Academies Bill [HL] — Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 7th July 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 5:15 pm, 7th July 2010

My Lords, the amendment, which is in my name and that of the noble Baronesses, Lady Gould and Lady Flather, would make personal, social and health education a curriculum requirement. I thank the Minister for his courtesy in meeting a group of us to discuss our concerns, and for his consideration of the amendment.

We debated this issue at length in Committee and it was said then that this is not a party-political issue. It is about the welfare of children. It is not about sex education-perhaps it is partly, but it is mostly about personal, social and health education. I have three points to make. The first relates to why I think every child should be entitled to PSHE in school. The second refers to the readiness of schools to take on PSHE and the third relates to the impact of PSHE on the lives of young people.

PSHE tackles issues which are important to young people and to parents. I refer to issues such as drugs, alcohol, staying safe, diet, sex and relationships, and so on. The methods used to teach PSHE also encourage young people to explore their feelings and attitudes and to reach informed decisions. Such methods may include role play, small discussion groups, and learning from visitors such as the police or nurses. Another aspect of teaching PSHE is that young people can also learn where to get help for themselves, a friend or relative-for example, in relation to drugs, alcohol or sexual health. One of the results of teaching in this way is that young people learn how to respect others and develop self-esteem by having their opinions valued in a group. If we can develop in young people communication skills and respect for self and others, it can be life-enhancing in the midst of negative and damaging influences from the media and other sources. It can counteract pressure from the peer group so that young people become strong enough to resist dangerous experimentation. Strong and confident young people make better parents and better members of society.

I am a parent and a grandparent, and I was a teacher. I know, as do noble Lords, that young people take risks of all kinds. We have all done that, but I suggest that risks these days are more sinister than when we were young. We also know that early intervention can prevent distress attached to health and social problems. PSHE also makes economic sense. If young people can be helped to make healthy choices we may see less alcoholism, less unsafe sex and less obesity.

Parents and young people themselves want PSHE delivered in schools. Even good, competent parents often find personal issues difficult to handle with their children, and children-particularly adolescents-may wish to have some distance from their parents in discussing, for example, their relationships. Parents want their children to receive accurate information rather than that gleaned from friends, the media or pornography. One young person said, "PSHE is important because it provides us with opportunities to discuss complex issues in a safe environment. We develop skills to deal with difficult situations and are better equipped to make the right choices". That says it all.

My second point on the question of how ready schools are to teach PSHE came up in our earlier discussions. Of course, many schools are teaching it already as they see the value. Teachers are being trained. More than 6,000 are known by the PSHE Association for teachers. When it was announced at a teaching conference last year that the then Government had agreed to have PSHE as a statutory subject in the curriculum, a long and loud cheer went up. Jim Knight-now the noble Lord, Lord Knight-said that it was the only time he had been given a standing ovation. One student teacher said: "Being given opportunities to teach PSHE has significantly widened my understanding of teaching and learning".

According to the PSHE Association, there is someone already in most schools with experience and enthusiasm. Many head teachers have supported its effectiveness. One head teacher said: "It is the heart of what the school is about". I am told that the real development of better practice in citizenship education took place only after that subject became compulsory. Heads and teachers became geared up to develop or improve their programmes of PSHE once it was announced that it was to become statutory. Now is the time to follow up that enthusiasm.

How do we know that PSHE is effective? It is difficult to assess in the long term, but we know from surveys that young people find information about health useful, and that they recall the messages-for example, about the risks of smoking, drinking and taking drugs. In one survey, 80 per cent of young people said that learning about risks helped them to avoid drugs. Sex education has been shown to delay early sexual activity. Interestingly, some schools have reported a positive influence on academic performance through a personal development programme using coursework to develop transferable skills. One school reported that students across the ability range exceeded their potential, with a 41 per cent rise in students gaining grades A to C.

None of that surprises me. If students are engaged, better able to relate to their peer group and adults, and more confident about their health and relationships, I would think that they would be more effective learners with greater aspirations. That is why so many of us across this House have supported the inclusion of PSHE as a statutory subject in the broad and balanced curriculum. As I said earlier, it is not about party politics. We must send a message to the Government that delaying the inclusion of PSHE puts young people at risk. I urge the Government to act, and I beg to move.