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Sex and Relationship Education

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 26 July 2007

3. If he will remove the right of schools and parents to absent children from sex and relationship education within personal, health and social education; and if he will make a statement. (152580)

We want to see an improvement in sex and relationship education in schools, particularly following the Youth Parliament’s helpful report on this subject. We have no plans to remove the right of parents to withdraw their children from all or part of the sex and relationship education that is delivered within the personal, social and health education curriculum. We believe that that right is essential to accommodate different beliefs on what can, for some parents, be a very sensitive issue.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I wonder whether he is aware that according to the FPA, Marie Stopes and other organisations that work with young people on sexual health, education and services, it is the young people—especially girls—who need this information most who are the most likely to be withdrawn.

Certainly we need to pay close attention not only to what the FPA says, but to what my hon. Friend says. She has been a long-standing tireless campaigner in this area and her remarks carry considerable weight. We do need to do better in this area. We want to build on the 6,000 nurses and teachers who have undertaken the training programme for PSHE. We will monitor how the new flexibility in the secondary curriculum is used and we will monitor the new PSHE curriculum. We will also watch how the requirement for all schools to become healthy schools—including by following on guidance on sex and relationships education—improves outcomes for young people. If all those measures do not work, we will certainly have to review the decision on the statutory status and the matters that my hon. Friend has raised.

Given the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, especially among teenagers, is the Minister confident that the current teaching in schools is adequate, especially given the scarce resources in primary care trusts and hospital trusts, which obviously have to pick up the bill for STDs?

We share the concern about sexually transmitted diseases and we take very seriously the improvements needed in teaching. That is why it is important that 6,000 teachers and nurses have been through the continuous professional development programme, and why that number is growing. It is also why it is important that, as part of healthy school status, we should include as one of the four pillars personal, social and health education—and sex and relationship education within that. As I just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty), if the measures do not work on a voluntary basis, we will have to go back and revisit the decision on statutory education.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty). Does the Minister realise that if those girls, in particular, are withdrawn from the classes, it will be yet another layer of discrimination against them, on top of, say, the fact that many of them start school with no English? There was a programme produced by “File on 4”, I think last week, which claimed that in 2005, 250 girls aged 13 to 15 were removed from schools in the Bradford district, which includes my constituency.

My hon. Friend has been assiduous in raising concerns on behalf of her constituents about outcomes in Keighley and Bradford in general, particularly for girls. We need to ensure that schools work closely with parents and the community. Schools need to be sensitive to the beliefs of people in their constituencies, but they also need to ensure that they are getting the right outcomes for everybody. That is what we expect from all schools, regardless of their circumstances, but there is a balance to be struck by head teachers and governors on the ground.