Safeguarding: provision of personal, social and health education

Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 10 Ionawr 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“(1) For the purpose of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children a local authority in England must ensure that pupils educated in their area receive appropriate personal, social and health education.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) “personal, social and health education” must include but shall not be restricted to—

(a) sex and relationships education,

(b) same-sex relationships,

(c) sexual consent,

(d) sexual violence, and

(e) domestic violence.

(3) Targeted inspections carried out by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) under section 136 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 shall include an assessment of the provision of personal, social and health education under subsection (1), including whether the information provided to pupils is—

(a) accurate and balanced,

(b) age-appropriate,

(c) inclusive, or

(d) religiously diverse.

(4) Assessments made under subsection (3) must include an evaluation of any arrangements for pupils of sufficient maturity to request to be wholly or partly excused from participating in personal, social and health education.

(5) For the purpose of subsection (4) “sufficient maturity” shall be defined in guidance by the Secretary of State.

(6) Withdrawal from personal, social and health education by pupils under subsection (4) shall not be considered a breach of the safeguarding duties of a local authority.

(7) This section comes into force at the end of the period of twelve months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I hope the Committee will bear with me. As can be heard, I am not as well as I should be. I have to admit I probably would not have been here today were I not so passionate about this subject and the importance of providing sex and relationship education as a form of safeguarding for all children. With that in mind, I will probably not speak as loudly and clearly as I might do otherwise. I hope that does not dull the willingness of Government Members to listen to the case for the new clause.

I want to go through a number of elements of the new clause and explain why it would be a worthwhile addition to the Bill. First, this is a safeguarding issue and, as we know, the Bill covers safeguarding. On Second Reading, the Minister agreed that it should be part of the discussion of the Bill. Secondly, introducing this element of safeguarding needs specific legislation as it is clear from the evidence on the provision of relationship education to children that guidance will not cut it. Thirdly, we need to consider the status quo and the response of the public. Our role as politicians is to lead but also to listen. There is overwhelming public support for such an important measure.

Finally, I shall explain why we must see progress now and in this Bill on this issue, which has been debated in this House for as long as I have been a Member of Parliament. In 2010, as Members may recall, the previous Government made the first effort to legislate. We have had these discussions now for six years. Thinking back in time, though, is perhaps the point at which all of us will start with this discussion, perhaps remembering our own sex and relationship education. For me, 2017 is important, because it is the year in which I turn 40—a big statement birthday. Do not all shout at once that that could not possibly be so—[Interruption.] Too late!

This has already been one of those years in which I have had conversations with people that remind me that I am no longer a tender teenager—not least, having a conversation with my staff where they expressed incredulity about the fact that when I was at school we did not have Wikipedia. We did not have the internet—[Interruption.] Government members of the Committee are nodding their heads. The world in which our young people are growing up is very different from the one that we knew.

As a former youth worker I am always reminded of something we taught ourselves, which was, “Everybody has been a 15 year-old but not everybody has been a 15 year-old in the modern world.” When people first reflect on the idea of sex and relationship education, they think of the headlines, the concerns that many of us have about things such as Snapchat, sexting and online pornography—the normalisation of an extremely sexualised culture.

I know that some who have been concerned about these proposals have written to Members to say, “There are groups in our society who are not privy to this online forum and therefore should not be involved in this legislation,” but that makes me think about why this is not to do with the internet or the modern world, but with the timeless challenge that we face in our society of how we ensure that everybody has good, healthy and constructive relationships with other people, and with the importance of sex and relationship education in that, because it is a safeguard. If we are honest, when we look back to our childhood and to some of the things that all of us of my generation—or, indeed, those who are older—know, we are aware that exploitation, danger and risk to children have always been prevalent in our society.

When we think about the scandals that have been uncovered in the last couple of years, about how people used to talk and interact with young people, or about the treatment of young girls in our society, we can see that safeguarding children is not a question of the modern world but a question of a better world. New clause 11 is very much not about the internet; it is about the world we live in today and how we make sure that all our young people are given the right education and the right skills, not simply to identify risk but to prevent risk.

The new clause is also about recognising the range of issues that we need to deal with in our world today. I am extremely proud of a young woman called Hibo Wardere from Walthamstow, who has been a leading campaigner on female genital mutilation, and of the young woman from my community called Arifa Nasim, who set up Educate2Eradicate. They are going around schools in this country talking about issues with “honour-based violence”—I call it that, but there is no honour in it. We know that there are multiple issues within our society that we have to be able to talk to our young people about if we want to keep them safe.

Given how sensitive people are about the concept of sex and relationship education, it is very important to think about it in terms of the risks people might face and the importance of addressing them. It is easy for British people to laugh about sex, and to feel uncomfortable or awkward about it. I remember my first sex education lesson at school, where I fell asleep and was woken up by a teacher waving a female condom at me—nevermore do I think about a plastic bag in that way. However, this is not a comedy issue, because we know that millions of young people in this country are at risk. Some 47,000 sexual offences were recorded against children last year. I say “recorded” deliberately: these are just the ones we know about. Crucially, a third of those were perpetrated by children against children.

We know that 5,000 rapes have been reported in our schools in the past couple of years and that nearly 60% of young women aged 13 to 21 report facing sexual harassment in their school or their college. The place that we want all our children to go to, to be safe, and to be able to learn, grow and expand their minds, has become a place of danger and risk for too many in our society. The truth is that the world is different from the one that we grew up in. There has been a normalisation of extreme sexual imagery because of the accessibility of pornography. I remember people having magazines and books at school that would probably be considered pornographic. Now, it is on a phone or a computer. Only 18% of parents think that their children have accessed pornography; the reality is very different—it is closer to 40%. Indeed, 79% of young men and 62% of young women report it being part and parcel of their everyday life.

At the moment, sex education is mandatory in terms of the biology of sex. In the biology curriculum, we teach young people about reproduction, but we do not teach them about relationships. That is where the risk comes in and where the gap in our safeguarding procedures exists. At the moment, we only have sex and relationship education across our schools in a very patchy way. Some schools are doing amazing work, and we should recognise that, but safeguarding only works if every young child has access to information, training and support.

Ofsted found in 2013 that 40% of schools required improvement or were inadequate in their provision of sex and relationship education. That means millions of children in our schools right now are simply not getting the right sort of information about relationships, consent and sensitive issues such as their relationships with the other sex and with the same sex, domestic violence and abuse, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Critically, Ofsted also showed us that young people are crying out for this kind of information and support to keep themselves safe and that they were extremely disappointed in the quality and frequency of lessons. Inevitably, it is part and parcel of their lives to ask these questions. However old we are, we all remember the point when we first become aware of our own feelings of wanting guidance and the right kind of relationships with people.

It is fascinating that study after study shows the value, power and potency of good sex and relationship education to address many of those issues and to keep our young people safe. A study by Bristol University just last year found that while schools find it difficult to acknowledge that our young people might be sexually active, children do not. Young girls reported being harassed in school if they asked questions about sex and relationships, and young boys reported feeling inadequate and anxious if they revealed an ignorance about relationships. We cannot let that stand. Frankly, if we do not step into that void, the internet or the playground will. That is where the risk comes.

For avoidance of doubt, this is not about replacing parents. It is about supporting parents and recognising an environment in which sexual feelings and sexual imagery are so much a part of modern life. Even with the best parenting and the good advice that we know millions of parents across this country try to give their children, if the people who children come into contact with on the street, in the playground or in chatrooms do not have the same set of values and level of support, the risk remains.

Only one in seven children in our schools have had any form of sex and relationship education. That means six other children are missing out and therefore might have negative impressions about what a good, positive and healthy relationship looks like. We know that this is something children themselves have reported, with 46% of children saying they have not learned how to tell when a relationship is healthy. We should think about that for a moment. When children do not know that violence and intimidation should not be part of a close, loving relationship, and when 44% of children have not been taught what an abusive relationship is, that is not an environment in which we can consider our children to be safe.

It is about not only physical violence but intimidation and coercive control. We have now legislated on that for adults, but we have a gap when it comes to young people. Some 43% of children do not know they have a responsibility to seek consent and have a choice about whether to give it. That is startling. The children who have not had that education are crying out for us, as politicians, to get this right, which is what we are trying to do through the new clause.

We should create a safe environment in which children of any age get the right kind of education to make healthy relationships and to know not simply what sexual conduct is, but what it means to give their consent, to be with someone for love, and what an equal and loving relationship looks like. This is not only about having healthy relationships with peers. It is also about a young child recognising when they are at risk. One of the concerns we have and the reason the new clause discusses age-appropriate education is the importance of starting early with children. One of the most shocking cases I dealt with as an MP in my constituency was not one, but two instances of children under the age of 13 engaging in sexual behaviour in local parks, involving children who did not want to be involved—that is the best way I can put it.

Think about that for a moment: children under 13. That means we need to start with children under 10, if not younger, giving them the right words to be able to say no and describe what is happening to them, and what they do and do not like. Yet, again, we are finding in the Ofsted studies that too many children are not being taught the proper words for their own organs and how to talk about what might be happening to them. This becomes a safeguarding issue, because we know that when children are given the right information in an age-appropriate fashion they are much more likely to report abuse or be able to report something happening to them.

It is too risky to us and this Bill’s ethos about keeping children safe not to address this omission. We know we need to address it because of the cases that have come out. Both the Jay report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and the Children’s Commissioner inquiry into gangs identified the provision of sex and relationship education as a crucial way to stop harm and said that the lack of information about healthy relationships and consent was a contributing factor in the vulnerability of those involved in the cases.

I know that when we talk about sex and relationship education people are frightened about the headlines they might see in the Daily Mail and other publications of equal value and note to our society. [Interruption.] I have no idea why Conservative Members are laughing. We also know parents want to see this happen: 78% of parents said they wanted to see good sex and relationship education in schools as a way to support them and to bridge the gap, so they could be confident that when they gave their kids the best values in life, the kids they were meeting would be equally well trained. We also know the new clause has the backing of a wide range of children’s charities—that is, the people who deal with safeguarding issues day in, day out: Barnardo’s, the Terrence Higgins Trust, the NSPCC, the Scout Association, the Family Planning Association and the National Children’s Bureau.

There is widespread support for the importance of doing this and, if we are honest, that support has been there for some time. While we can all recognise the concerns of a small minority of organisations, I believe there are ways in which we can bring in this legislation to reflect those concerns while not letting them get in the way of safeguarding and recognising this as an important part of safeguarding. I certainly do not share the concerns of the former Education Minister, who believed we should not legislate to make relationship education mandatory in schools because it was about giving schools the freedom to set their curriculum. When we have seen such a failure, frankly, to provide this sort of education, it is simply not good enough to leave things to chance, and nor do I believe that this is something that can be kicked into the long grass and continually pushed back.

I think the Minister and the Education Secretary recognise this as something we need to do. The trouble is we keep recognising it as something we need to do and never get round to doing it. We know children are at risk as a result. I hear the Education Secretary saying that this is in her in-tray. I also think it is worth referring back to what the Minister said on Second Reading:

“This matter is a priority for the Secretary of State, so I have already asked officials to advise me further on it, but I will ask them to accelerate that work so that I can report on our conclusions at a later point in the Bill’s passage, when everyone in the House will be able to look at them and have their say.”—[Official Report, 5 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 84.]

The challenge we face today is that we are almost at the end of consideration in Committee in the House of Commons for this legislation. We are running out of time for this to become part of the legislation, and the elephant in the room that will define politics for us for this year, and perhaps for years to come, that of Brexit, means it is hard to see when there might be other such legislative opportunities. One reason for tabling the new clause is to ask the Minister to make the commitment today for a piece of legislation, because we know this is going to have to be part of law for it to happen. We know this is going to have to be part of law to make sure every school—not just maintained schools, but academies —provides this form of education. We agree on its value, but we also recognise the urgency of acting. If not in this legislation—we are at a very late stage—it is difficult to see when there might be alternative time for progress to be made.

The risk is that we will spend another year telling our young people that we hear their message that they want this form of support and telling parents that we get it. They want to know that other kids have had good education, too. We will listen to teachers saying, “Unless it is part of the curriculum and we are given support to be able to provide this, we can’t teach it.” It needs to be part of the national curriculum. If not now, when? That is the question for us.

I want to hear what the Minister has to say, because I heard him on Second Reading.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Llafur, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Before my hon. Friend concludes, I want to say that I am more than happy to support her new clause, although the Minister may be about to tell us that he has an alternative or additional proposal.

Since we have spent so much time talking about the value of innovation, would my hon. Friend be open to a proposal in which the Minister encouraged schools to innovate? We could make a start right away by finding the best models for my hon. Friend’s proposals and some of the wider issues referred to by other organisations, including online safety, tobacco, alcohol, drug abuse and broader health issues. Would she be open to a proposal that said, “Let’s invite schools to innovate. Let’s ask Ofsted to report on the success of that innovation. Let’s encourage schools that are doing the right thing, so that the Minister can free the others from the constraints and encumbrances that current legislation imposes on them.”?

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

My hon. Friend will be aware of previous conversations about straying from the point. We were very mindful in drafting this new clause that we should focus on relationship education as part of PSHE, which has been declining in schools. I believe there has been a 21% decrease in the number of PSHE lessons in the past couple of years because it is not valued. We recognised that it had a particular role to play in safeguarding because of the widespread evidence of sexual harassment of children.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the value of other forms of lessons. I will give a shout-out to Kris Hallenga and the CoppaFeel! team who have been looking at how to provide cancer education within PSHE. There is clearly a broader debate, but we do not know if there is going to be any alternative education legislation that might allow such proposals to be included.

The point about innovation and safeguarding is apposite. One reason Opposition Members were concerned about other parts of this legislation is that we want to give schools a clear framework about what should be included. Within that, we could work in a way that works for pupils and their location. That is why the new clause specifies a framework for sex and relationship education as part of safeguarding, recognising that it needs to be age appropriate.

The way in which a five, six- or seven-year-old would be taught about their body and how to ensure that, if anything happened that they were not happy or comfortable with, they could speak out, would be very different from the conversations that might be had with 13, 14 or 15-year-olds about some of the things that were going on in their lives. It would also be done in a way that was inclusive. I am particularly mindful of the evidence of young people who are gay and lesbian who said they were not given good sex and relationships education, which caused them huge amounts of harm at a young age, so it is important to ensure it is inclusive.

Finally, we need to recognise different religious perspectives. That is an important element, and I do not underplay that. Concerns have been expressed by religious organisations. We need to reflect and respect religious perspectives without using that to stop the important provision of relationships education.

The new clause is drafted in such a way that it is very much about the role of Ofsted, which I am sure would be involved in any form of safeguarding and monitoring of sex and relationships education in schools, however the Government choose to do this—if they do want to. There is a clear role for Ofsted to look at this as a form of safeguarding. Schools that were not providing sex and relationship education would be judged inadequate on safeguarding, which is a very serious matter, but it would reflect the importance of the topic.

Crucially, the new clause would give young people the opportunity to say whether they wanted to take part in this education. Some 90% of young people surveyed said they wanted this education, so it is important to give them the power to opt out, rather than that being led by their parents. The Secretary of State would have the role of setting the age at which they would be of sufficient maturity to do that. I am thinking particularly of young people who might be at college or in further education who would be covered by the new clause: we want to ensure that they have the right to take part in lessons if they choose to do so.

Finally, returning to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak made in saying, “Let’s just get on and do it”, the new clause sets out a clear timetable. That is the message I want to give to the Minister. I heard his words on Second Reading and I have seen the briefings from the Education Secretary. There has clearly been a sea change in the Government’s perspective on the issue over the past year, which is welcome.

I recognise that there is cross-party support for sex and relationships education. Five Select Committee Chairs said they wanted to see it happen. All of us who have been campaigning on the issue for some time want to see action, because we are all acutely aware that we have lost previous opportunities to make progress. The guidance that covers sex and relationships education for our young people was produced in 2000, before the era of Snapchat, Facebook and even Twitter, which feels as old as the hills. We need to move with the times, but most importantly we need to move. If the Minister will not accept new clause 11 and work with us to make it work, I want to hear him make a commitment to legislation. I tell him plainly: another consultation, another review and a generalised commitment will not do any more. Young people in this country need and deserve better from us.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Ceidwadwyr, Bexhill and Battle

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walthamstow. I find it strange to say—she perhaps will find it strange to hear—but I am critical of the new clause because it is not ambitious enough. Rather than just talking about safeguarding and listing aspects of personal, social and health education under subsections (a) to (e)— aspects, in reality, of sex education and relationships management—I would like be bolder and enlighten and empower all our pupils in the whole sphere of personal, social, health and, indeed, economic education. In that sense, my call to the Minister is to be more ambitious and go further than the hon. Lady set out.

The hon. Lady referred to 90% of pupils wanting this form of education. I think it is 92% of pupils who want it, and they are not just referring to the limited form of education that she talked about. They want a sphere that would include economic education too. That is hugely important. Within schools, we are focusing more on mental health issues, wellbeing and preparing our pupils not only to cope with the challenges and pressures of their school surroundings, but with the challenges of the workplace and life in general. To pick up on the hon. Lady’s theme, I would like to see legislation that covers all those parameters. There is great support for that—some 92% of parents and 88% of teachers support it.

Legislation has to be properly thought about within this sphere, however, because 12% of teachers are not positive about such provision. That may be because they are concerned about their workload and want some reassurance about what may be taken out of the curriculum if this particular provision put in. I would prefer to take a thoughtful approach. I have no issue with a consultation, because it gives us the opportunity to feed in on how legislation should be formed.

I do not wish to speak further, because I am pleased and keen to hear what the Minister has to say. I reassure the hon. Lady that while I will not be voting for a new clause that is restrictive and could go much further, I am certainly behind the general thrust of ensuring that we enlighten all our schoolchildren on the wider area—an area that does not just cover sex education and relationships management, but all the challenges of daily life.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Llafur, Stretford and Urmston

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I support the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. I am sure she welcomed the enthusiasm that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle displayed for a broad-based PSHE offer for young people, I am afraid I was rather chilled by his final words that the intention was enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow pointed out very eloquently, as long as she and I have been in Parliament—and no doubt for many years before that—that is what we have heard: the intentions are good, but nothing materialises. In the meantime, our young people are crying out for this kind of education offer.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Ceidwadwyr, Bexhill and Battle 3:15, 10 Ionawr 2017

Perhaps it is the lawyer in me, but I think it is important to note that the new clause says that personal social and health education

“must include but shall not be restricted” to certain subjects. There is also a danger that this is not the greatest piece of legislation. Anyone looking at the new clause will think that they are required to teach all the things that I have added, perhaps with the exception of the economic aspect. It is not entirely clear what provision the hon. Member for Walthamstow is trying to restrict—or widen.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Llafur, Stretford and Urmston

I find the whole sentiment behind this discussion rather disappointing. I think it is very clear what the concerns of young people, parents and teachers are and why my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow has tabled the new clause. She, of course, can speak for herself. Of all my colleagues, I think it is fair to say that, but may I say on her behalf that if this proposal is not perfect, we are amenable if the Minister wishes to produce something better, but we want it now. We have waited too long for something to happen, as opposed to warm words and expressions of enthusiasm.

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle is absolutely right to point to the importance of the debate in the context of all the attention the Government are giving to mental health and wellbeing. If we look at the record of previous Governments, including the coalition Government and the present Government, on a whole lot of related issues, it seems a great shame that we are not supporting those steps forward, which have been made with cross-party support in relation, for example, to female genital mutilation; in relation to stalking, which will be the subject of amendments in Committee later this afternoon; and in relation to coercive control, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow; in relation to same-sex marriages; and in relation to the very good follow-up which has been put in place following some of the appalling child sex scandals of recent years. It is tragic that the Government and previous Governments, having made great social steps forward in all those areas, are unwilling to underpin them with really good education for our young people so that they can understand their rights under that legislation.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I always stop my hon. Friend when she gets going at my peril because she is such a powerful advocate. Can I give reassurance to the hon. Member for the constituency which I cannot think in my head right now but I am sure is a wonderful place?

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

That’s it—a lovely place. Personal and social education is already part of the curriculum, but what we have seen over the past couple of years is a diminution in time allocated to it. The new clause would make the provision of lessons on these particular issues part of the safeguarding element that is inspected, and so prompt schools to ensure that these issues are covered. That does not preclude any of the points that have been made and the wider debate we can all have.

There is cross-party consensus about the value of PSHE and concern about the diminution in its delivery over the past couple of years. However, the measure would ensure that these subjects were part of the framework on which schools were inspected. If they were not providing lessons and guidance on these issues, that would be a matter for failing by Ofsted.

Ofsted looks at the provision of sex and relationships education, as we have seen, and has shown that it is of poor quality in many schools right now. However, at the moment it is not part of the safeguarding duty that they inspect. By making it part of the safeguarding duty, the measure gives Ofsted stronger powers to push schools to do it. It is not about PSHE being restrictive—the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle is reading the proposal in quite a literal way—it is about Ofsted’s powers. If the hon. Gentleman wants to have a conversation about Ofsted, I would be happy to talk to him, but I suspect it is beyond the scope of today’s debate. I hope that reassures all my colleagues as to why we want to make sure that these particular topics are covered.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Llafur, Stretford and Urmston

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I want to pick up the point that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle made about teachers’ confidence in dealing with this subject. As my hon. Friend has explained, in embedding in the inspection regime an expectation that safeguarding standards are part of the way in which the curriculum is delivered, we create a need to ensure that teachers are properly equipped to teach that curriculum. That will have an effect on what is taught in teacher training colleges and on teaching practice. It will have an effect on the way in which schools organise, manage, support, mentor and develop their staff and on the way in which staff time is allocated, to ensure that teachers are able to teach the subject properly.

From talking to teachers, I do not think that their worry about this subject is so much about whether or not they have time to do it—they think it is important and want to make the time—as about a fear that they do not know how to do it. It requires proper attention to equip and educate them to deliver top-quality teaching.

We know that quality is an issue. My hon. Friend pointed out that one in seven children are receiving no sex and relationships education at all. Of those children who are receiving such education, half told the Terrence Higgins Trust in research it carried out that the teaching they received was poor or even terrible. There is little point in offering a poor or terrible education to our children. We have to raise the quality. That is not an excuse for doing nothing. It is an excuse for embedding firmly an expectation and an obligation on schools, along with an inspection regime to ensure that they meet it.

I am troubled that despite all the social progress we have made in my adult lifetime, and particularly the immense progress in relation to equality between women and men, young people’s attitudes to relationships between the sexes remain primitive in so many ways. We have seen shocking research in recent years, which has shown that young men and young women—teenagers—believe it is acceptable, for example, for a boy to hit his girlfriend if he sees her talking to another bloke or for a man to expect the woman in a partnership to put food on the table when he wants it.

The fact that those attitudes should still be pervasive among young people shows that there is a very real need to educate them in relation to not only in the biology of sexual relationships, as my hon. Friend said, but on the much broader dimensions of respect and equality. We have delivered those things in so many other ways—in legislation and social practice—but they need to be underpinned in our education system.

I want to conclude by saying, on my behalf if not on behalf of my hon. Friends, that if the Minister thinks the new clause is deficient, I insist he introduces something else as a matter of urgency. We would be happy to consider that. As my hon. Friend said, time is running out. If such a proposal is not available in Committee or on Report, there is no further chance to achieve the intention that is constantly expressed in this House and which is the will of the House and the wider public: to do so much better than we do now. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. Without strong assurances that things will now change, I am pleased to support my hon. Friend’s new clause.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Ceidwadwyr, North Dorset

I am the father of three young daughters of eight, six and four. The moment I am dreading is when they start asking what we used to call “those questions”. I am rather hoping my wife will be on hand. I am sure she will then promise to give me some sex education after she has dealt with the children.

This is such a complex and complicated issue, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow set out. I rise to make a few remarks against the backdrop of having attended a faith school and as a practising Roman Catholic. My wife is a member of the Church of England, but my children are Catholics. I very much support what lies behind the hon. Lady’s new clause. I see nothing contradictory in being a practising Christian and wanting to ensure our next generation is equipped with as much resource and education as possible for the challenges that face modern youth—challenges that I, as a 47-year-old, could never have envisaged when I was 14, 15 or 16.

I remember the acute embarrassment—teenagers like to do this to their teachers—when we had a spinster nonconformist Methodist biology teacher in a Catholic state school who was asked by a friend of mine during this biology lesson—one where we had those pictures that were never quite clear anatomically—“Miss, what does a man do if he wants to have sex, but they do not want to have a child?” He knew full well what the Catholic teaching was on artificial contraception, but it threw this nonconformist spinster into an absolute tailspin and her answer was, “I think you should go to talk to the school chaplain”—she did not know how to answer. So it is as much about educating the educators as it is educating those who need the information.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow has been in this place longer than I, and I am reluctant to give her any advice about it—the new clause, that is, not anything else—[Laughter.] Before my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent chips in with anything slightly “Carry On Laughing” or whatever, I think there are some omissions between 2 (a) and (e). For example, it is important to have something about transgender. Likewise, while the hon. Lady said at the start of her remarks that this was not solely about digital, given its huge impact on perception, the curriculum should include an element on digital and the internet.

We have all bandied statistics around, but I remember reading that today most teenage boys that have accessed pornographic websites, just out of interest and teenage curiosity, actually believe that most women do not have pubic hair. That is a direct bit of education from the internet that affects the mindset and changes how we think about ourselves and our potential partners in a relationship.

I also notice—and it slightly belies what has actually been support from my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle and I hope, certainly in theory, from the Minister—that the new clause is tabled solely in the name of Labour Members of Parliament who all happen to be women. This is an issue that should command cross-party support and certainly representation from both sexes. A father, a husband and a boyfriend have as much interest in ensuring a high quality of PSHE as women do. The hon. Member for Walthamstow might want to think about that point, which is why I hope that she will not press this new clause to a vote today but instead think about some proactive cross-party working on Report. That is not to kick the issue into the long grass; it would just help to create a better base.

Some wording—some form of protection—is needed for those who run faith schools, all faiths, to make the position absolutely clear. I have little or no doubt that I will receive emails from constituents who happen to read my remarks. They will say that this is all about promotion, and this or that religion thinks that homosexuality—or another element—is not right. So to provide a legislative comfort blanket, for want of a better phrase, the new clause needs to include a clear statement that we are talking not about promotion, but about education, and where sex education is delivered in a faith school environment, those providing the education should not feel inhibited about answering questions such as “What is the thinking of our faith on this particular aspect of sexuality?”

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The hon. Gentleman has touched on an incredibly sensitive issue. I do not want to misinterpret his remarks, but he should be aware that many of us are concerned about children who are same-sex attracted in faith schools. One of the things that is important about getting this right is making sure that every school is acknowledging those children. Can he just clarify what he means by inhibition?

We did try to work in a cross-party way on this, and I continue to do so—and cross-gender, as well. I agree with him that this is not an issue for women; it is an issue for all of us. We are where we are with the new clause, but it would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman could spell out what he is talking about. Specifying religious inclusiveness and recognition of different religious perspectives is not the same as allowing a religious perspective to inhibit what we might teach young people. We need to give every young person, whether they have relationships with the same sex or different sex, the right education and support to have healthy relationships and to feel good about themselves as well.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Ceidwadwyr, North Dorset 3:30, 10 Ionawr 2017

I take the hon. Lady’s point but I think we are looking through different ends of the same telescope. I do not think it would be sensible, or maximise the benefit of the thrust of the new clause, if faith schools were able to say “This aspect of human sexuality is contrary to”—I use that term in its broadest sense—“our religious doctrine, and we will not teach it.” The point I am making is that it should be taught because it is part of human nature—people are born straight or gay, or whatever phraseology one cares to use—but the school would not be in breach of any regulation or legislation to say to the class “We are a Muslim”—or Catholic, Jewish or Methodist—“school: this happens in human life, but the religious teaching of our majority faith in this classroom is that we don’t promote it”, or “That is not what we think.”

That is in part why this sort of debate is not best suited to the Committee. These discussions should take place across the genders and across the parties in preparation for Report. I am conscious that in trying to answer a legitimate point, fairly raised by the hon. Lady, I may have used terms that a 47-year-old white Catholic would use, which some people might find slightly old-fashioned and out of date, or perhaps not as politically correct as they should be. The thrust of what the hon. Lady is talking about is absolutely right, and germane to the whole of the Bill. However, if we are to command support from the religious as much as the secular, the sensitivities and anxieties that people often jump to—“This is all about promotion and trying to convince children at six that they should be gay, and if they are not there is something wrong with them, etc.”—need to be clearly and sensitively identified, so that those particular hares do not start running.

That is why I urge the hon. Lady, if she and her colleagues are serious about the new clause getting a fair crack of the whip, not to press it to a vote this afternoon but to work in a cross-party way to see what can be achieved, hopefully with the support of the Minister—we shall listen with interest to his remarks in a moment—on Report.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)

It is a pleasure to speak in support of the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, which would ensure that all local authorities would provide accurate, age-appropriate personal, social and health education, including age-appropriate sex and relationship education. I believe that we speak for most of the hon. Members in the Committee Room, and in the House more broadly, in saying that steps in such a direction are necessary and important to ensure that children can stay safe, happy and healthy in the 21st century. The current guidance in the area, as my hon. Friends have said, is out of date, and therefore woefully unable to address the challenges and possible dangers they outlined. The education system must respond to change in society to provide young people with the skills and knowledge they need to be safe. While guidance in PSHE and particularly in sex and relationships education is not able to do that, the dangers are clear, as is the case for acting.

I welcome the fact that the Minister and the Education Secretary seem to be coming round to the cross-party consensus on the issue, with suggestions in the media that the Education Secretary is planning a change of policy in that area. The issue is not about politics or partisan point scoring, but about protecting the best interests and the health of children. I am sure all Members in this room will agree that that must be one of our highest priorities.

The Bill offers an ideal opportunity for the Government to make the changes in our education system that are so badly needed. I hope the Minister will support the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

May I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Walthamstow on a stoic effort when she is clearly under the weather? I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Members who have spoken in what has been a helpful debate in teasing out the issues that surround these sensitive subjects. Now is the time to make sure that every child has access to effective, factually accurate, age-appropriate sex and relationships education and PSHE. That is why we are responding positively and strongly to calls for further action. I am grateful to the hon. Members for tabling this new clause.

Perhaps surprisingly, we have ended up with a greater level of consensus on this new clause than we have had on previous new clauses. As I have said in previous debates on the Bill, we hear the call for further action on PSHE and we have committed to exploring all the options to improve delivery of SRE and PSHE. We are actively looking at how best to address both the quality of delivery, rightly raised by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, and accessibility to ensure that all children can be supported to develop positive, healthy relationships and to thrive in modern Britain today. We welcome the support in delivering this in a timely and considered manner.

The Secretary of State herself has made this a personal priority, as we have heard, and we will be able to say more at a later stage in the Bill about how the Government intend to secure provision that is fit for purpose, inclusive and supports all young people growing up in our country today. It therefore seems to me that we are all pursuing similar aims. We all welcomed the excellent report published on 13 September by the Women and Equalities Committee and the considered recommendations within it. We are unanimous that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools in any form is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. We are much more alive to that and need to make sure that that is properly reflected in the way that we equip children in future.

As part of our response, published on 9 November, the Government have committed to work with other interested parties over the coming months to produce a framework to support schools to produce their own new codes of practice, setting out the principles for a whole-school approach to inclusion and tolerance to combat bullying, harassment and abuse of any kind. Alongside that we have also committed to building our evidence base to better understand the scale and scope of the problem, as well as providing best-practice examples of effective ways to work with boys and girls to promote gender equality and both prevent and respond to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. We will also set up an advisory group to look at how the issues and recommendations from the Committee’s report can be best reflected within existing Department for Education guidance for schools, including the statutory guidance, “Keeping children safe in education” and our behaviour and bullying guidance.

Clearly, there is more that we need to do, which is why the Secretary of State is prioritising progress on the quality and availability of PSHE and SRE. In doing so, we must of course, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow said, look at the excellent work that many schools already do as the basis for any new support and requirements. As we know, sex education is already compulsory in all maintained secondary schools. Academies and free schools are also required by their funding agreement to teach a broad and balanced curriculum, and we encourage them to teach sex and relationships education within that. For example, many schools cover issues of consent within SRE, and schools draw on guidance and specialist materials from external expert agencies such as the PSHE Association, which produced the “Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) for the 21st Century” guidance in 2014. This supplementary guidance was developed by the PSHE Association, Brook, and the Sex Education Forum. It provides specific advice on what are sadly all too modern issues, including online pornography, sexting and staying safe online. The guidance equips teachers to support pupils on those challenging issues, developing their resilience and ability to manage risk.

In addition, Ofsted publishes case studies on its website that highlight effective practice in schools, including examples of how SRE is taught within PSHE. Examples include a girls’ Catholic secondary school that has used pupil feedback to enhance its programme to equip students to learn about healthy relationships and issues of abuse and consent. I do not dismiss out of hand the suggestion by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak that innovation might have a place in this arena. There is much to commend his suggestion, and I will take it away and give it further thought.

We are also actively considering calls to update the guidance on SRE. As hon. Members have said, the guidance is out of date, and attempts since 2000 to update it have not come to fruition. The guidance is already clear that young people should learn about what a healthy relationship looks like, but it does not necessarily equip children with the skills and knowledge that they need in the world as it is today or ensure that the timeless nature of SRE that the hon. Member for Walthamstow spoke about is properly reflected.

Whatever we do, as hon. Members have said—including my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset, in relation to faith schools—we must attempt to allow everybody with a view a chance to make their case. It is a sensitive issue, as everyone is aware, but we want to ensure that we bring as many people with us as possible. The broader the consensus, the greater the prospect that any change will be successful. As the hon. Member for Walthamstow is aware, I have already said that work is in train and we will return to these issues later, at a stage of the Bill when the whole House will have an opportunity to debate them.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

It is great to hear that the Government are now working on this. My challenge to them is that I need some specific responses. The Minister talked about a framework. Will it be statutory? Over the last couple of years, we have seen clear evidence that because SRE is not a statutory part of the curriculum, it is not happening in too many schools. Some 60% of schools in this country are now academies; the measures that he is discussing cover maintained schools. Will his framework be statutory in all schools, including academies? When will it be introduced, and when will we see the difference?

I said to the Minister in my initial remarks that I would like him to address the question of when we will see the change. A consultation, a framework and guidance are great, but if there are no teeth—if SRE is not statutory and schools are not inspected on it—nothing will change on the timescale that we want. I say to him gently that all of us recognise the difficulties and sensitivities involved in the religious issues—that is why these matters are part of the new clause—but I am not sure that I know of any other policy area that has such overwhelming public support. The risk is that if we keep finding long grass, we can stay in it. Can he give us an explicit commitment now about what the framework will actually do legislatively?

The Minister talked about the Bill coming back at a later stage. We are at the end of Committee stage, so he was talking only about Report. That is not much time for all of us to consider it and ensure, if legislation is involved, that it will be effective. If legislation is not involved, the clear evidence is that any measures will not make a difference.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

Just to be clear, when I talked about the framework, I was doing so in the context of the response to the report of the Women and Equalities Committee on sexual harassment in schools. It is a framework to support schools to produce their own new codes of practice on issues of inclusion, tolerance and combating bullying, harassment and abuse of any kind. It is not a catch-all framework for PSHE or SRE; it is specifically to deal with those issues raised by the Committee. It illustrates the seriousness with which the Government take those issues and the fact that we are prepared to do something about it, rather than just thanking the Committee for its work.

There is a balance—I know that the hon. Lady is trying hard to strike it—between giving the Government constructive assistance in finding a way forward and appreciating that this issue cannot be resolved with a new Secretary of State in a short period of time. There are lots of repercussions that need to be thought through. The last time that legislation was attempted in 2008-09—I think the then Minister was Jim, now Lord, Knight—that was played out for all to see. We therefore need to be careful about the process we set up and how we ensure that we bring people with us.

The hon. Lady should be reassured, and I hope she is, that we have a commonality in trying to establish how we ensure that by the time children growing up in Britain today reach adulthood—we hope it will be much earlier than that—and are moving away from the environment of their families and schools and into the big, wide world, they have resilience, knowledge and understanding of what they are capable of doing and what people are capable of doing to them. We want them to know where those lines can be drawn, so that they can react and ensure that they make good decisions as they go through their lives. That is the clear intention behind what we are all seeking to achieve.

I am afraid that the hon. Lady will have to be a bit more patient so that we can ensure that we make the right response that can come to fruition—unlike the attempt by the Labour Government, laudable though it was, in 2008-09. As she rightly identified, there will be a whole range of views, and people will want the opportunity to have oxygen to express them in. We need to be mindful of that, because we do not want to set up anything to fail: that would be the worst thing we could do for children, whom we are seeking to help and support.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 3:45, 10 Ionawr 2017

This is difficult. I thank the Minister for what he has said; I appreciate that it feels a bit as if every amendment and new clause I am involved in is a sticky wicket for him. I asked him some very specific questions about legislation and the need for legislative action on the issue, on which I think we all agree. He referred to 2008-09. There was an attempt in 2013 to make legislation, and that was pushed back by the previous Government for the same reasons that he is talking about. We have proposals and there is support for them.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

There is an important distinction. The parallel I am drawing is with 2008, when there was an attempt by the Government to lead an independent review and to look at making changes. In 2013, the attempt was not by Government. We are talking about the Government coming forward with proposals. That is the parallel I am trying to draw, rather than looking at 2013.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The difference is that there was legislation in 2008-09, and the Minister will recall that it was caught up in the wash-up ahead of the general election. There is not legislation here, and that is what we are looking for now.

The parallel for me is with what my mother calls “eat the frog” moments. If a person has to eat a frog, there is no nice way of doing it, so they might as well just get on and eat the frog. There will be people who oppose whatever we try to do on this issue, and the Government cannot keep saying “at a later date” and not specifying anything.

Are we going to see a legislative proposal on Report? If we will not, then continuing to press the new clause is the best way we have of pushing to make progress. Members from all parts of the House agree that we need progress and a recognition that while we will never get it perfect, we can get good legislation. The failure to make progress over the past six years has let our children down. Unless the Minister wants to intervene and say, “We will commit to bring forward a legislative opportunity on Report”, however late in the day, I will press the new clause to a vote. It is important to set a marker.

I appreciate that Government Committee members are shaking their heads. I am sorry, but frameworks and guidance are what we have had for the past six years, and we are not making progress. As the Minister does not want to intervene, I will press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Rhif adran 14 Seasonal Working — Safeguarding: provision of personal, social and health education

Ie: 5 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 12