Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 5:15 pm, 24th April 2019

My Lords, this is a landmark moment for children and young people in our country and I very much welcome it. I congratulate the Government and the Minister on everything he has said. If there were ever a reason to ensure that our young people had proper relationship and sex education in our school system, it came home to me this morning when I went into my office, where a letter was waiting for me with a card in it. It was a vile piece of information, trying to compare the teaching of relationships and sex education to giving up smoking. It had such comments as:

“Being gay is essentially lonely because the truth is that most gay partnerships are unstable and have a strong tendency to be promiscuous”.

There was more, but I do not wish to read the rest out, because it is so horrible. That sort of warped view about relationships in 21st-century Britain shows how strong is the need for an education system that addresses the issues in the way the Minister explained.

During the coalition Government, Edward Timpson took over the role of Children’s Minister and was looking to develop the PSHE curriculum and the sex education curriculum, as it was then called. My noble friend Lord Paddick and I were asked to meet him—he wanted to talk about that curriculum. I remember saying to him, “This is very good, but the important thing is that we have almost a dual education system here. We have maintained schools, an increasing number of academies and free schools, which of course have a much more relaxed approach to what they teach. Will this be taught in all schools?” He said, “Yes, it will”. Hallelujah, I thought. I asked whether such things as contraception and gay relationship would be taught. He said, “Yes, of course, it will”. And in church schools? He said, “Yes, of course, it will”. That was the breakthrough moment that I and many in this House were waiting for and I think that, alongside the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Nash, Edward Timpson MP, as he then was, deserves a deal of credit in this as well.

When I first started teaching, sometime in the 1970s, we had an eight-week period in which we followed the BBC’s “Merry-Go-Round” sex education programme—eight weeks of watching the television and doing the workbooks. Not one single parent complained, those eight year-old pupils never giggled or sniggered and it actually developed their relationships with each other. That programme continued and was updated over the first 10 years of my teaching. I always thought it was a great pity that we almost became Victorian in our approach to such issues as sex education; we went through those difficult times in the 1980s and 1990s, with some rather nasty thoughts about relationship education.

As well as the praise I have given, there are a few things we need to ensure. I think the Minister said this, but I just want to go through them again. It is vital that teachers get quality training. I am pleased that it will be a rollout; some schools and some staff may be ready, but it is important that we get this quality training for teachers right. It is important that the resources and materials are of the highest calibre. It is also important that when school inspections are occasionally held, Ofsted actually looks at the quality of relationship and sex education.

I have three questions for the Minister. First, the Government used the powers in the Children and Social Work Act to make PSHE compulsory in all schools, including academies, for health education only. Why not for citizenship and financial education? Let us raise that now while we have the opportunity. Secondly, this matter is also about continuing professional development for teachers. Thirdly, as the Minister knows—he has been very active on this issue—there is a still a large number of unregistered religious schools where the teaching about relationships is horrendous, disgraceful and wrong. So far, only two unregistered schools have had action taken against them. We need to get this right. We need to put in place the legal requirements to close these establishments straightaway because the damage they do to young people and young minds is not to be tolerated.