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Statutory Sex and Relationships Education

Volume 620: debated on Thursday 2 February 2017

1. If the Government will introduce statutory sex and relationships education to tackle homophobic bullying and sexual harassment in schools. (908513)

The Government want to ensure that all schools are safe, inclusive environments where pupils can fulfil their potential, and we are actively considering how to improve the delivery of sex and relationships education, including updating the existing guidance, which was originally drafted in 2000.

New clause 1 of the Children and Social Work Bill would make sex and relationships education compulsory under the safeguarding duties of schools. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will be supporting that new clause on Report so that all our young people can be equipped and empowered to keep themselves healthy and safe?

I very much appreciate the support around the House for the fact that it is time to look at how we can do better in regard to sex and relationships education, and we are actively looking at how best to improve the quality of delivery and accessibility so that children can be supported. As the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson), has set out, the Government are committed to updating Parliament further during the passage of the Bill.

Police information released today by Barnardo’s shows a 73% increase in reports of children sexually abusing other children. We know that children are not being effectively taught in our schools about mutual respect, self-respect and consent. Will the Minister consider particular amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill that would address those issues? We are running out of time and letting children down.

I have said that we will provide an update during the next stage of the Bill, but my right hon. Friend is right to suggest that a lot of time has elapsed since the guidance was drafted in 2000, and the world is now a very different place. It is time to look at how we can ensure that children have the right access to what I might rename relationships and sex education, and to ensure that it is high quality education. That is why it is right to ensure that the next steps we take are the right ones, and that they can move this forward for the long term. We need to ensure that the young people in our education system today leave school with not only the relationships education but the broader life skills they need to lead successful lives.

Will the right hon. Lady take on board the fact that successive Select Committees have looked at this matter, and that it is vital not only that every school offers this kind of education but that, critically, we train people to have the right skills to deliver it?

I have said that we need to make progress on this, and I have reflected on the fact that there have now been 16 years in which we really have not done so. When Ofsted produced its recent report on this in 2013, it identified issues around the quality of teaching. As the hon. Gentleman says, this is not just about what our young people should be taught in schools and their access to that teaching; it is also about the quality of the teaching. This is a broader question than simply one of updating the legal perspective of where SRE is taught.

There is a worrying trend among people on the left of both sides of the House that things that they do not like should be banned and that things that they like must be made compulsory. What is wrong with the principle of freedom? What is wrong with parents having a role in deciding what is appropriate for their children to be taught?

I strongly agree that parents’ involvement in ensuring that what children are taught at school is acceptable to them and appropriate is vital. However, the most important voices that now need to be listened to are those of young people and children, who say that they do not feel that they are getting the necessary level of education in this area and want a more up-to-date approach to enable them to deal with the world in which they are growing up.

More than half of lesbian, gay and bi pupils have experienced direct bullying, and LGBT people are twice as likely as heterosexuals to have suicidal thoughts or to have attempted suicide. The Minister will be aware that people are committing terrible homophobic and hate crimes online—crimes for which they would be held accountable offline. The “#no2LGBTHate” campaign is calling on Twitter to take action against users who spread homophobia on the site. Does the Minister support the campaign? What is she doing to tackle homophobic hate?

It is important that we support campaigns that are trying to play a role in reducing LGBT bullying. In September last year, we set out a £2.8 million programme to invest in charities that are working to prevent and address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools in England. The Government have launched their own “Disrespect NoBody” campaign to help young people recognise and challenge abuse within teen relationships. It is important to work in schools to change attitudes due to, as the hon. Lady sets out, the level of discrimination and abuse that many young people say they have received.

I am pleased that the Government are considering the views of charities, campaigners and Members of this House in introducing statutory relationship education. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on plans to update the statutory guidance, which was last updated when I was the ripe age of 13?

I did not realise that my hon. Friend was quite that young. He sets out the serious point that the world has changed immeasurably since 2000. Children now learn about relationships in different ways, but the challenge is that they are learning about them in ways that give them a skewed, inaccurate view of what relationships are about. It is important to look at how we can ensure that the guidance genuinely works and reflects the world as it is today, therefore giving ourselves and our children a better chance to get the education that they need.

Will my right hon. Friend have a word with our excellent Secretary of State for Education and identify the best schools in the country that tackle homophobic bullying and sexual harassment together with the parents of their pupils, and roll out that best practice across the country?

I will not comment on that, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that many schools are doing that—I visited a school in Birmingham that is doing great work in this area. Excellent work is under way, but it is now time to look at how we can learn from what works and see that percolate through our school system so that all schools can do a better job for all children on teaching SRE.