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Self-defence Training in Schools

Volume 673: debated on Thursday 12 March 2020

Will those not staying for the next debate please be courteous enough to leave quickly and quietly? We are going to hear from the House’s kung fu, mixed martial arts and krav maga specialist, Mr James Gray, whom I invite to move the motion.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered self-defence training in schools

I will start by talking about allied matters to do with the tragic murder in May last year of my constituent Ellie Gould, and by giving some background to the case. The primary purpose of the debate is to call for greater teaching on self-defence in schools, but the reason Ellie Gould’s friends and relations are calling for that is worthy of explanation.

On 3 May last year, 17-year-old Thomas Griffiths brutally stabbed and murdered his ex-girlfriend in a frenzied and horrific attack in Calne, in my constituency. Nothing could be worse for Ellie’s parents, Matt and Carole, than to lose their dear daughter, nor for a wide group of schoolfriends from Hardenhuish School in Chippenham than to lose their dear friend. That it happened in that particularly brutal way is absolutely heartbreaking, and I am sure the whole House will join me in offering Ellie’s family and friends our heartfelt sympathy on their loss.

Despite the terrible tragedy of Ellie’s death, the family are determined to try to find ways of making something positive come out of it. They have been active in seeking routes by which they can achieve that, to try to help in some small way to prevent a similarly awful thing from happening again.

The family firmly believe that the sentence passed on Thomas Griffiths should have been a strong deterrent to others. They were deeply disappointed by the 12 and half years handed down, which they and I view as being woefully inadequate. They sought to persuade the Attorney General to appeal against its leniency, and the Home Secretary at the time was most generous with her time, meeting the Goulds and sympathising with their call for tougher sentencing. She said it was clear that the punishment must fit the crime. In this case it most certainly does not.

Most recently, the Lord Chancellor met the Goulds to discuss the case, especially the question of sentencing, but despite that the Attorney General refused to accept that the sentence was too lenient, largely because at the time of the murder Griffiths was only 17, albeit nearly 18. Had he been 18, he would almost certainly have gone to prison for 25 years. Because he was a month short of that age, he was given only 12 and a half years. The Goulds argue—and the Lord Chancellor recently rather agreed—that there must be some way of bringing in a sliding scale of sentencing, so if someone is just under the age of 18, the courts can take account of that and provide a heavier sentence than they would give to a juvenile. I hope that in memory of the tragic death of Ellie Gould the Lord Chancellor will consider that matter further—I believe he is doing so—and that the Wessex area Crown prosecutor will agree to a meeting that we have requested for the family in the near future.

We have been active with the Home Secretary and the Victims’ Commissioner on several aspects of the way the case was handled. The Goulds have nothing but the highest praise for Wiltshire police, who handled the case with great sensitivity throughout. We are concerned about the parole terms for so-called young offenders and the possibility that Griffiths will be released before the end of his inadequate 12 and a half year sentence, simply because he was under 18 at the time of the crime. That entirely flies in the face of the judge’s remarks at the trial that he would serve the full 12 and half years. We are concerned that the final three years will be served in an open prison. We also spotted a flaw in the parole terms for the release of murderers, noting that there is nothing to prevent them from changing their name by deed poll while they are in prison. While Thomas Griffiths will not be welcome in Calne or anywhere nearby, if he were to turn up with the name John Smith it would be much harder to track him or to know he was there.

You have been kind, Mr Hollobone, to allow me set out these matters, as they are largely for the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor, rather than for the Minister. None the less, I hope that setting out the case has re-emphasised the reason for having this debate about education matters.

Ellie Gould’s close school friends, Ellie Welling, Harriet Adams and Tilda Offen, have been active in finding ways to commemorate Ellie’s sad death in a positive way. They feel that Ellie, like other such victims, was ill-equipped to spot when a relationship had turned toxic, as occurred between Griffiths and Ellie herself. They feel that we could improve the understanding of relationships that go sour by improving the personal, citizenship, social and health education syllabus, so people could understand relationships as well as the broader issues considered in that subject. Without alarming them too much, students ought to be made aware that relationships can go wrong and that that can result in violence. They should be taught how to watch out for signs of a relationship going sour and be ready for any violence that might occur as a result.

We welcomed the letter from the Minister for School Standards in September, in which he told us that relationships education will be made compulsory in all secondary schools from later this year—perhaps the Minister will expand on that—and that that education would

“be designed to equip pupils for adult life and to be able to manage risk in a variety of situations… The Statutory Guidance explains how these new subjects will help address the underlying causes of crime, such as respect and building positive relationships, as well as appropriate ways of resolving conflict.”

That is exactly what we want—PCSHE education that equips young people for all the turbulence of modern life, where relationships can turn sour with terrible consequences. We hope that our little bit of lobbying on this subject may have helped the Department to move the Minister in the right direction. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reassurances about that later.

The tireless trio of Ellie’s friends, supported by a wider friendship group in and around Hardenhuish School, Clane and Chippenham, have secondly come up with what seems to me to be an eminently sensible proposal, which if implemented in part or in full would be a further worthwhile memorial to Ellie Gould. They argue, and I agree, that young people are ill-equipped to deal with personal attacks of all sorts. Sadly those are becoming more common, whether they are low-level attacks in the playground, sexual approaches of one kind or another, physical attacks, bodily harm and even murder. Young people come across those types of attack all the time and sadly they are ill-equipped to deal with them.

For that reason Ellie Welling and her friends have developed a busy campaign to try to persuade the authorities, the Minister, the Department and schools that there should be compulsory teaching of self-defence in schools. They believe that if schools have to teach swimming or road safety, for example, then surely the basics of self-defence should be a prerequisite. If we turn out young students with a basic understanding of how to defend themselves on the street after they leave school, we will have made Britain a better place and society a great deal safer. We are talking about not advanced or complicated mechanisms for self-defence, but the basics with which a young person might fend off potential attackers.

Ellie Welling and her friends have been successful in getting significant media coverage for their campaign, which has resulted in a huge correspondence from around the nation, with all sorts of people and schools agreeing with them that they would like to do more about teaching self-defence. They have learned from countless letters that personal attacks are among the highest concerns of young people today, particularly when they get ready for university. They want the basic skills to be able to deal with these kinds of attack.

I recently had an unnerving experience when Ellie’s friends arranged a one-day pilot course in a gym near Chippenham to demonstrate the self-defence techniques that might be taught. I am concerned to admit that, together with my stick, I was made to be one of the attackers. I lasted about 15 seconds before I was on the floor. They were very effective in dealing even with a big chap like me.

The training is basic. If an assailant grabs someone, they have to get him or her off, shout, make as much noise as possible, and get out of it. People have to shout and escape, but to escape they have to get rid of the assailant. The assailant might grab their arm, for example, or come from behind and put them in a neck-lock, or approach with a knife and threaten them—there are a variety of attacks. Young people need to understand the basics of how to get away from someone who is assaulting their person.

Such training is basic and pretty obvious, but terribly important. The fact that it is basic and obvious is the point of this debate. We are not asking for something very complicated or that will cost the state an enormous amount of money. Basic self-defence teaching can be done during physical training in the ordinary course of events in the school year. We do not want large amounts of money spent or complicated self-defence mechanisms taught. We want the basics. We simply want young people to leave school with an understanding of how they can conduct themselves in a dangerous world.

I am very interested in the case that my hon. Friend makes. Does he see any role in this scenario for the simple personal alarms with which Members of the House have been recently equipped? They are easy to operate and make a tremendous noise, which could well stave off an attacker.

My right hon. Friend makes an extremely interesting suggestion. No doubt that could form part of it. It would of course involve spending money, but what we propose would be largely free of charge to the state and would merely involve a slight change in the curriculum. However, my right hon. Friend is right to think of a personal alarm, which is often a useful to thing to have and perhaps might form part of how we take the agenda forward, so I am most grateful to him for his suggestion.

Incidentally, Mr Hollobone, it is a pleasure to sit under someone who shares the same birthday— 7 November, should anyone want to know.

It would be wrong if I impugned the Chair on any kind of view on any matter. He is here merely to keep order.

We argue for self-defence training because we believe a little basic training in schools might be sufficient to deter or prevent a range of lower level personal attacks. All we are talking about is five minutes a week in a PT class: low-level training, perhaps provided by outside professionals in the same way as music or sports teachers often come into school on a weekly basis and provide a basic level of training.

Inspired by Ellie’s friends, I raised the matter with the Minister for School Standards by letter, and he responded on 3 February, saying perfectly reasonably:

“It is a matter for schools to decide whether to provide self-defence lessons for their pupils. Schools are free to organise and deliver a diverse and challenging PE curriculum that suits the needs of all their pupils. Schools are best placed to decide what is appropriate for their pupils and how to provide it.”

Now, far be it from me to argue with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), who is a very old friend and a distinguished expert, but I feel that his answer was rather weak. If we believe that some degree of self-defence is a good thing for our students as they leave school and go out into the wider world, it is surely possible for the Minister, the Government, the community and society to encourage schools up and down the land to take up the idea without prescribing to schools and without laying it down in the curriculum. We are simply talking about individual headteachers and chairs of governors taking it up. We are not talking about prescribing it in the curriculum. We merely suggest that if we believe self-defence is a good thing, for heaven’s sake let us find a way of making sure schools provide it.

I do not want the Department for Education to dictate what is taught in school. I believe in freedom for schools to decide, but the overwhelming response that we received following recent publicity on this matter should lead the Department to at least be relatively enthusiastic about providing basic self-defence tuition for our young people.

I welcome the Minister to her place and look forward to her response. We ask her to acknowledge the benefit that would be derived from universal or widespread teaching of basic self-defence techniques in schools across England. If she were to encourage that, help to enable it, and increase discussion of it, even without prescription from on high, schools would explore ways of providing such tuition. All we want is a ministerial acknowledgement of the need for self-defence, a general acceptance that it could be done without a great increase in resources, and a much wider realisation of the good that it would do. I hope that the Minister and the House will agree with me that if we knew that the cohort of young people leaving our schools today had had some level of training in self-defence, alongside the range of measures that the Government are putting in place with regard to knife crime, that would make our streets and towns and cities safer places.

If the Minister gave us some encouragement that she generally favours increased self-defence tuition in schools, she would by that alone be making a little gesture in memory of Ellie Gould’s tragic death.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) on securing this important debate, on a topic that grew out of the most terrible tragedy, the death of Ellie Gould. Ellie’s grandmother, Patricia Gould, is a constituent of mine who lives near Calne, and I have been in touch with her. I entirely associate myself with my hon. Friend’s remarks about the sentencing regime that badly let down the family in this case. I hope that the Lord Chancellor will reconsider the sentencing guidelines so that we can see some change.

I strongly endorse the proposal that we should try and see how schools can do more to equip young people with the skills needed to defend themselves against physical attacks. I fully support the Government’s focus on getting the basics right in education. We have seen a helpful correction over the past decade and a reminder of what education is really about. The primary purpose of schools is to equip children and young people with the academic ability that will be the foundation for their future life. That is what schools are for. However, that is not all that they are for and there is space in the curriculum to help them develop the wider life skills that they need to prosper. Alongside our relentless focus on academic standards, we should consider the skills that young people need for life, so we should think about the practical skills that they need outside of academic training or professional skills. They need to know how to live an adult life. That includes the focus on mental health and relationships that my hon. Friend mentioned.

I also think there is a role for equipping young people with the skills of de-escalation. There is so much conflict in our society, and I do not just mean physical attacks, which I will come to. Young people often encounter conflict. Naturally, they acquire the habits of managing that, but as adults we should equip them with those. There is a case to be made for thinking about organisations that work with young people, as with adults, to equip them with the skills to de-escalate conflict.

Most poignantly, and most importantly, we are here to discuss the skills of self-defence. I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend said. The programme need not be complex or expensive, and neither is it something that teachers should necessarily be responsible for providing. We should think about the role of community organisations and the community itself in providing support. I am glad to hear that the Minister affirmed that what happens in a school is the responsibility of teachers, schools and governing bodies. It is not appropriate for the Government to mandate that directly. Nevertheless, if the Government were to associate themselves with the campaign and strongly encourage schools to listen to students and parents, who I am sure would endorse it, we would see schools taking up the invitation.

I entirely commend today’s debate. I congratulate the young friends of Ellie Gould on their campaign and I would welcome the Minister’s support for this agenda as a fitting legacy for Ellie’s life.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, as always, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) on securing this important debate, particularly on behalf of the family of his constituent Ellie Gould, who was so horrifically murdered in such tragic circumstances. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger), who always has interesting things to say about the role of communities in tackling some of the problems that we are looking at, which go deeper than the specifics of the case in question.

Perhaps I can also add my congratulations and tributes to Ellie Gould’s schoolfriends. They took the initiative to launch a petition, which I understand has gathered more than 10,000 signatures so far. That is a considerable achievement and shows a determination on their part not to let their friend’s murder simply be forgotten, but to use it to try to drive some positive change, as part of her legacy.

In particular they are calling for self-defence training in schools, through one or two PE lessons a year being devoted to that purpose. I share the view that it is best to encourage and not prescribe, but I think we all, on both sides of the Chamber, should encourage more teaching of self-defence to young people, because of the many threats they face. Those are not just physical; they face threats online as well, from new forms of cyber-bullying that can be damaging to a young person’s health and wellbeing, and through associations that can also put them in severe physical danger. We should be doing more to educate young people about how to keep safe in every context, but I certainly see a place for physical self-defence training as a part of that. I urge the Government to look at whatever lessons can be learned from the murder of Ellie Gould and applied more widely to keep other young people safe in future.

It occurs to me that there is an interesting link between the issue that we are discussing and some of the forms of community-led social prescribing that I have seen in my constituency—I know that they are happening beyond it. People with expertise or experience come together in community spaces, such as community halls, or faith organisations, and give support, through volunteering, to other members of the community, so that it does not necessarily need to cost anything and if it costs something it is not much at all.

Plenty of people would be prepared to give their time to support young people to keep themselves safe, and to train them in the skills and expertise they would need to defend themselves in a difficult situation. It would be a positive move if the Government were to support some of that. In some cases there would be a funding requirement, and I have long regretted the scale of cuts in funding for voluntary and community organisations. However, I hope that, with the new focus on investment in the Budget this week, there may be an opportunity to look again at some of those decisions, and the way they have cut communities’ capacity to self-organise and take action for themselves. I suspect, from what I have heard in the Chamber, that there would be support on both sides for such a move.

The hon. Gentleman has reminded me of something that I meant to say, which is that of course the self-defence training need not necessarily happen in school. It could be schools getting together in a community. In many areas there would be schools that could combine for that. Alternatively, a Rotary club or voluntary organisations in the community could come together to provide such training. I am grateful for the suggestion.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that comment. He made some important points earlier about prevention, on which we should perhaps focus for a moment. I certainly agree that we need better PSHE lessons. Giving young people a better understanding of what constitutes a healthy or an unhealthy relationship equips them to know when they need to back off—particularly when there is coercive or controlling behaviour, which is what normally precedes the kind of violence that Ellie Gould so tragically experienced.

I also think—I am not suggesting that what happened to Ellie is attributable to this—that there is an awful lot of unrecognised mental ill health in our communities, particularly among young people. That is driven partly by many of the stresses that they experience through online bullying, for instance, which we perhaps did not experience, but it is also driven by trauma in early childhood, and the withdrawal of some of the services that might have been available through family support or early intervention to support young people to cope with the trauma as they grow up, and not to allow it to grow into a mental health crisis, which can happen in many cases.

I say that because I think that very few children, if any, are born bad; circumstances turn them bad. We must then deal with the consequences of that, if we do not try to tackle the circumstances that cause the damage in the first place. There is a strong case for early intervention and support for families and young people, particularly when they have experienced trauma, to prevent them from later doing the horrific things that can lead to tragedy in far too many circumstances.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire talked about the need for a legacy from Ellie Gould, and it seems to me that perhaps the best thing we could contribute, on a cross-party basis, would be to make sure that what happened to her cannot happen to anyone else ever again. I take this opportunity to pay tribute again to her family and friends for the campaign that they have launched, and I look forward to a positive response from the Minister.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) on securing the debate. Protecting children and young people from harm, including from violence and other forms of abuse, is always this Government’s priority, so I thank him for raising the issue. I know that he has written to the Minister of State for School Standards to draw attention to the issue of self-defence classes in schools and has himself attended a class at Hardenhuish School.

I also want to give recognition and thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) who, as a Wiltshire MP, has taken the case very seriously. The school is in her constituency and I know that she has written to the Minister of State on the issue. I thank her and my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire for their work on it. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger), my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), and the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) for their comments this afternoon.

I want to express my deepest condolences to Ellie Gould’s parents, Matt and Carole, on the loss of their daughter, and also to Ellie’s many friends at Hardenhuish School in Chippenham. I am sure that everyone in this House shares my revulsion at the needless events of 3 May last year in which Ellie so tragically lost her life. I pay tribute to the work of Ellie’s friends for their campaign, to the staff of Hardenhuish School for the work they have done to support pupils, and to Wiltshire police for their swift work in investigating the case and bringing the perpetrator to justice. I hear the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire raised about the sentence. The minimum age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old, and we believe that it is right for the court to start with a minimum term of 12 years for someone who is under 18 when they commit a murder. However, 12 years is the starting point and the court can increase the minimum term according to aggravating factors.

I listened carefully to the points that my hon. Friend and others made this afternoon. He asked for more teaching of basic self-defence in schools, or, indeed, for it to be compulsory. However, there are a number of additional things that schools can do that could be helpful.

There can never be an excuse for murder, and the murder of a child or young person is particularly abhorrent. We must all do everything we can to protect our young people. While we sadly cannot prevent all such cases, we can take and have been taking action to minimise the likelihood of their occurring. It is important that children and young people learn that violence is not the way to solve problems, and how to recognise the warning signs of a potentially violent situation, or of an abusive or violent relationship.

First and most importantly, schools can help to build the knowledge and skills that children need in order to have healthy relationships with their peers and others. They can do so through the effective teaching of relationships, sex and health education. Good-quality teaching of relationships, sex and health education will be an important way to equip pupils with the knowledge to prevent, identify and address harmful behaviours from themselves and others. That is a vital part of self-defence, as it helps to reduce the risk of relationships’ becoming violent or abusive.

From September this year, relationships education will become compulsory for all primary school pupils, and relationships and sex education will be compulsory for secondary school pupils. Health education will also be compulsory for pupils in state-funded schools. The compulsory new subjects will help to develop an ethos of respect for others and provide young people with the knowledge to make informed decisions, to assess risk and to try to avoid those dangerous situations. Through age-appropriate relationships education in primary school, pupils will be taught the concept of respect for oneself and respect for others, and to understand the differences between appropriate and inappropriate or unsafe physical contact—the first steps to teaching consent.

As well as physical safety, online safety is also important, as the hon. Member for Croydon North mentioned. We know that by the end of primary school, many children are already using the internet, and we must ensure that those principles of safety are extended to online safety and appropriate behaviour in a way that is relevant to pupils’ lives. Relationships education will also help young people and children to understand how information and data are shared and used in all contexts—including, for example, the sharing of intimate pictures and the fact that, once sent, there is little or no control over how they may be used in the future.

The ability to form strong and healthy relationships with others depends on the nurturing of behaviours and positive personal attributes. The development of mutually respectful relationships in all contexts is an important aspect of a child’s development. Relationships education also creates an opportunity to teach pupils about positive emotional and mental wellbeing, including how friendships can support it. Equally, if a relationship is making them feel unhappy or unsafe, pupils should know how to report concerns and how to seek advice from others if they need it, especially when they suspect or know that something is wrong.

In primary schools, age-appropriate relationships education will involve teaching pupils about what healthy relationships are and their importance, as well as how to develop mutually respectful relationships in all contexts. By the end of primary school, pupils will understand the importance of being treated with respect and showing respect. They will understand different forms of bullying and how to get help; they will have learned about the concept of privacy and its implications for children and adults. They will also know that it is not always right to keep a secret, if that relates to keeping themselves or others safe.

By secondary school, that will broaden to become age-appropriate relationships and sex education. The curriculum will include teaching about intimate relationships, sex, sexual health and sexuality, set firmly within the context of relationships. It will also cover contraception, sexually transmitted infections, developing intimate relationships and, crucially, how to resist pressure to have sex.

Pupils will learn what a positive, healthy relationship looks like, about consent, tools to help them when a relationship ends, and how and when consent could be withdrawn, in a way that will help to keep them safe. They will also learn how to seek help if they are made to feel unsafe or threatened. The ability to recognise a risk, to assess that risk and respond to it in a way that keeps us safe is an essential life skill, and acquiring the knowledge and critical thinking skills that enable pupils to make informed decisions about relationships, sex and personal safety will be part of that curriculum.

Behaviour in schools is also important for safety. Schools must create positive environments, where pupils feel safe, are respectful of one another and are free from low-level disruption that stops them learning. All schools are required by law to have a behaviour policy that outlines measures to encourage positive behaviour and prevent bullying, which should be communicated to pupils, staff and parents.

Our respectful school communities tool helps schools to identify the various elements that will make up a positive whole-school approach. While there are schools across the country where behaviour is good, we know that some schools are looking for support in this area. That is why the Department is investing £10 million in the behaviour hubs programme.

Promoting mental health is also a priority because, in the normal course of events, people with good mental health will be much less likely to behave violently or to physically attack others. Schools can play a vital part in helping their pupils to have good mental health. The Government are prioritising transforming mental health services for children and young people, establishing new mental health support teams that work in or near schools and colleges to introduce or develop their approach to mental health and to deliver interventions for pupils and students with mild to moderate mental health needs.

We are incentivising all schools and colleges to identify and train a senior mental health lead. The new mental health support teams are in addition to the support already provided by schools and colleges, or by children and young people’s mental health services funded by the NHS or local authorities. Support teams will be made up of newly-trained education mental health practitioners.

Peer-on-peer abuse can also be a concern. Teachers and other school staff have a key role to play if they become aware that one young person is sexually abusing or harassing another. We have published statutory safeguarding guidance, “Keeping Children Safe in Education”, and detailed departmental advice on sexual violence and sexual harassment between children, to support schools and colleges in understanding what peer-on-peer abuse, especially child-on-child sexual violence and sexual harassment, looks like, how to prevent it, how to respond to it and how to support victims. Last month, we also launched a consultation to seek views about proposed changes to the “Keeping Children Safe in Education” principle, setting out the legal duties that schools and colleges must comply with, together with what schools and colleges should do to keep children safe.

The rise in serious violence, which many hon. Members have raised this afternoon, is a significant concern to the Government. Children and young people are increasingly at risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of serious violence. The number of homicide victims aged 16 to 24 increased by nearly a quarter between March 2015 and March 2019. We know that the reasons for involvement in serious violence are extremely complex. That is why the Department for Education is working with the Prime Minister’s crime and justice taskforce to tackle this serious issue.

Engagement in education is a strong protective factor for children who might otherwise be vulnerable to involvement in crime, and it is therefore vital that schools and colleges enable all children to achieve, to belong and to remain in education, working in partnership with children’s social services and other agencies. Schools, alternative provision and colleges around the country are working with the police and health officials through violence reduction units in their areas to run interventions to tackle serious youth violence. I visited an alternative provision this morning in London, in Tower Hamlets, and I was deeply impressed by its work to support some of the most vulnerable young people. There are some really good examples of that across the country, and I would like to see more.

On the specifics of self-defence classes in schools, schools can already arrange self-defence classes for pupils, and many do. These arrangements should be appropriate for the pupils concerned and of good quality. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire rightly pointed out that what is appropriate for one school might not be appropriate for another. Schools must be able to choose activities and resources that are appropriate for their pupils, whether they are small rural schools or large, urban secondary schools, special schools or alternative provision schools. However, they should be able to recognise the individuals and organisations that can help to provide those classes.

My hon. Friend made the point that if the life-saving skills of swimming and road safety are required to be taught in schools, so self-defence should be. I understand his point, but the balance of risk is a bit different. We teach children to be safe on and around roads because every day they need to be able to cross roads or cycle in safety. Swimming and water safety is a requirement in physical education curricula of key stages 1 and 2 because it is important that, when children enter water, whether deliberately or accidentally, they have those basic survival skills. Those circumstances are quite different from a premeditated, deliberate and unexpected attack.

I have used the intervening period since my intervention to check on the price of rape and other attack alarms. From a well-known online megastore, one can get a pack of three of these extremely effective protective devices for less than £9. Does the Minister agree that, as a matter of routine, particularly where people are concerned about attacks in public places, such a modest investment is well worth making?

We should look at all ways in which to keep young people safe. I note that it is possible to get such an alarm as an app on one’s phone. I will certainly look at my right hon. Friend’s point.

I make clear that I have absolutely no objection to schools providing self-defence instruction if they think it is appropriate. I encourage headteachers to consider this provision, and to offer it if it is right for their students. However, factors that need to be taken into account include the age and maturity of the pupils. It is incredibly important that they understand that they are being taught techniques that should only be used in an emergency, as a last resort, to free themselves from an attacker. Often, actually avoiding the attack is crucial.

It is vital that the instruction itself is conducted in a safe way, that the instructor holds appropriate qualifications from a sport’s national governing body and that the instruction is not given in PE lessons, which I do not think is the right place for this within the curriculum. However, where instruction in self-defence is provided, it must be taught by suitably qualified instructors, and schools should be able to recognise those individuals and organisations that can help. For example, the Association for Physical Education has provided safety guidance, “Safe Practice: In Physical Education, School Sport and Physical Activity”, to help protect teachers and pupils from potential risks, including in contact sports. Schools should also be able to recognise reputable individuals and organisations by checking that they have good safeguarding arrangements, qualified coaches and are compliant with sector guidance. There is guidance from the Association for Physical Education and Sport England, for example.

Reputable martial arts instructors are expected by their Sport England-recognised governing bodies to have adequate policies and procedures in place, including, but not limited to, appropriate coaching, first aid and safeguarding qualifications, and to have appropriate Disclosure and Barring Service checks in place. Given the inherent risk of personal injury in martial arts, they should also be appropriately insured. Sport England also produced a version of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s child protection in sport unit’s “Standards for safeguarding and protecting children in sport”, relating specifically to a safeguarding code in martial arts. At least 300 individual providers and organisations have already signed up to this and meet the requirements of the code. However, not all martial arts have a recognised national governing body, so not all of them conform to the standards required of a Sport England-recognised national governing body.

I am enormously grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire for all he has done to raise the profile of this issue. Ellie’s death was a tragedy, and a real reminder to us all of the dangers of violent relationships. It is vital that we all recognise that most important in relationships, sex and health education is the part on relationships, helping our children and young people to develop healthy relationships, to behave with mutual respect and to act, and have the tools to act, in that difficult situation when a relationship ends.

We will never know for certain whether a self-defence class would have saved Ellie. However, I know that, where self-defence is taught, it must be done safely and well. While we do not want to add it to the compulsory requirements on schools, we will work with the Association for Physical Education, Sport England and the sector to make sure that new, clear guidance is available to schools considering giving that self-defence instruction to pupils on how to make that provision safe and effective. We will look to develop that guidance this year, to sit alongside other work we are doing on supporting schools to offer a wider range of development activities to all their pupils.

This has been a useful debate. We have taken the whole topic forward, and we have remembered Ellie in an appropriate way. I thank all those who have taken part. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) represents Ellie’s grandmother, who I know had difficulties with victim support. There is work to be done in assisting her. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is absolutely right about alarms; he made an extremely interesting and useful point. The hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) made some extremely helpful and useful points indeed.

The family and friends of Ellie Gould will be impressed by much of what the Minister had to say about the changes to PSHE education. They have campaigned hard for a move towards teaching understanding relationships and what to do when relationships go wrong. I think that many of the things that the Minister explained will come into the curriculum this September will be warmly welcomed by the family and those observing what is happening on this issue.

Equally, what the Minister said about protecting young people from online harm, verbal harm and physical harm, in the playground or elsewhere, or in later life, was extremely useful. I perfectly well understand that the Government cannot lay down for schools what they will teach, when and how. Different schools in different places will teach different things. It is right that that should be a matter for headteachers and chairs of governors to decide. None the less, the fact that the Minister was able this afternoon to give a gentle nudge in the right direction, by encouraging schools to consider using the proper skills to teach young people how to defend themselves in later life, is an extremely useful contribution to the debate, and I am very grateful to her for it.

I think that this afternoon’s debate has been a useful memorial to Ellie Gould. There is no purpose in any such death. None the less, the fact that we are able to try to advance the cause of preventing similar things from happening in the future is, I think, of itself a most worthwhile tribute to Ellie Gould.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered self-defence training in schools.

Sitting adjourned.