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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 7th July 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 5:30 pm, 7th July 2010

My Lords, I heartily agree with the vast majority of what has just been said by the noble Baronesses. The House knows my view that good quality teaching in PSHE should be the right of all children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The knowledge and skills covered by the phrase, "Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education", cover all the important things that prepare children for life beyond and within the school, whether they are future rocket scientists or future waste disposal operatives. They are all human beings and deserve our help and support to lead a happy and fulfilled life. That is what PSHE does. It goes far wider than just sex and relationship education, important though that is.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has mentioned, evidence has shown that schools which do PSHE well also benefit from improved behaviour and learning in other subjects. They are happier schools containing happier, safer and more confident children, which is what I want to see. My ambition within this coalition is to use my passion about this matter and the new influence that I hope I have among both my noble friends and my honourable friends to bring about a step change in the quality and quantity of this sort of learning for all children in all schools.

I am already working with the PSHE Association and others to produce a brief which I will submit to Ministers for the forthcoming curriculum review. It will go far beyond this amendment in two ways. First, it will cover all schools and not just academies. Secondly, it will contain many of the best elements, which, by the way, found support from all around the House, of the original version of Clauses 11 to 13 in the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which were so altered immediately prior to the general election.

That measure, which was deleted from the Bill, listed the areas of learning to be covered but, very importantly, also listed a set of principles that should underpin the teaching. These were, first, that the information taught should be accurate and balanced; secondly, that it should be taught in a way that is appropriate to the age of the pupils concerned and their religious and cultural background and reflect a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives; and thirdly, PSHE should be taught in a way that promotes equality, encourages acceptance of diversity and emphasises the importance of rights and responsibilities.

In complying with these principles, the school would by definition have to work closely with parents and communities, which is right and proper. These principles are fundamental to delivering the rights that I believe all children have and I know that the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Gould, agree with me about that. I congratulate the former Labour Government on putting together something that is so right. I give credit also to those who have worked so hard outside this House, some since the 1960s, to obtain these rights for all children. I am a mere newcomer to this campaign.

However, if we have come so far, we need to get this matter right and I very much regret that I find the simple amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, wanting in all respects about the principles that I have just listed. I realise why she has made it so simple, but this is not a simple matter. I believe that the earlier approach of the former Labour Government, following extensive consultation, was better. That is what I will seek from within the coalition to achieve for all children and that is why I cannot support this amendment, although I support the aim of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey.

I would ask her not to press this amendment, but to work with me to influence the coalition Government in their curriculum review. We would not be starting from scratch. We already have a very good model, but, in a matter as sensitive as this, we must take all parts of the community with us. This would give us an opportunity to do that.