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 Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative 5:30 pm, 7th July 2010

My Lords, I follow my noble friend Lady Walmsley with great warmth. What she has said is very dear to my heart and I agree with everything. There are very strong feelings about the content of any part of the curriculum. After all, the curriculum is the heritage of knowledge and skills that we pass on to each generation. Everyone has their own strong feelings about what that should be. PSHE arouses particularly strong feelings because it deals with so many of the very sensitive areas of our personal and social lives.

As has been abundantly clear in what my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, have said, PSHE is already widely established in our education system. It is taught in virtually every school and there is already a large cadre of several thousand teachers who have registered themselves as qualified to teach the subject. I commend the enormously good work being done by so many of those teachers in dealing with what are difficult issues, often with difficult pupils at often difficult stages of their lives. They make a huge success of this teaching.

I have two real objections to trying to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in making this a single curriculum requirement for academies. First, in recent years I have met many teachers dealing with PSHE in, as I have said, difficult classes. They fit what they teach across the areas and how they teach it-whether it be drugs, health, obesity, sex or personal relationships, ethical or civic issues and so on-to the particular class in their particular school with its own particular mix of young people. Schools vary enormously. Some have sophisticated children and others have children who are unsophisticated. Some have children who, by the age of 11, 12 or 13, have alas already engaged in the kind of personal relationships we would rather they were not engaged in, including sexual relationships. The teacher's skill lies in fitting what they say and how they deal with these issues to their particular class. In my view, that is where PSHE should remain-with the school and the individual teacher deciding what and how it should be taught.

The second reason that I am astonished that the noble Baroness has put her amendment in this way is because this would be the only required part of the curriculum and it would only apply to the academies. If this amendment were agreed, PSHE would be a curriculum requirement for academies but not for other schools, and it would be the only part of the academies curriculum that would be a requirement. To me, that is bizarre. People in this House and certainly, I am sure, in the wider world outside would argue just as strongly for other bits of the curriculum to be made mandatory. Surely an important aspect of academies is that they will be free of a national curriculum and able to tailor what they teach and how they teach it within a broad and balanced framework for their particular pupils.

I would ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendment, and if she does, I would ask the House not to support her.