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Relationships and Sex Education — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 25th February 2019.

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Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Chair, Petitions Committee 4:30 pm, 25th February 2019

I want to make a little progress.

One thing to note is that primary schools are not obliged to teach sex education, but it is recommended that they take steps to prepare children for puberty. As puberty happens much earlier in children now, that seems sensible. Crucially, on the point raised by my hon. Friend Mr Cunningham, the guidelines say that schools must take into account the religious beliefs of their pupils when drawing up their programmes, and that faith schools may use their faith to inform their teaching. In fact, the guidance suggests that a dialogue should take place on issues regarded as contentious.

When I taught years ago, that is exactly what we did; it is not new in any way. I spent my teaching career in Catholic schools. We would teach—particularly our older children—what the Church taught and what others believed, and we would have a debate about it. There are good reasons for that. First, schools do not want to produce people who cannot put forward a rational argument, and faith schools certainly do not want to produce children who cannot defend their faith. Secondly, I have yet to find anyone who can stop a teenager arguing about any of this.

There are, of course, those who say that all this should be down to parents, as my right hon. Friend John Spellar mentioned. Parents are clearly crucial in all this and should be partners with schools. However, let us be honest: some parents do not do it, and some increasingly find themselves all at sea in dealing with online risks, domestic violence, grooming and so on. I was struck, even years ago, by the amount of wrong information and misinformation that children have in their heads. That was before the internet.