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 5:45 pm on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Tyler of Enfield Baroness Tyler of Enfield Liberal Democrat 5:45 pm, 24th April 2019

My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-president of the charity Relate and president of the National Children’s Bureau. I also thank the Sex Education Forum for circulating an absolutely excellent briefing.

I warmly welcome these regulations, which are a huge step in the right direction. It is such an important area. We know—all the survey evidence tells us—that the vast majority of parents want schools to teach relationships and sex education but to do it well. Anyone who has been involved in this area will tell you that effective relationship and sex education is a partnership between parents and schools; parental involvement is integral to the new guidance, and I warmly welcome that.

For me, it is hugely significant that this guidance is on RSE: relationships and sex education. For many years, when I was more involved in this area at a more operational level, it was always called SRE: sex and relationships education. You might think that that is a tiny difference and terribly pedantic, but it was not. At that time it was always called sex education, and people would always start to get terribly exercised and worked up about it. The fact that we are now talking about relationships first and then sex within relationships is hugely important, and I want to explain why.

It is absolutely critical that relationship education, when taught well, should be able to promote safe, equal, inclusive, enjoyable, fulfilling relationships, and should be taught in a way that fosters gender and LGBT equality. Sadly, some children are not seeing models and examples of safe, inclusive and healthy relationships at home, so it is absolutely vital, as other noble Lords said, that children understand what is and is not acceptable with regard to how they are treated by other family members, particularly if there is inappropriate touching or abuse, so that they know that they can say, “No, that’s not acceptable”, and know who they can go to for help and support. I also feel that it is extremely important that safe and healthy relationships are explained in terms of adult relationships, because again, sadly, some children witness abusive adult relationships within the home and do not understand that that is not acceptable either, too often themselves entering abusive relationships in their teenage and adult years. That is why this fundamental teaching of the importance of healthy and safe relationships is so very important—and important to much wider aspects of public policy.

I will briefly make two other points. As other noble Lords said, the way that relationship and sex education is taught is absolutely fundamental. Good teaching is important. Indeed, I saw in a recent poll that 80% of parents think that RSE teachers should be properly trained to teach it, and I am sure that we all agree with that. When I used to talk to teachers who delivered what was then called sex education in the classroom they would often say that they felt quite embarrassed teaching it, they did not feel properly supported, and did not have the proper materials. They did not have the confidence to do it, but were almost being told that they had to go out there and do it. The schools I saw and spoke to that did it most successfully, as often acknowledged in Ofsted reports, were schools where the teacher was working in partnership with external, usually voluntary sector organisations that had experts very well taught in relationship education. Can the Minister confirm whether the £6 million fund for supporting relationship and sex education which we have heard about can be used to help teachers to understand how best to work with external experts who can be invited in to deliver aspects of the curriculum? That is an important way in which all this really good guidance can be taken forward and implemented.