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Sex Education

Volume 403: debated on Monday 10 March 2003

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What measures he is taking to improve sex education in schools. [108243]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills
(Mr. Stephen Twigg)

From April 2003, there will be a professional development programme for teachers of personal, social and health education which includes a specialist module for sex and relationship education. Up to 750 teachers will participate this year. Those awarded qualified teacher status must now demonstrate that they are familiar with the framework for PSHE, including sex and relationship education.

It is probably safe to assume that a geography teacher is best placed to teach geography and a maths teacher best placed to teach maths. I welcome the announcement, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is probably not ideal that maths and geography teachers among others should teach sex and relationship education? Will he therefore go a step further and develop a programme in which trained specialist teachers deal purely with sex and relationship education and can deal with all aspects of sexuality and relationships in light of the increasing incidence of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases? Will he also make sure that children at school have good access to information sites on the internet, the use of which is often banned by other programmes?

I shall not he tempted down the path of responding to the opening part of the hon. Lady's question. That would guarantee me a place in the parliamentary sketches tomorrow, so it is probably best not to.

The hon. Lady takes a close interest in these issues. I had an opportunity, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears), to appear before the Select Committee on Health as part of its inquiry into sexual health. The response that I have given today demonstrates the seriousness with which we are taking the need for full training and professional development for teachers in our schools. The hon. Lady raised the specific issue of access to the internet, a matter on which I have responded to the Select Committee. Schools clearly want to be able to block access to inappropriate sites on the internet, but if material can be of assistance to sex and relationship education programmes we very much want schools to make that available via the internet. Those decisions are clearly best made at school level, but I am sure that the hon. Lady will join me in encouraging all schools to take up responsible sex and relationship education.

Does my hon. Friend accept that some of the most important skills in that area are parenting skills? Many will benefit immensely, when they have children of their own, if we ensure that they have the full advantages of education. The best teacher is not necessarily the one in the classroom—it is the one at home. Particularly in a deprived area such as my own, proper parental support for youngsters at school is probably the most important skill, even above numeracy and literacy.

My hon. Friend is right. Parental involvement in the delivery of sex and relationship education is clearly crucial. Our citizenship programme and the inclusion of citizenship in the core curriculum in secondary schools can play a part in parenting education for future parents—people who are now students in our schools. However, we need to look at other ways of engaging with parents. The Connexions programme is one way in which that can be delivered, but I am certainly keen to learn of other positive examples so that we can ensure that parenting education is as effective as possible.

Statistics demonstrate that some of the work that is going on, particularly when health and education professionals work together, is already having a positive impact. The hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) referred to the high levels of teenage pregnancy in this country, which is of great concern, but it is welcome that the latest statistics demonstrate that there has been a 10 per cent. fall in the number of under-18 conceptions over the past three years, and I hope that our policies will enable that trend to continue.