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 7:15 pm on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 7:15 pm, 24th April 2019

My Lords, I am grateful for the many comments on these emotive issues, and will attempt to address them all. I have been asked to be as brief as possible, so I will have a balancing act to do.

I acknowledge the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. She raised the question about the teaching of this in academies and free schools, and I reassure her that these regulations, if passed, will apply to all state schools in England. That is the biggest impact of this statutory instrument. Until now, academies have been asked to teach a broad and balanced curriculum but not specifically to cover the issues raised in this statutory instrument.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, made a strong point in asking why other issues such as financial education are not included. We tried to give autonomy to schools in the way they construct their curriculums. We need to keep that under review, to be honest with you, but at the moment, this is how the system is working. On the very important issue of unregistered religious schools, it is important to say that it is an offence to run an unregistered independent school, and that we are clamping down on that. We have provided additional funding to Ofsted for inspections of those institutions where we discover them. I am happy to write with some more details on that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, talked about potential hostility to teachers. We discussed that at the Front-Bench meeting earlier today. It is also worth saying that sex education is being taught in many schools at the moment—this is not a sudden change being imposed across the whole school system—but I completely accept her concerns. It will be a matter for schools to ensure that their teachers are properly supported, and we will keep this under close review.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, asked about compatibility with the convention rights. The advice we have is that when laying the regulations for debate, the Secretary of State is expected to certify that in his view they are compatible with the convention rights; he would not have been able to do that with the regulations on the absolute right of the parent to withdraw. I will cover that issue a little later, as it has been raised by several other noble Lords.

The noble Baroness also mentioned the out of date Stranger Danger, believing that Clever Never Goes is a better training, something we will certainly take on board. Part of this process will very much be to learn what the best toolkit is to make available to schools as we roll the programme out.

The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, asked about education in issues such as HIV and sexual health. I can confirm that it will be part of the RSE curriculum at the secondary stage, and that it will continue.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, asked about the quality of training—a subject that came up quite a lot—and the amount of money, on which the noble Lord, Lord Watson, finished. The £6 million is a small sum of money and is only for this current year, so we will bid in the spending review for additional resources. Turning to one of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Farmer, it is also important to stress that this money is very much for good digital resources. That is where we will point some of this money. A number of organisations are already producing some of this information: for example, the Catholic Education Service, the PSHE Association, and the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The information is starting to come out and the role of the department is to quality assure it, and to signpost the schools to the resources that we believe are best.

One issue raised in the Cross-Bench meeting earlier was an example of some inappropriate material that was being publicised. I can certainly commit that our department will be rigorous in ensuring that if that sort of thing occurs, we will not recommend it and will use whatever powers we have to make sure that it is not part of the system.

The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, made a strong point about the regulations being named so as to refer to “Relationships and Sex Education”. As I mentioned earlier, we have been teaching sex education but, until now, often probably quite poorly. The whole point of this instrument is to put relationships at the heart of what we teach children, rather than teaching sex as a slightly disembodied and taboo subject. The two need to come together because, as the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said at the end, it is about understanding the power of these relationships early on. They can otherwise lead to a great sense of isolation.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham raised a number of points. He asked about determining the age-appropriateness of teaching the sex element of relationships and sex education, and the ability to separate the two. I cannot offer him a magic wand for how those two things are separated, but we start with the principle that healthy relationships are born out of more than just the sexual element. Schools will be able to determine that, and we are asking schools to make those decisions themselves because these are nuanced subjects. As I said in my opening comments, we will keep this area under review. We have said that we will review the regulations in three years but if urgent elements become apparent much sooner than that, we will of course look at them more quickly.

The right reverend Prelate also asked about Ofsted, which was raised by several other noble Lords. It has recently consulted on a new arrangement for school inspections but while it will not be making a discrete judgment on the delivery of RSE, there will be a strong emphasis within the new inspection arrangements on schools ensuring that pupils access a broad and balanced curriculum. That will include the new requirements around these subjects and there will be a new judgment on pupils’ personal development, which is of course very relevant to these areas.