils in state-funded schools. Thanks and appreciations are due in particular to my right hon. Friend Justine Greening for her leadership in those historic steps, to my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller and to many other Members on both sides of the House, including Sarah Champion. My sincere thanks also go to all the external groups and bodies that have contributed to the process and the tens of thousands who contributed to the call for evidence and consultation, and most particularly to our education adviser, Ian Bauckham CBE. Today we have laid the regulations that, following debate, will finalise the process, and published the accompanying statutory guidance for schools.
It is clear—this was also reflected in the consultation responses—that there are understandable and legitimate areas of contention. In reviewing responses and determining the final content of regulations and guidance, we have retained a focus on the core principles for the new subjects that Parliament endorsed through the Children and Social Work Act. Our guiding principles have been that these compulsory subjects should help to keep children safe, help to prepare them for the world in which they are growing up—including the laws relating to relationships, sex and health—and help to foster respect for others and for difference. Content must be appropriate in terms of age and developmentally, and must be taught in a sensitive and inclusive way with respect for the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils.
Parents and carers are the prime teachers for children on many of these matters, and schools complement and reinforce that role by building on what pupils learn at home. We have retained the long-standing ability for parents to request that their child be withdrawn from the sex education element of RSE. The school should respect the parents’ request to withdraw the child, except in exceptional circumstances, up to and until three terms before the child reaches the age of 16. At that point, if the child wishes to take part in sex education lessons, the head teacher should ensure that they receive it in one of those terms. In response to the consultation, we have further clarified in the guidance how and when a pupil’s special educational needs may be taken into consideration, and the fact that headteachers should document their decision-making process on the right to withdraw.
We believe that after reviewing the consultation responses, we have struck a balance between prescribing clearly the important core knowledge that all pupils should be taught, and allowing flexibility for schools to design a curriculum that is relevant to their pupils. We have made a small number of changes that we felt were important and would further strengthen the intent of the guidance. For example, we have made changes to the content on puberty to reflect the need for menstruation and menstrual wellbeing to be taught in all primary and secondary schools.
Given the lack of distinction that young people make between online and offline contexts, we have expanded teaching about internet safety and harms to include content on the potential risks of excessive screen time, and on how to be a discerning, discriminating consumer of information and other content online. We have included teaching about rape, female genital mutilation and forced marriage in secondary RSE, and we have amended the content on organ and blood donation to include the science relating to stem cell donation. We are committed to ensuring that every school will have the support that it needs to deliver those subjects and maintain a high and consistent quality by September 2020. We will be investing in tools that will improve schools’ practice, such as a supplementary guide to support the delivery of the guidance, targeted support for materials, and training. For the financial year about to begin we have allocated up to £6 million to invest in the development of those tools.
We will also continue to encourage as many schools as possible to start teaching these subjects from September 2019, partly so that we can learn lessons and share good practice about how these subjects are being taught before the full mandatory roll-out. These new subjects will put in place the building blocks needed for healthy, positive, respectful and safe relationships of all kinds, starting with the family and friends and moving out to other kinds of relationships, including those online. Young people will know what makes a good friend, a good colleague and a successful marriage, and what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in relationships. They will understand the positive effects that good relationships can have on their mental wellbeing. Alongside CPR and first aid, there will also now be mandatory teaching on mental health and wellbeing, a foundation for our wider transformation programme on support services for children and young people’s mental health.
We believe that these proposals are an historic step in education that will help equip children and young people with the knowledge and support they need to form healthy relationships, lead healthy lives and be happy and safe in the world today. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, and let me also say that we welcome its direction of travel.
As the Secretary of State said, the work of many colleagues across the House has led to today’s announcement, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) and for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who did so much from the Back Benches. It is only fair to note also, as the Secretary of State did, the contribution of Mrs Miller, and Justine Greening for her initial commitment to these changes.
There are a number of questions that I hope that Secretary of State can address. He said there would be a £6 million budget to support schools. With over 23,000 schools in England, this amounts to about £250 per school; is he confident that this is enough, and how will it be distributed? Will training be available to every teacher who requests it, and how many teachers will receive it over the next two school years? And can he tell us if this is new Treasury funding or money diverted from existing education budgets?
On the guidance itself, giving children a voice in this part of their education is hugely important, and I welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition of that vital point. However, can he explain why, since the curriculum will always be age-appropriate, he will not allow children to opt in at a younger age? He referred to “exceptional circumstances” in which the opt-out will not be allowed; can he tell the House what such circumstances might be?
The Secretary of State will know the horrifying figures on bullying and mental health problems that affect young LGBT people. Addressing these issues in the curriculum would be a milestone in ensuring that they and others can grow up understanding more and living in a safer environment. At his last statement, I told the Secretary of State that these issues must not be an annexe to the rest of the curriculum, so I am glad that the draft guidance says they must be fully incorporated into the curriculum and not taught separately. However, paragraph 37 of the guidance says this only has to be taught
“at the point at which schools consider it appropriate.”
I know the Secretary of State’s Department has said it expects all pupils to be taught LGBT content, but how will he address the risk that some might be excluded?
Paragraph 21 of the guidance allows schools to “teach about faith perspectives”, and schools with a “religious character” to teach a
“distinctive faith perspective on relationships”, and it says that
“balanced debate may take place about issues that are seen as contentious.”
The Secretary of State will know there are concerns, particularly in the Jewish and Muslim communities, about both his Department and Ofsted, and I am sure we both want our education system to reflect the diversity of our country and provide the opportunity to learn more about it. But can he also be absolutely clear that his guidance does not permit teaching that could be hostile or damaging to LGBT young people in particular?
I welcome the Secretary of State’s words on health education and on the importance of mental health, but can he assure us that he does not intend simply to shift the burden of diagnosis on to teachers, and that greater provision of professional health services will be available? For example, has he considered matching our commitment to ensuring that access to a counselling service is available in every secondary school? I am glad that he has addressed the issue of menstruation, but that would surely be complemented by concrete steps such as those we have proposed to tackle period poverty in schools. Can he tell us whether subjects such as the menopause are also included?
The Secretary of State’s commitment on online safety is also welcome, but is he pushing for firmer action aimed at the giant businesses that profit from social media without taking any proper responsibility? I welcome the inclusion of education on female genital mutilation in the curriculum, but girls are at risk of FGM when they are very young, so can he explain why this issue will not be included in the primary curriculum and tell us what other steps he is taking to tackle it? I believe that we are all better off through understanding the issues that we each face, and I hope that the whole House can work together to make this a reality for the next generation.
The hon. Lady has raised a number of issues, but I should like to start by thanking her for the collaborative and co-operative cross-party way in which she and her colleagues have addressed this matter. We want the subjects to help young people be healthy, happy and safe, and the building blocks start in primary school—particularly those dealing with healthy family relationships and friendships. At secondary level, this moves on to thinking about young people as potential partners and parents and therefore covers content on intimate relationships, sex, online harms and more complex mental health content. She asked about our wider approach on mental health, and she will know of our commitment—my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is sitting next to me—to ensuring that support teams are rolled out across the country to work with schools, and to ensuring that there is a designated mental health lead to look at mental health first aid. Overall, the recognition that we all have of mental health is higher now than it is ever been.
The hon. Lady asked about LGBT content. Schools should address that, as they do other subjects, in an age-appropriate way. Schools, teachers and headteachers know their cohorts of children better than anyone, alongside their parents. We expect this education to happen, at least in secondary schools, so that by the time someone finishes school they have covered that content, but it could happen in primary school as well. Of course, it should not be hostile to any group, and we need schools to be sensitive to the different kinds of families that children might come into contact with. That is partly about LGBT people, but it is also about other types of family. For example, children might be growing up with foster parents, grandparents or single parents, and schools need to be sensitive to whatever the set-up might be. The hon. Lady also asked specifically about LGBT bullying. That is of course a matter of great concern, and we know from surveys that LGBT-related bullying is quite prevalent. As she will know, we are funding four anti-bullying organisations, and the Government Equalities Office is also working with organisations on transphobic and biphobic bullying.
There is a parental right to request the withdrawal of their child from sex education, but we have carefully balanced that with the right of the child as they get older and become competent to make their own decisions. I think that we have struck the right balance there. The hon. Lady asked about exceptional circumstances. It is difficult to codify exactly what those exceptional circumstances could be—by definition, because they are exceptional—but the guidance sets out how headteachers should go about discussing these matters with parents. That is good practice, and they should honour that right to request withdrawal until three terms before the child reaches the age of 16. More broadly, we encourage schools to work with parents, and there is an obligation to consult parents on the content of these subjects and to publish that consultation on the internet. The hon. Lady asked specifically about faith groups, and it is correct to say that in the guidance we set out that the core content must be covered, but beyond that faith-based schools can reflect the teachings and traditions of their faith to help to build on that.
Overall, we need the right resourcing and support to help schools to deliver this properly, which is why we have budget available to do that. That will cover both online and face-to-face training, but of course we will continue to look at this as the programme gets rolled out to make sure that we have absolutely the right support in place.
I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Did he see the report in The Times at the weekend suggesting that more than 6,000 sex assaults had taken place in schools between 2015 and 2017, which was an increase of 60% during that time, and that some victims were forced to stay in the same school as those who had conducted the sexual assault? Will he look into that and ensure that it does not continue?
Yes, and of course I share my right hon. Friend’s deep concern. Our “Keeping children safe in education” guidance sets out what should happen on safeguarding in schools. It includes specific guidance on what happens with reports of sexual violence and harassment between children, to ensure that if someone is at risk or is going to be at risk, an immediate referral should be made. If appropriate, that should be to the police.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I hope everyone in this place can agree than this is a long overdue but welcome update. We know that young people are hitting puberty younger than ever before, so it is good to see the inclusion of menstruation in these guidelines. Is the Secretary of State planning to follow the Scottish Government’s example and make free sanitary products available in schools, both primary and secondary, across England?
It is important that parents remain the primary educators of their children, and that there is a partnership between schools and parents. Although I respect the right of parents to withdraw their children from these lessons, I make an appeal to those parents: children talk, so would it not be better that children and young people are taught by trained professionals, in a safe environment, where questions can be answered accurately and with sensitivity, rather than their getting half stories in uncensored chat in the playground?
The Secretary of State has confirmed that diversity, inclusion and tolerance will form the basis of these new proposals, and that young people will be supported in making safe and informed decisions about their sexual and emotional health and wellbeing as they prepare for adult life. Will these guidelines also support the aims of the TIE—Time for Inclusive Education—campaign with respect to LGBT rights and tolerance? Can he confirm that sex and health education will tie in with the Government’s anti-bullying strategy to ensure that pupils are taught the importance of acceptance and are aware of the support available to them?
I am slightly concerned about the age at which FGM is going to be tackled, but perhaps the Secretary of State could tell us at exactly what age he proposes that this should start. We know that this practice is happening at a very young age, so children do need to be aware of it.
Finally, in recent evidence to the Select Committee on Science and Technology’s inquiry on the impact of social media and screen use on young people’s health, we heard disturbing evidence that 48% of 11 to 16-year-olds had seen online pornography, with many of them having done so simply because it had “just popped up”. What can the Minister tell us about his plans to ensure that children are properly educated about the harmful effects of online pornography, including revenge porn, to ensure that young people are able to stay safe online and are aware of the consequences of this practice on both the victim and the perpetrator? What will he do to ensure that all young people, whether their parents have removed them from the lessons or not, will get these lessons, particularly those on safety online?
Again, there were a lot of questions in what the hon. Lady said. I am not sure I am going to be able to do justice to them by giving them all full answers, but I have a feeling that many of those topics will come up again during the course of questions. This guidance is for schools in England, but of course these are areas of shared concern. The hon. Lady is quite right that children talk, and these days they not only talk but see stuff on a screen. That is why it is much better to receive these messages from, as she rightly said, a trained teacher in a safe and supportive environment. Respect for LGBT people and so on is at the heart of this, and we are absolutely integrating what we are doing in this area with our work on bullying, as I said to Angela Rayner, who speaks for the Opposition.
We will ensure that children in secondary school talk about the harmful effects of pornography and are aware of the wider issues around pornography and respect for others. That touches on some other issues, to do with privacy and some of the additional problems that people can run into online. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) says “consent”. She is absolutely right. Consent these days is a multifaceted question, when we are talking about images of people and the control that they lose over them if somebody else comes into possession of them.
Finally, we need a whole-society approach to eradicating FGM, so that there is not another generation coming forward that is at risk of it. When we talk about FGM, we are not talking specifically about girls who are individually at risk. This is also about those growing up who will be the nurses, teachers, police officers, community support workers—you name it—of tomorrow and ensuring that we are aware of these issues throughout our society so that we can do better to stamp FGM out.
I welcome the steps forward being taken today. They are incredibly important for many children and especially young people, whose voices have been listened to. It is very hard for them to protect themselves from a risk if they have never been alerted to its existence in the first place. It is also very hard for them to know what is normal and acceptable online—what they should share, what they should look at and what they should put online themselves—if no one has ever sat down and tried to explain to them the context and how that behaviour affects others, so what we are doing is crucial. Clearly, the online world in particular moves at a pace that often makes it hard for this place to keep up. Will my right hon. Friend set out what plans there are to ensure that it is not another 19 years before a Government revisit and update the guidance?
I said it earlier, but I will say it again because it bears repeating: let me express my thanks and appreciation to my right hon. Friend for the leadership she has shown on these issues over an extended period. I can make a commitment that it will not be another 19 years. During the passage of the legislation, our hon. Friend Edward Timpson, the then Member for Crewe and Nantwich, committed us to updating the guidance much more regularly—every three years or so—although it might need to be updated more quickly because, as my right hon. Friend rightly said, all these things are now moving at such a pace.
I wholeheartedly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement today. I know that these are not easy issues to navigate, and he is doing a really good job of it. With that in mind, I urge him to keep going, because there will be those who say that they want exceptions or want to exclude their children, or that their school is somehow different. I have visited many schools, as I am sure he has, where the majority of children are Muslim or of other faiths. They deliver teaching on LGBT bullying, LGBT awareness and all those issues extremely well, resulting in very well rounded children, so the Secretary of State will have our full support if he wants to continue doing this work.
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words. Of course, many people have been involved in this work, and I know that it has support right across the House. I join her in commending schools—faith schools, community schools; all sorts of schools—that do such a good job of ensuring that all their children feel totally included and supported as they grow up.
The last time sex and relationships guidance was updated, the internet had not been invented, sexting had not been invented, social media had not been invented—the list goes on. All these things have become part of our children’s childhood, so my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench today deserve the wholehearted support of everyone in this House for what they have done.
How will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State make sure that parents understand that enabling their children to be part of sex and relationship education is about helping to keep them safe and that it is not a threat to their children’s safety? It is through that work that the Government can most help schools understand how they deliver.
My right hon. Friend characteristically makes a very telling intervention. She is absolutely right. As we have gone through this process, I have been struck by the support that has come from some quite unexpected quarters. Often that is because of the jolt that adults have had from discovering the things that children find out and see on the internet in particular. There have always been stranger dangers, but there are now dangers from people whom children do not consider to be strangers or to be a threat and that has galvanised many people into supporting this kind of action.
I very much welcome today’s announcement, but I should also say that of course 10 years ago the previous Labour Government made very similar proposals to the ones that have been announced today and, unfortunately, the Conservative party at that time could not agree with them or support them. I am delighted that there has been that change of heart.
I want to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State two constituents in my area, Stephanie Trotter and Vicky Parkey, who had a note put through their door on Thursday evening, which basically said that their relationship was immoral. It questioned their right to have a child together and told them that they should move away from the area. That bigotry and prejudice, which is still out there in some communities, has very effectively been challenged in my community by neighbours displaying the rainbow flag and putting up supportive posters for that family. That is why I am really pleased that the Secretary of State talked today about the need for healthy, positive, respectful and safe relationships of all kinds to be taught in our schools and the need for sensitivity to all types of families, so congratulations and well done.
I thank the hon. Lady for her words. I am so sorry to hear about the experience of the couple in her constituency. That does help to illustrate why it is so important that, from a young age, people think about respect for all kinds of people and all kinds of relationships, and understand that families of the other children in their school setting may look quite different from their own.
As far as I am concerned, the best form of sex education is—to coin a phrase—to respect and love your neighbour as yourself whatever their sexuality, just as you would respect and love them regardless of their race, ethnicity or anything else. How boring life would be if we were all the same. This very diversity sums up why all previous Conservative Governments have recognised that religious people, and indeed non-religious people, have their own justifiable formal belief about the best way to teach sex education. All previous Conservative Governments, therefore, have given an untrammelled right to parents to remove their children from sex education, but here, in certain circumstances, that right has been transferred to the headteacher—a fundamental shift of power to the state. How does that square with what Edward Timpson, the then Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, said during the passage of the Children and Social Work Bill? He said:
“We have committed to retain a right to withdraw from sex education in RSE, because parents should have the right, if they wish, to teach sex education themselves in a way that is consistent with their values.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 622, c. 705.]
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I do not think I can do any better than read word for word from the guidance:
“Once those discussions”— that is to say, those on the request to withdraw—
“have taken place, except in exceptional circumstances, the school should respect the parents’ request to withdraw the child, up to and until three terms before the child turns 16. After that point, if the child wishes to receive sex education rather than be withdrawn, the school should make arrangements to provide the child with sex education during one of those terms.”
But the right continues to exist up until the three terms before the child reaches 16.
I too wholeheartedly welcome this guidance. When I was a teacher, these were the lessons that I loved teaching the most. However, without good training, without a full understanding of the full evidence behind them, these lessons are really quite difficult to teach, and not all teachers are adept at doing that. What assurance can the Secretary of State give to all teachers that, if they are going to be teaching this, they will get proper training, not just online tools? Furthermore, will they have the time to be able to engage not just with that, but with the conversations that come naturally after these lessons as well?
I am glad to hear that the hon. Lady really enjoyed teaching these lessons. That is not true, of course, for every single teacher. Some can find it quite difficult, which makes the provision of good training and materials even more important. There are lots of third party organisations that produce high quality materials. We want to make sure that schools are easily able to access them, but I can give her the commitment that we will make sure that good training is in place.
I am afraid that the Secretary of State did not quite answer the question from my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh. I agree with most of this, but I remember Edward Timpson categorically saying that parents would have the right to withdraw their children if they wanted to. The Secretary of State has made a very strong case for the three terms before the age of 16 exception, but he keeps adding the words, “unless there are exceptional circumstances”. Why have those words been added? In what circumstances would a headteacher overrule a parent? Is not the likely effect of this going to be that in some cases, instead of children getting necessary sex education in schools, more parents are going to keep their children out of school?
We do not want parents to keep their children out of school. I hope I can reassure my right hon. Friend that the intention is to say that the long-standing right to withdraw children from sex education does not apply to relationships education or the subject of human reproduction in the science curriculum, but that there is that right to request when it comes to sex education. The request is put to the headteacher, and the guidance that we issue to headteachers clearly says that the headteacher should comply with that request up to three terms before the child reaches the age of 16. Why three terms before the age of 16? Because 16 is the age of consent, so the child should be able—if they wish—to have some sex education for at least a term before they reach that age.
There is a distinction to be drawn between children who are being home-educated and children who are not in school but who are sometimes statistically deemed to be home-educated because they are not in school; those are two different matters. Many parents are home-educating their children, sometimes because their children have had difficult experiences at school or have special needs and so on, and those parents are doing the most amazing and dedicated job in educating their children. The simple answer to the hon. Lady’s question regarding how this reform will help children who are not at school is that it will not because this is about lessons that happen in schools. Where children are able to be in school, we want them to be in school.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and particularly for his reassurances that the primary responsibility for educating children in relationships, sex and health remains with parents. In the light of his answer to previous questions, will he reassure the House that there is no intention whatever in these guidelines to usurp or undermine the rights and responsibilities of parents to educate their children in these matters if that is what they choose to do?
I can confirm that. What schools do should complement what parents do, and I recognise that parents are in many ways the primary educators in these matters.
I welcome today’s announcement about specialist subjects and new learning, but constituents have come to me both applauding these changes and raising concerns. What will the Department be doing to bring parents alongside schools, so that they can assist in their children’s learning?
We want schools to work alongside parents, recognising that there are sensitivities to some areas of the subject matter. There is a requirement to consult parents and to publish the school’s policy on the internet. More broadly than that, we want schools to work alongside parents because this should be a collaborative effort.
The issue of relationships and sex education is causing a huge amount of concern in my constituency. I took a delegation to meet Lord Agnew, who said that his Department set the direction but that the interpretation was being implemented by Ofsted. Now, there are some Members here who feel that the state knows better than parents themselves, but the last time I looked the Conservative party believed in freedom of choice and the freedom for people to decide their own future. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet a delegation of my constituents so that he can hear their concerns at first hand?
I am always happy to hear from my hon. Friend. I assure him that in this process I and colleagues have met representatives from a range of different viewpoints, including a range of different religious groups. There is a balance to be struck, and I think we have struck it. We get criticism from both sides—both from groups who think that this is too liberal and from groups who think that it is too restrictive—and the job of the Government is to try to get a good balance that respects that. Faith is also one of the protected characteristics, and it is right that we acknowledge that and absolutely have due respect for it. We need to make sure that as children are growing up and, sometimes, coming to terms with themselves and the world around them, we support them and make sure that they are equipped as they enter the adult world.
Well, I for one say hoo-bloody-rah—well done! I am absolutely proud of what the Government are doing, because in September 2010 I introduced a private Member’s Bill to this effect. It is just a shame that they have taken such a long time to get round to it. Seriously, though, I am delighted, not least because what passes on poverty in so many cases around the country is teenage pregnancy. A young girl who has a child before she is 15 or 16, apart from the legality of the situation, will end up having a child who grows up to be a teenage mum as well. All the evidence shows that really good sex and relationship education makes sure that children delay their first sexual experience, take fewer risks when they do so, and end up being better, more rounded, more fruitful, happier children. So hoo-bloody-rah!
I have had parents contact me over the weekend, ahead of the debate that is going on in Westminster Hall and the Secretary of State’s statement, saying that they would like to have the right to make sure that their children do not attend the relationships part of the proposals that he is suggesting. What is the Government’s response to my constituents on that?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Our response is that there is a long-standing right to withdraw from sex education. We took the view that that right should not be extended to relationships education, as Parliament also decided during the passage of the Children and Social Work Act 2017. It is important that every child has the opportunity to learn about and to discuss the different types of relationship there are in the world. That does not start with intimate relationships. It starts with sharing, taking turns and being kind to people, with an understanding about permission that then moves into discussing consent before getting on to some of these matters about intimate relationships. Obviously, schools do much of that anyway, but grounding the content for later years in school with regard to some of these basic building blocks is really important.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. I strongly support the introduction of compulsory relationships education. It is vital that all young people grow up understanding and respecting the diversity of modern relationships and modern families. How will his Department monitor the delivery of these subjects to ensure that all children are taught effectively, including about LGBT issues, and that same-sex relationships are always presented in a positive and respectful way?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. Of course we expect schools to follow through on this. It is about core curriculum content, and schools do follow such guidance. It is also in scope for inspection by Ofsted, or aspects of it are, and by the Independent Schools Inspectorate—for example, through the way that inspectors look at pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare, and their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. As she will know, the Ofsted framework is a core part of the infrastructure around education.
I welcome the statement, not least because, when I was going through school, sex education was too much about the mechanics and not enough about respect, emotions and, ultimately, the key issue of consent. The 19-year-old guidance is flagrantly in need of updating. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the focus of what we are looking to do is not just about learning about the mechanics—sadly, too much of that can now be done online—but about the key components of what a relationship actually is, particularly respecting others and respecting yourself?
As a matter of course, I would not expect headteachers to overrule parents. It is difficult to codify what those exceptional circumstances might be because, by definition, they would be exceptional. I make it clear that the intent of the guidance is to say that when a parent requests that their child be withdrawn from sex education, the request will ordinarily be granted up to three terms before the child reaches their 16th birthday, being the age of consent.
I, too, welcome these measures, which help to prepare our children for life in the complicated modern world. Angela Rayner mentioned the menopause. The Secretary of State referred to menstrual wellbeing, and it is important that we include in that not only educating girls and boys about the start of menstrual life and the start of periods but what will happen at the end, because we know there is a shocking lack of awareness and information for women at that stage. Will he meet me to discuss this further and how it can be included in the curriculum and in the guidance for schools?
I am always pleased to meet my hon. Friend and to get her particularly expert view. There is a long list of things that we could include in this guidance, and we have already included a lot. We have tried to make sure that the guidance is quite comprehensive, but we have to set some limits.
Nearly 750 children across my borough of north-east Lincolnshire have been exposed to domestic violence in the past year, and it is essential that all children understand what constitutes a healthy relationship and recognise unduly coercive and violent behaviour so that they do not go on to repeat it. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating North East Lincolnshire Council, Women's Aid and the NSPCC on the work they do, day in and day out, in my constituency and across my borough in schools and family hubs to protect, inform and support Grimsby’s children and families?
I absolutely join the hon. Lady in commending those organisations. As she will recall, I had the opportunity some time ago to visit her constituency and to meet some of those involved in safeguarding children to hear about some of their strong and innovative work.
I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about LGBT education, but does he think there are any circumstances in which a school should be allowed not to teach that element of the curriculum? I went to a faith school, and I do not want to be flippant about the sensitivities, but having absolutely no LGBT sex and relationships education did not make me any less gay. Every child in every school has a right to that education.
We are clear on two things: these issues should be taken on in an age-appropriate way, but by the time a person reaches the end of their schooling, they should have covered them. We trust teachers and headteachers to make the decision about when to do that but not whether to do it.
I thank the Secretary of State for bringing forward these reforms, which I broadly welcome, particularly the element of relationship advice and what constitutes a good relationship, but there is no doubt that this is concerning parents in my constituency—I have received a lot of correspondence on this. Clearly we need to get the balance right on our common shared values of understanding and tolerance, but can he give reassurance to parents who are concerned about modesty and appropriateness that the balance will be right and appropriate for the age group?
I too have received a lot of correspondence, and I understand that there are great sensitivities. I think it is true to say that there is no set of guidance on relationships and sex education we could come up with that everybody would be happy with, but we have tried to strike a balance. We have written it into the guidance that there needs to be consultation and co-operative working with parents, and through that, I hope parents will be more reassured. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are a diverse society, and it is important that children growing up in it know about that diversity.