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 Gould of Potternewton Baroness Gould of Potternewton Deputy Chairman of Committees 5:15 pm, 7th July 2010

My Lords, I again support an amendment to make PSHE statutory within the curriculum. I intend to be reasonably brief, because we have had the discussion so many times now. We have explained the advantages of including it as a statutory subject.

I thank the Minister for giving time to discuss the issue with those of us who have been so involved in the debate. However, it became clear from those discussions that we are again bogged down by a curriculum review. PSHE will be judged against the teaching of chemistry or French. PSHE does not equate to subjects which may or may not be used as part of one's future life. PSHE is a lifestyle in all its aspects. By giving PSHE designated space in the timetable, and by providing more specific teacher training, resources and higher profile for the subject generally, young people will be better equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to negotiate the complexities of modern life. Rather, PSHE equates to religious education and music, in the sense that it should be a statutory subject. Those are lifestyle issues. Will religious education and music be included in the review, or will they be exempt?

It is also clear that the independent school regulations, which govern academies, refer to sex and relationship education based around the concept of marriage. Can the Minister cite that clause to the House, so that it is on the record and available for us in future? One way to satisfy that regulation is to ensure that we have PSHE which includes adequate SRE teaching. As I and others have said, teaching good SRE is a means of discouraging early sex. There is evidence to prove that. I give one example. Talking to a 15 year-old girl, I was told that she and her friends had believed that there were no great shakes in taking risks by having early sex. Then they had their PSHE lessons, and they realised that they were wrong. They were then discouraged from adopting that attitude. They also learnt in their PSHE lessons the confidence to be able to say no when the issue arose of whether they should take drugs, drink alcohol or have risky sex. Young people should not glean this information behind the bicycle sheds-I have to admit that, many moons ago, that is where I learnt it all-from playground rumour or from the mixed messages from the media about sex. We need structured classroom teaching giving a clear understanding of the consequences and emphasising the importance of family and friend relationships. This way, we reassure parents that PSHE and SRE do not promote risk taking and early sex, as is sometimes suggested.

There is no question that parents must take a lead in instilling values in their children, but schools, because of their impartiality, can help in equipping pupils with information and the emotional and social skills to make the safe and healthy choices that were referred to by my noble friend Lady Massey. That should be accompanied by providing parents with information and practical support to help them develop the confidence to talk to their children about emotions, relationships and the dangers of some of the risks that they might want to take. That will also give parents the ability to be involved actively, along with the pupils, in the development of the PSHE programme in the school.

I wish to say a brief word to indicate my support for the comments made by my noble friend Lady Massey on teacher training. She gave a perfect example in citing citizenship, which emphasises that making a subject statutory will be followed by an increase in the number of teachers being trained. There is no reason to delay the decision in order to make sure that there is an adequate number of trained teachers. The barrier to proper staffing and training is the lack of statutory status, and even if there is a delay in implementation-I do not believe that it should be for more than a year-the legislation should be put in place now.

As I indicated in Committee, five years ago the Government funded the PSHE teaching programme, which was also referred to by my noble friend Lady Massey. It has been successful in raising the number of trained teachers and the standard of teaching. I hope that programme will be continued. Can the Minister tell the House whether that will be the case?

Schools are part of the community, and teaching should not be seen in isolation. It should be supplemented by external contributors-representatives of other services, such as nurses, youth workers and Connexions personal advisers. In that way, we can ensure high-quality lessons that range from personal finance to awareness of and sensitivity to diverse faiths and cultural beliefs, understanding discrimination, the wrongness of prejudice and bullying, the consequences of drugs and alcohol misuse and the importance of staying healthy. I firmly believe that not to do so is to fail this generation of children and young people.

I acknowledge that my Government should have legislated earlier to make PSHE statutory, but ultimately they saw the value, they listened to the parents, teachers, school governors and pupils who pressed for its inclusion, and I thank my noble friends Lady Morgan of Drefelin and Lord Knight-my new colleague-for listening and for taking the action they took.

If my noble friend Lady Massey decides to divide the House on this issue, I hope that it will have listened and will follow her into the Lobby. I say to the Minister, with respect, that the evidence is there. The debate does not have to start again from scratch, but unless we hear otherwise from the Minister, we will have to start the process of persuasion once again. I sincerely hope that that will not be the case.