Clause 13

Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:30 pm ar 2 Chwefror 2010.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Sex and relationships education: manner of provision

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I beg to move amendment 197, in clause 13, page 15, line 1, after ‘practicable’, insert

‘, including the conduct of a formal consultation process with parents as to the content of such education,’.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Llafur, Sheffield, Attercliffe

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 62, in clause 13, page 15, leave out lines 6 to 8.

Amendment 173, in clause 13, page 15, line 27, at end add—

‘(7) Sections 10 to 13 of this Act do not apply to home educated children.’.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

These are three straightforward amendments dealing with sex and relationships education proper—we have been skirting round the subject up until now. Amendment 197 would add a requirement for governors to have a formal consultation with parents about the content of sex and relationships education. We welcome the renaming of sex education to sex and relationships education. As I mentioned earlier, we also welcome the new guidance issued last week, which places, in regulations, value on marriage and family. Those are all positive things.

We all know—this came out in our earlier debates—that the way we teach sex and relationships education is a sensitive issue, particularly for certain communities. If we take away parents’ powers of choice, as later clauses do, it is even more imperative and appropriate that there should be clear and meaningful consultation between the school and the parents before they decide in what manner they are going to teach sex and relationships education to their pupils. Amendment 197 would state that when deciding how to teach sex and relationships education, there must be a formal consultation process with the parents of pupils at a school, or the parents of those who are going to attend that school.

Amendment 62 follows on from the short debate that we had on clause 12 on exempting not just academies but the educational bodies set out in proposed new subsection (1ZA)(b), (c) and (d), namely city technology colleges, city colleges for the technology of the arts, and academies. I think I know what the Minister’s response will be: she can read out the previous answer that she  read out, with the addition of two other forms of educational establishments. We can take that as read to get us moving on.

Amendment 173 is a probing amendment, and was tabled for the purposes of gaining information. We shall come on to the subject of home education in the dim and distant future. I do not want to pre-empt the lively and entertaining debate that I am sure we are destined to have at some stage, but what is the position regarding sex and relationships education for home educators? Is there no requirement to provide SRE on home educators, as I suspect? In that case, are the Government happy, effectively, to substitute the power of a parent to choose for their child to opt out of SRE for a power for a child to come out of school altogether and be home educated? Is that the other side of the equation that the Government are putting forward? If it is, surely the net result will be more children being home educated. Yet the Government are bringing in additional regulations, which will make it harder to be a freelance home educator. There is a bit of a dichotomy there.

The first amendment—amendment 197—would be a valuable addition to the Bill, while the other two are probing amendments to give the Government the opportunity to state their position for the benefit of the Committee.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

The amendments would introduce further conditions on the provision of sex and relationships education—conditions that are not required. We do not wish to place additional burdens on schools or to impose them unnecessarily in areas where good practice is already in place. It is important for all schools to provide sex and relationships education. Amendment 197 would require schools formally to consult parents about the content of sex and relationships education, the effect of which would be to place another statutory burden on schools and parents that is neither necessary nor desirable. I am certainly surprised that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman wants to do so.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I would like the Minister clearly to distinguish what is important: is it the school working with parents throughout the whole process, or a statutory consultation?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools)

Governing bodies already have a statutory responsibility to ensure that schools have an SRE policy in place. Many schools have clear, open channels of communication with parents, and that helps them to understand what exactly is being taught in schools. In existing SRE guidance to which schools, including academies, must have regard, it is already best practice to discuss the SRE policy and the content of sex education with parents, and it is clear that many schools do that.

It is far better to encourage and reinforce the importance of regular and open communication between schools and parents through clear guidance, rather than through additional legislation. To that end, we are issuing revised SRE guidance to schools in which we make clear our expectation that schools should have an open, ongoing dialogue with parents on such important issues, and that SRE policies in schools benefit from having regard to parental views.

We are clear that SRE policies must be made available to parents for inspection, and must be provided free of charge to any parent who asks for a copy. As a minimum, we would expect the policy to set out the aims of SRE and how they are consistent with the values and ethos of the school; what pupils will learn at every key stage; how parents, carers and pupils are consulted in developing and reviewing policy; how parents are informed of their right of withdrawal from SRE; and how the school supports them in fulfilling their responsibility to provide SRE at home.

On amendment 62, we believe that it is important for all schools, including academies, to follow the national curriculum in sex and relationships education as part of their full programme of PSHE. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said in his opening remarks, I refer him to the answer that I gave in debate on clause 12.

Amendment 173 would ensure that neither the new primary curriculum nor the new provisions relating to PSHE applied to children who are educated at home. The provisions of clauses 10 to 13 make amendments to the Education Act 1996 or to part 6 of the Education Act 2002. In relation to clauses 10 and 11, part 6 of the Education Act 2002 applies only in relation to the national curriculum as taught in maintained schools. It has no application to home-educated pupils who are not taught in maintained schools. Clause 12 applies to academy schools and their pupils only, and amends part 7 of the Education Act 1996. Clause 13 also amends the Education Act 1996, but again its provisions extend only to maintained schools, academies and academy predecessor schools, which is clear from the Bill. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Predictably, the Minister answered the question about home education as I thought she would—and the point about the academies and city technology colleges. I do not agree with her, but I shall not push the argument. I was slightly surprised that, in her answer on amendment 197, she accused us of wanting to place an additional, undesirable statutory burden on schools by requiring them to consult on their sex and relationships education, a particularly sensitive and potential controversial area as we have said. Only a few clauses ago, we were debating parent satisfaction surveys—an apparently undesirable statutory burden of her Government’s, which is to be placed on schools. I do not see why the two things should be different, particularly when the measures are all about trying to make sure that parents feel included in one particular aspect of their children’s education, given that they are losing powers to withdraw elsewhere. If they are to be included, it is particularly important that they be properly consulted at the outset. That is why we feel that the amendment should be made to the Bill.

Again, as the Minister has admitted, there are various different ways that schools may inform themselves of what their parents want. Some of them may not want to consult parents; that would be a retrograde step, which is why we tried to put a requirement to do so in the Bill. I thought that would be a welcome addition that she might actually allow to be included.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools) 9:45, 2 Chwefror 2010

It is important that there should be ongoing dialogue between parents and schools about SRE policies. It should be ongoing, not just a one-off consultation. That is the best way to make sure that SRE is taught well in schools, and that parents are fully engaged. Best practice shows that in the schools that do that, the SRE is good.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Yes, I completely agree with that, other than the fact that there is nothing in the Bill that requires schools to have an ongoing discussion and debate with parents. Nor is the consultation that we are proposing a one-off consultation. Clearly, it would need to be ongoing as the new guidance comes in, so that we can see how it beds down, and see whether it is proving appropriate for the pupils at that school. There is nothing in our amendment that says that we are talking about a one-off form of consultation that would exclude all other dialogue. It is not helpful to try to dismiss the amendment on those grounds. In the interests of trying to move the Committee along, I point out that we have made all the points that we want to make on the subject. The Minister is clearly not going to give in. I should be happy to reconsider the issue at a later stage, but in the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.