Skip to main content

Sexual Health Unit

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2006

7. What steps her Department's sexual health unit is taking to promote sexual health awareness and education in schools. (95966)

We are fully committed to ensuring that all young people receive high quality personal, social and health education. We have made sex and relationships education a mandatory requirement of the new healthy schools standard, which 80 per cent. of schools are working towards. That is a voluntary programme. We have continued to fund a PSHE certificate for teachers and nurses to improve the quality of delivery, and we have announced the creation of a new PSHE subject association in line with other curriculum subjects in order to raise the status of sex and relationships education.

Will the Minister consider adopting the proposals outlined in the recent Institute for Public Policy Research report by Julia Margo, which recommends the teaching of sexual health and education at primary school, before children reach secondary school level, as a way of dealing with the rise in the number of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections?

I have not seen the IPPR report yet, so I cannot commit myself to it, but it is important that we are able to have a mature debate about sex and relationships education. That education has to be age-appropriate, but it is part and parcel of how we support young people as they grow up so that they can make informed decisions at appropriate points in their lives and be confident adults. [Interruption.] I do not understand the shouting and sniggering that is coming from the Opposition Benches.

There has clearly been a wish from parents to have more support. My colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills are looking at how they can support parents in having the right conversations with their children at the right time, because that is where some of the support needs to be directed.

The Minister will be aware of the report on her Department’s website that shows a clear correlation between educational qualifications and the method of contraception used. For example, a woman with no qualifications is four times as likely to be sterilised as a woman with a degree, and a woman with a degree is three times more likely to use condoms than a woman with no qualifications. Does that not signal to the Minister that we are getting PSHE badly wrong? We need more information earlier, and it would be better to have specialist subject teachers to deliver that part of the curriculum, rather than geography or maths teachers.

As I said earlier, we think that part of the way in which quality will be raised will be through the PSHE certificate for teachers and nurses, which will increase their confidence in delivering the subject. However, there are good examples of schools that are working in partnership with others—both inside and outside the school—to deliver the sort of sexual health services that young people require. We need to make sure that appropriate information is given, although that can be delivered by a number of different individuals and organisations. Young people certainly complain about the patchy nature of PSHE. As they grow into young adults, clearly the process must be continued with good advice about the range of contraceptives available that NICE supports the use of, and the promotion of by our GPs.