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Sex Education

Volume 469: debated on Monday 17 December 2007

As part of the children’s plan, we have given a commitment to reviewing best practice in effective sex and relationship education and how that is delivered in schools. We have listened to young people, principally through the Youth Parliament, and recognise that many feel that they do not currently have the knowledge that they need to make safe and responsible choices about relationships and sexual health. We will involve young people fully in the review, to ensure that future sex and relationship education meets their needs better.

When half of young women report that they know of at least one girl who has been pressurised into having sex with her boyfriend, surely the Minister agrees that it has never been more important for every young person to have access to high-quality education about sex and relationships. The review is welcome, but if he agrees that that is important, will he make it statutory?

I have listened carefully to the arguments that have been put to us, principally by the Youth Parliament and also by others, on making personal, social and health education—the piece of the curriculum through which sex and relationship education is delivered—statutory. Sex education is statutory, but the relationship side is not. Ofsted has told us that too much time and effort have been spent discussing whether PSHE should be a statutory subject. Making something statutory does not ensure that it is provided effectively—or, indeed, at all. The focus of the review must be the quality of what is delivered and ensuring that there is consistency. Once the new secondary curriculum is in place—it starts in September 2008 in England—we might be able to revisit the question of the statutory nature of PSHE. For now, however, our focus must be on what both the hon. Lady and I want: better and more consistent sex and relationship education for every child in this country.

Does the Minister agree that sex education should include awareness-raising for young children and young people who are at risk of being groomed for prostitution and the internal trafficking trade? That should be part of the curriculum in every school in this country.

I find myself in the surprising position of agreeing with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we raise awareness of those serious issues among young people, through relationship and sex education and through citizenship. Recently, I was privileged to attend an award ceremony that came on the back of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade; it followed a competition that we part-sponsored to encourage schools to do work on subjects relating to abolition. One of the subjects that was talked about was human trafficking, particularly of children and sex workers. I was pleased to see that in some cases—through citizenship, in that case—awareness of those issues is already being raised.