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Schools: Personal, Social and Health Education

Volume 704: debated on Tuesday 28 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How their proposals for personal, social and health education will be implemented in schools.

My Lords, the importance of good quality personal, social, health and economic education has never been greater. The Government therefore intend to make PSHE a statutory subject. We recognise that issues such as pressure on the curriculum need to be resolved, so we have launched an independent review led by head teacher Sir Alasdair Macdonald. He will report in April 2009 with recommendations on a practicable way forward.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that full response. Does she agree that making PSHE compulsory in the curriculum is a great step forward for education, and one that has been supported by Members of this House and those outside for many years? What steps will be taken to ensure that teachers are properly trained to deliver it and that the materials for teaching will be available?

My Lords, I am delighted to agree with my noble friend that this is an important step forward and to pay tribute to the work of many Members of your Lordships’ House who have raised this issue tirelessly. I also congratulate the working group on sex and relationship education, which has involved a wide range of participants who came to a consensus on the need to go forward. She is right to highlight that we need to invest further in the skills and confidence of the workforce. We will be further encouraging the teacher development agency to look at a specialist route for initial teacher training for PSHE, and we will ensure that we make maximum use of our £2 million investment in teacher training.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on making this decision, and I have two questions. First, how will schools be encouraged, helped and perhaps monitored in the extent to which they consult parents when they are developing a curriculum about these sensitive matters that is suitable for the needs of their own young people? Secondly, does the Minister agree that good quality PSHE has a major contribution to make to child safeguarding by giving young people more self-confidence and knowledge about, for example, what is appropriate and inappropriate touching?

My Lords, once PSHE becomes statutory and we have heard from the review looking at this delicate but important subject, the status of the subject will be raised. We have a great facility with Ofsted and the work that it does in reviewing the delivery of the national curriculum and statutory education, and that will continue to be an important tool. We know from that work that there are some schools that deliver very high quality PSHE, and that involves discussing exactly the kind of things that the noble Baroness is talking about. PSHE is not all about sex, though; it is, as the noble Baroness often reminds us, about relationships as well. It is a broad topic, but we need to create a subject that is taught in the whole and in the round by expert, well trained and confident teachers.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the dangers arising from sexually transmitted diseases are such that what children should be taught about sex and relationships cannot be regarded simply as a matter of private family responsibility? Will she assure the House that in the future no school will be allowed to shirk its responsibility to provide sex and relationship education, and that no parents will be able to opt their children out of that education in school?

My Lords, my noble friend raises concerns that the working group has highlighted. We are hoping to meet those concerns through these proposals.

My Lords, to pick up on the first part of the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, parents have a vital role to play in talking to their children about healthy, loving relationships. Can the Minister assure us that working with parents will be central to any changes in sex and relationship education?

My Lords, I am delighted to reassure the noble Baroness on that point. We know that parents really value high-quality PSHE.

My Lords, in welcoming this, I wonder if the noble Baroness will accept that it is broadly in the home and the family context that children and young people most grow and develop in these matters. What can the Government do to support and help those with parental responsibilities and to enable schools engaging in this education to work in a collaborative mode with the home?

My Lords, following the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, it is vital that parents are brought into the centre of the schools’ thinking about developing PSHE. The working group stressed that strongly and I expect that the independent review will want to look at it. The Government have been absolutely clear, particularly in the Children’s Plan, that it is parents, not the Government, who bring up children.

My Lords, will the Minister expand a little on what role she expects school governors to play? Does she, for example, expect that at least one of them should take a special interest in the development of this very important new curriculum subject and perhaps report back to the wider school councils on how the scheme is progressing?

My Lords, I hope that the independent review will give us some very important advice on this. Governors have a key role to play in any successful school, and I am sure that that will form part of the review’s advice to us on developing the subject.