Examination of Witnesses

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 14 February 2013.

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Craig Parr and Joe Hayman gave evidence.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon 2:34, 14 February 2013

Thank you very much indeed, Mr Hayman and Mr Parr, for coming and giving evidence today. If you would like to introduce yourselves for the record, then we will leap straight in with some questions for you.

Craig Parr: I am Craig Parr.

Joe Hayman: Joe Hayman. I am the chief executive of the PSHE Association. PSHE is personal, social, health and economic education.

Q 357

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I always get my h’s and my s’s the wrong way round in the stuff that you do, which you are in favour of and I am very favour of—sex and relationship education and all the rest of it. Do you have any problems with the Bill in terms of what teachers will or will not be able to teach? Does it make life more difficult or easier for them, or does it not make any difference at all?

Joe Hayman: The first thing that I would stress is that PSHE is a challenging subject to teach. There is a range of challenging issues that are approached every single day, from sex and relationships education through to gambling, alcohol, drugs and all kinds of different issues. PSHE teachers are very skilful, but they need more support. In terms of this specific Bill, the range of issues that we will discuss are already being discussed in schools and playgrounds across the country, and I therefore do not envisage a major change from our perspective.

Craig Parr: I have spent the morning teaching year 7s about puberty, and we do that because of PSHE. It is not statutory, but it should be statutory. I am very glad that citizenship is not being kicked off the curriculum, although in the wash-up of the previous Labour Government it was. That was a shame and it has held us back.

Q 358

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Mr Streeter, I do not think that we have had a submission from Schools OUT, so it might be useful if you, Mr Parr, said who you are, who you represent and what your basic points are.

Craig Parr: The National Union of Teachers, of which I am a member, has put a submission in and I would go along with that. Schools OUT is an organisation that works with schools and interested parties to create a climate where children can feel happy, out and proud.

Q 359

Craig Parr: Yes. It is made up of members like myself who teach in schools. I teach in a school in Camden. Schools OUT is made up of interested parties. We work on having days—in February, it is LGBT history month—where we promote diversity within the curriculum, whether students are gay or lesbian or not. It is about promoting diversity in our classrooms.

Q 360

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Thank you. That is helpful. Can I ask a representative from the PSHE Association something? On your note, which I thought was a good note, I absolutely agreed that this is a really difficult subject and that the Government need to do more to ensure that we have proper and good-quality sex and relationship education, because it is a bit of a lottery at the moment, as we know. In your note, you make the point that PSHE, and SRE within that, is a subject often taught by non-specialist teachers and that it is particularly challenging for them to deal with it.

Personally, I think we should have many more specialist teachers doing it, but we do not. It may be Mrs Miggins who is a geography teacher—I always quote that—who has a couple of free periods on a Thursday afternoon and so is in charge of SRE for this term. How do we deal with those teachers who find themselves teaching SRE, whether they want to or not, who have strong objections to what the Bill will do? It is not just about teaching facts and what the law says. They will be challenged for their view. Although you say it is good practice to try to keep opinions out of it—I do not disagree with that—inevitably they will come into it, so what happens in those circumstances?

Joe Hayman: Good-quality PSHE teaching is all about presenting a balanced argument and supporting children and young people to develop the skills and attributes that they need to make up their own mind on a given issue. As I said earlier, PSHE takes in a wide range of challenging issues. There is an issue, as you say, about the training for teachers and it is too often delivered by non-specialists. Your point about a strong source of conviction on an issue could be equally applicable to a specialist and a non-specialist.

We would stress that teachers should be able to go into the classroom and provide balanced information based on fact from authoritative sources. If they do not feel that they can do that on a matter of conscience, there may be some way that they can exchange with another teacher within their department. We do not think that it is ultimately in the best interests of a child to be taught on any given issue by a teacher who feels compromised. I do not think that that is a good experience for the teacher or for the child, but I would stress that teachers have the opportunity to contribute to the school putting together its sex and relationships education policy, alongside parents and community members, and,  therefore, they should have the opportunity to feel that they have been part of developing that process in the first place.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

You used the phrase “may be some way” that they could do a—

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Tim, we will come back to you in a second. Plenty of other colleagues want to speak.

Q 361

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Equalities)

To what degree, if at all, do you think that this legislation could impact on homophobic bullying in schools?

Craig Parr: First of all, I think that it starts from the top, so the Children’s Minister should have voted for equal marriage in Parliament because that would have sent messages to other people. I commend the Conservative Government for bringing through this legislation, but that is where it should start. For example, I was having this debate with my year 7 form group yesterday. I asked, “What’s in the news? What are people talking about?” and a young girl brought up the equal marriage debate. All of the class bar one agreed that gay and lesbian people should have the same rights to marriage as other people. One young girl—she was a young Muslim girl—said, “I don’t agree with equal marriage because of my religion.” We tried to explore that issue some more, and another girl put her hand up and said that she was also a Muslim, but she agreed with equal marriage because of her religion and because she believed that we should not decide who can and cannot got married; that was not our place in society. So, because of her religious beliefs, she believes in equal marriage.

On the homophobia question, there is a huge problem in schools with homophobia. I teach in a good school in Camden and we do not have major problems with homophobia, but in many schools, especially in rural areas and small communities, there is a big issue. Lots of work is being done through Schools Out—a really good DVD called “FIT” was sent out by Ken Livingstone —and there has been work around that, but it is still a problem and the Department for Education should do lots more in trying to tackle homophobia. We should promote homophobic bullying policies—all schools should have policy on homophobic bullying—and, through statutory citizenship and PSHE, this stuff would be discussed more openly.

Q 362

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Liberal Democrat, Bristol West

The piece of written evidence from the PSHE Association was very good. It refers to the age-appropriateness of teaching certain aspects of sex and relationship education. What is currently the age at which marriage and family life is taught to children?

Joe Hayman: I think it is important that schools have the opportunity to develop their own sex and relationship education policy and we can provide advice to them. It is really important that parents, community leaders and teachers are consulted. I am not trying to avoid answering your question, but I would stress that it is really important for that to be determined at a local level while taking advice from organisations that are aware of the best practice in this situation. I think a local decision, with parents, community leaders and teachers, and informed by good practice.

Craig Parr: At the age of five, kids should be learning about their bodies, how to eat healthily and how to be good citizens. Then, in year 7, which I had today, when they are 11, they will learn about puberty changes that happen to the body as they become teenagers, and then in year 10 they learn about the mechanics of sex, how to be safe and things like that. It should happen from a very young age.

Q 363

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Liberal Democrat, Bristol West

That covers the biology of it. I was more asking about the family structure and household structure, but I did not quite get a clear answer. For instance, would you expect year 6 children to understand that children may have two dads, two mothers and that family life is complicated?

Joe Hayman: I think I would stress that that awareness is going to be built up regardless of what happens in the classroom. I would stress again—not to play down the importance of the Bill—that these are issues in the lives of children and young people across the country now, regardless of what happens in this room.

Q 364

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Liberal Democrat, Bristol West

So what we are doing here need not necessarily change current practice in schools? Is that what you are getting at?

Joe Hayman: No, I do not believe that it should. We believe that the current guidance and legislation should cover the implementation of this legislation. That is not to say that that guidance and legislation could not be updated, but in terms of this particular piece of legislation we do not think that it makes a material difference.

Craig Parr: But it will change attitudes and behaviour. I’m gay. My brother is 10 and he knows that I have a partner. I did not sit him down and go, “I am gay.” He just saw that I was in a relationship with another man. Victoria in my class has uncles who are gay and in the class discussion she spoke about their relationship. Children are not born with prejudice; they do not have these issues. It is we as individuals and as a society that give them these issues. So they should absolutely be told about these things and experience them from a very young age.

Q 365

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

Following on from comments earlier about the impact on children in schools of passing this legislation, I want to ask a more general question about the wider debate around the Bill in the media, Parliament and elsewhere. The vast majority of the debate, certainly in Parliament and in this Committee, has been conducted with great courtesy, even between opponents and proponents, but that has not always been the case. Indeed, I think that some of the very strong statements made by organisations can have quite a damaging effect. Can you tell us a bit about how you have seen that impact individual children in classes you or your organisation has worked with?

Craig Parr: The debate is good because we are having the debate. Some Committee members are obsessed with teachers being disciplined because they may express views that go against what we have said. If you look at the teacher standards released by the Department for Education, we have a duty to treat pupils with dignity and build up relationships of mutual respect, and we  must also show tolerance and British values—I do not know what British values are, but we must work on showing what those things mean and what they are.

Look, for example, at another issue that could be controversial—abortion. Most teachers—70% of the British public believe that abortion or the right to choose should be there, and more than 65% of surveys show that we should have equal marriage. These are two controversial issues that people hold beliefs on, but I, as a teacher, obviously have to give a balanced view. I obviously support equal marriage, but I will say that some people do not and that that is their right to choose, and that as individuals, religious people or just as citizens, fundamentally, we should not put our opinions and values on other people. As I said, the general debate is good, but in certain newspapers it is being polarised between for and against.

Q 366

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

What do you think the impact is on individual children of some of the more strident opinions that have been put forward?

Craig Parr: I think that the children in my form just do not see it as an issue. It is an issue that they do not have, because they think, “Why don’t they already have equal marriage?” They know about civil partnerships, which should be open to heterosexuals too—there should be full equality. I know that the Bill is not looking at that, but I know that it has been put forward before. Young people are concerned, as they are concerned with human rights and about people being treated fairly and equally, but do they talk about this at the school gates? I am sure not.

Joe Hayman: I would add that on a range of different issues that PSHE covers there are strident opinions on all sides. Forgive me for these labels, but some people might consider some laws to be too liberal or not liberal enough. There are strong views on all sides about those laws. What we advise in terms of best practice is creating an atmosphere in the classroom where the issues are discussed in a balanced way with respect for people who hold a range of different views. If I may say, it seems that that is the sort of environment that the Committee is creating as well.

Q 367

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

Mr Parr, you commented that people can have opinions and at the same time be protected. I am sure you are aware of the recent poll that indicates that some 40,000 teachers would have difficulties with this redefinition of marriage and how it would affect them in their teaching in schools. They would have some difficulty—indeed, probably great difficulty—over how they can be involved in the training and the teaching and with how that will affect their conscience.

Ever-mindful of that—this is a substantial number of teachers—if the Bill should see its conclusion on Third Reading in the Houses of Parliament, if that is where it ends up, how would you address the issue of those with very clear religious beliefs who have a conscience in relation to this matter? Do you see a criteria or guideline being set down under which teachers may say, “Yes, there is such a thing as same-sex marriage,” and that being as far as it goes, or do you see it going beyond that? Be ever-mindful of those people who have a conscience, whom I referred to earlier.

Craig Parr: I would say that, first, we do not need any more criteria set from the Department for Education. We have enough. We are busy sorting out the new raft of implications from that, so I would say no more policies. You say 40,000 teachers—out of how many?

Q 368

Craig Parr: Out of how many teachers who teach in the UK? It is a very small percentage.

Q 369

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

We have had Church groups here this morning representing 5,000 or 10,000 people out of millions of people, so do not tell us about statistics and numbers.

Craig Parr: You talked about this idea of conscience. The conscience of a teacher is to teach. That is their first premise in a school. My conscience—my beliefs—take a back foot when I am teaching children. I must teach them the absolute things that they need to know. When we are talking about more controversial subjects and issues, as long as you are giving a balanced view on same-sex marriage, abortion and many different things, that is absolutely fine.

You can say, “I do not believe in equal marriage because I believe that a marriage is between a man and woman,” although I do not know who decided that. It must be balanced, and we must also say that other relationships do exist. Most of the time, if you came to my school and you said, “A relationship between a man and a woman is absolute,” they would tell you that it is not. They would tell you that they belong to relationships in which there are two mums, there is one mum, there is a mum and dad, they are adopted or they are fostered. These are the sorts of family that there are.

Q 370

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

I am aware of the facts of the case, and I am well aware of the issues. The issue that I am trying to get out of the gentleman is, how does he see protection for those people who have a different point of view from his?

Craig Parr: Absolutely. I respect your views and theirs—I absolutely do—but, as I said, my job is to educate children, not to tell them what I think and what I believe.

Joe Hayman: I think it would probably be quite helpful to refer back to the Department for Education’s guidance on the Equality Act 2010, which states quite clearly that

“having a view about something does not amount to discrimination.”

The guidance also states:

“However, if a school conveyed its belief in a way that involved haranguing, harassing or berating a particular pupil… then this would be unacceptable”.

I think that is a fair position.

The only other point that I would make is that we are already dealing with a wide range of issues where legislation may come up against people’s individual moral or religious conscience; abortion might be a good example. There is a very tiny number of cases where it amounts to disciplinary action. I think two of the safeguards that we have are the involvement of teachers, along with community leaders and parents, in putting together a school’s sex and relationships education policy,  and therefore their opportunity to feed into that process and to be involved in it, and the teacher exchange that I referred to earlier on. To answer your question, Mr Loughton, those exchanges already take place in relation to issues such as abortion or divorce, for example.

Q 371

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I will pick up from where I was cut off on that point earlier.

I entirely agree with what Mr Hayman has said: some way, sensibly, should be found to accommodate teachers who have a problem. We are potentially talking about 40,000 teachers, which is rather more than the combined membership of the three religions that we had earlier. It is 10% of all teachers, according to a poll, and however accurate that is, it is a substantial number of teachers.

How do we do it? That is the problem. When we asked the Secretary of State for Education about this, he completely ducked the question and just kept referring to “inappropriate teaching”. Would you support, absolutely, protection under the law for a teacher who declined to be the Mrs Miggins seconded to do SRE as part of PSHE on a Thursday afternoon because he or she felt that his or her view might come into conflict? If he or she said, “Can I not do that?” but the school said “No, you must,” would you support the teacher who wanted to opt out, rather than risk saying something that might be deemed, in the language of the Secretary of State, to be “inappropriate teaching”, whatever that means?

Joe Hayman: I would come at it from a different angle in the hope that I will still answer your question. I do not think that the educational experience of a child—and we should think of the pupil first—is going to be helped particularly by someone who feels that they are forced into a classroom against their will to deliver a lesson with which they do not agree. I would strongly hope that, because of the protections I talked about earlier, such as teachers’ opportunity to feed into the SRE policy, we are only talking about providing a balanced picture of the situation. Included in that would be explaining that in a democracy laws are passed, but that does not necessarily mean that everyone agrees with them. We are only expecting those standards of best practice, but I think—

Q 372

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

But we are not talking about fact, necessarily; subjectivity is involved. In sex and relationship education, the sex bit is quite a lot about fact, but the relationship bit is a lot about subjectivity. A counsellor at Relate said, “I have a problem doing civil partnerships. I think that person was wrong. Therefore, can’t we accommodate?” The law said, “No,” and that person lost their job. The same could apply to the teacher here. It is likely to apply to more people, because there are more people who have a problem with same-sex marriage than who now have a problem with civil partnerships. How do we protect that teacher with this law?

Joe Hayman: I do think these issues are taking place anyway. You cited the 40,000-teacher figure, and I have no reason to doubt it, but I would be interested to see a similar poll on teachers’ feelings about abortion, for example, because that has obviously been a legislative fact for a long time. When I talk about teaching facts, I think everyone in the room would at least want teachers  to teach the law of the land, but also the fact that, in a democracy, people have different opinions. That is a fairly balanced position. Ultimately, the exchanges I talked of earlier do take place and should continue to do so, and teachers should not be forced to deliver a subject or opinion in which they do not believe—I just do not think that that is good for the child.

Craig Parr: It is a shame that we are still obsessing about the question of teachers being disciplined over things they may not believe in.

Q 373

Craig Parr: It is an important point, but I think it has been dealt with. In PGCE courses, what we should be doing, Tim, is promoting diversity, so they should be going to sessions and training. Of course, some teachers, such as the one I spoke with this morning, are uncomfortable about telling boys about puberty—she did not know much about it. I took over and that was fine. We negotiated that between us and she spent some time with the girls. If it were statutory in courses, that would really help.

We are probably talking about many older people in the profession, although that is a generalisation. It did not help that the Government scrapped the regulatory body that dealt with discipline in the teaching profession, because it could have been dealt with in that way, but people are protected in their contracts under the Equality Act 2010.

Q 374

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Liberal Democrat, Bristol West

It is just over seven years since I persuaded my then colleagues on the Education Committee to do a really good report on bullying, and particularly homophobic bullying, which led to Stonewall and the previous Government—just to say something nice about Mr Balls—taking the issue on and putting some good guidance in place for how to deal with homophobic bullying in every state school. There were problems around the country with parents saying, “I do not want my children to know about this,” even though it was an anti-bullying policy. Over time, I have seen that largely disappear in my constituency in Bristol. Is it your experience as a PSHE teacher that there is less resistance to discussing homosexuality openly in school now?

Joe Hayman: I am not a PSHE teacher, but I can say on behalf of the organisation that concerning evidence is still coming through from Ofsted about homophobic bullying, which it has classed as a major concern. Some of the normalisation process that you are talking about may be happening, but I would not be in the least bit complacent. In fact, we remain concerned about homophobic bullying in schools.

Q 375

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Liberal Democrat, Bristol West

Just to clarify, I was not asking about the prevalence of homophobic bullying, but rather the resistance from parents and others to the teaching, whether through citizenship, PSHE or drama—you mentioned the “FIT” play earlier. Is there now less resistance to this being a core part of the curriculum?

Joe Hayman: I would not be able to say. The key point is that I remain concerned about the Ofsted figures on homophobic bullying.

Craig Parr: You are talking about the Stonewall report, which I think was published in 2008—

Craig Parr: There was a problem with a minority of students actually committing suicide and missing exams. It is an issue, because 50% of LGBT kids are missing large proportions of school.

Parents can of course say to teachers, “Can we not have them in lessons?” I teach in a school in which there are large Muslim and Somali populations. We send letters out and have meetings, and no parent has objected to any students being in such lessons, because you sit down and explain the importance of diversity, especially in a city such as London.

Just going quickly back to Tim’s point, teachers are more worried about pensions, pay, the curriculum and GCSEs. They are not worried about this issue. Ofsted looks at schools and thinks about how they include diversity within the curriculum and what they do as a school, so they are monitored on that.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Well done. The final question is from Tim Loughton.

Q 376

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I am sorry if Mr Bradshaw does not want me to go into this, but it is an important point for teachers for whom it will be an issue. I entirely agree with everything the speakers said that was in order about the need to have better-quality teaching of diversity. I absolutely agree with all of that. We are really bad at it at the moment and need to be much better.

Whatever my views on civil partnerships, which I absolutely support, or on same-sex marriage, I and many among those 40,000 potential teachers are worried— we will obsess about it—about why teachers will have any protection, given what happened to the Relate counsellor who was not able to have that sort of sensible accommodation? Mr Hayman may have mentioned some version of this, but a teacher should have protection and should be able to say, “I am not the right person to do this at all.” If I was in a same-sex relationship, the last person I would want to go to for guidance counselling would be someone who did not agree with same-sex relationships. I think you agree with my position that we need to make the Bill watertight, so how can we guarantee in the Bill that teachers can say, “That is not for me; I opt out,” or can purely express a view—without them haranging or harassing, which is clearly inappropriate teaching? The problem that we have is that the Secretary of State for Education did not define “inappropriate teaching”. Without new guidance from the Department, we are going to have a problem. Do you agree that those two safeguards are essential if we are to achieve what we all want?

Joe Hayman: I agree with your position. The teaching standards to which Mr Parr referred earlier, the guidance from the Department for Education on sex and relationships education and the Equality Act 2010 already provide a framework under which we can work. You then have the safeguard of school governing bodies interpreting that legislation and guidance. I do not see that this presents an additional issue. I return to my earlier point: regardless of what the Committee decides, such matters—not only same-sex marriage, but divorce and abortion—are being discussed in playgrounds  and classrooms across the country. Whatever is decided, people on both sides will have strong views. The guidance and the legislation provide the framework that we need.

Craig Parr: I think the coalition Government are about getting rid of red tape, so having more legislation would cause harm. We have the 2010 Act, which contains safeguards, and teaching standards, and head teachers are generally quite reasonable, so if teachers say that they are not comfortable, they will generally not make them do it. If that does not happen, they can go to their union and seek advice.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Thank you very much for your evidence this afternoon. We do appreciate it, and we are very grateful.