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Sex and Relationship Education

Volume 541: debated on Monday 27 February 2012

We are considering sex and relationship education as part of our review of personal, social, health and economic education. We are currently analysing consultation responses received online and from stakeholder engagement meetings and the evidence from national and international research. We intend to announce proposals for public consultation on these findings in the summer term.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Given the wide range of successful sex and relationship education programmes across the country, including the APAUSE—Added Power and Understanding in Sex Education—programme, will the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to preserving autonomy for individual schools in deciding which programmes they adopt?

It is of course this Government’s policy to make sure that we give schools more freedoms and more time within the curriculum to teach pupils in the ways they think most appropriate for maximising the effect, but we also want to see a change of emphasis, with a much stronger focus on respect for others in sex and relationship education, building young people’s capacity to say no to things they do not feel are right, and making sense of the portrayals of sex and relationships to which they are exposed through the media. I hope that innovative schools will do that in a way that best gets that message across to their pupils.

But the most recent statistics show that one in four abortions in this country is to a teenager—a shocking statistic and surely something we must do more about by trying to cut the number of teenage pregnancies in the first place. All the evidence shows that where there is really good sex and relationship education—not just in some schools, but in every single school; not just for some children, but for every single child—we really have a chance of tackling teenage pregnancy. Will the Government not wake up to this and get on with it, and not agree with the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen)?

I think we are all trying to achieve the same thing. The hon. Gentleman mentions a disastrous statistic, but the problem is not just abortions among teenagers: I have been particularly alarmed about the repeat abortions among teenagers, so we must get the message across clearly. I want all children in this country to have access to good quality sex and relationship education. The problem has been that the picture is very mixed. I want more experts from outside schools who have real skills communicating that message to as many children as possible.

A survey of more than 1,000 parents for mumsnet last November found that nine out of 10 parents think there should be a statutory duty on all schools to deliver comprehensive sex and relationship education. I welcome what the Minister says about the importance of relationships, particularly given the worrying statistic showing high levels of abuse and sexual pressure in teenage relationships. Does he think that the relationship aspect should therefore be put on the same footing as the requirement for schools to deliver the facts about sex?

Again, my hon. Friend, who has great expertise in this area, makes some pertinent points. I do not want to pre-empt what the consultation will focus on, given the findings already received. Relationships are absolutely a really important part of this. We have heard a lot about the mechanics of sex; we need to hear much more about the ways sex is carried on through relationships—hopefully consensual. The teaching of sexual consent will be strengthened through the planned revision of PSHE guidance. As I say, relationships are a really important part of it.

The Minister inadvertently and uncharacteristically failed to answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen). Will he confirm that the responsibility for SRE in the curriculum will remain with individual school governing bodies and parents and not be subject to ministerial fiat?

I will give my hon. Friend the same answer that I have just given to my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson)—I am not going to pre-empt what the consultation will come up with. When this matter was discussed as part of the then Children, Schools and Familes Bill before the last election, a major consideration of many Conservative Members was that the power of parents to withdraw their children from sex education should remain if they saw fit. I would hope that the quality of sex education would be such that parents would not withdraw their children because they wanted to ensure that they were well informed and confident to make the right choices.