Skip to main content

Schools: Personal, Social and Health Education

Volume 714: debated on Thursday 5 November 2009

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The issues that personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education covers are all central to children and young people’s well-being and to their healthy development as they grow up. They are nutrition and physical activity; drugs, alcohol and tobacco; sex and relationships; emotional health and well-being; safety; careers education; work-related learning; and personal finance.

Sex and relationship education (SRE) is one important constituent element of PSHE education. As well as being crucial to the drive to reduce teenage pregnancy, it is vital for the healthy development of every child and young person.

I set out my intention to review SRE in the Children’s Plan, which was published in December 2007. A review group was established early in 2008 to this end, comprised of experts and representatives of faith groups, including the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service. The group was jointly chaired by Jim Knight, the then Minister of State for Schools; Jackie Fisher, principal of Newcastle College; and a representative of the UK Youth Parliament, in recognition of the importance of the review being informed by the views and experiences of young people, as well as those of parents and experts in SRE.

The review group completed its work in the summer of 2008. The review provided evidence, including from young people themselves, that the quality of SRE being delivered was too variable and was failing to meet young people’s needs on a consistent basis.

The group stressed that PSHE education was not given sufficient priority in schools and that its lack of status, specifically its non-statutory national curriculum status, was a key factor in explaining why schools did not prioritise it. The group was clear and unanimous in its view that making PSHE education statutory was necessary to achieve a step-change in the quality and status of the PSHE education that young people receive.

The group recommended that this statutory content (for secondary schools) should be based on the current non-statutory programmes of study for personal well-being, on which it based its work. It also made it clear that the statutory content for primary schools should be based on new programmes of study for personal well-being, developed by the Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA) in the context of Jim Rose’s review of the primary curriculum. I am placing a copy of the SRE content of the PSHE programmes of study in the House Libraries for information, alongside this Statement.

A review group which focused on drug and alcohol education, another key component of PSHE education, and which ran to the same timescale as the SRE review group also included among its recommendations that PSHE education should be made statutory.

In the Written Ministerial Statement on 23 October 2008, Jim Knight made clear our intention to accept the recommendations from both these review groups to make PSHE education statutory. The Statement also announced that I had commissioned Sir Alasdair Macdonald CBE, the outstanding head teacher of Morpeth School, to conduct an independent review to address the question of how the principle that PSHE education should have statutory status could best be taken forward into practice. In particular, I asked Sir Alasdair to examine how we could best ensure that in the sensitive area of SRE:

schools can continue to be able to tailor the curriculum in the ways they think best suit their pupils;

school governing bodies can retain their right to determine their own approach, in accordance with the ethos of their school; and

the arrangements put in place appropriately recognise and respect the rights of the very small minority of parents who already withdraw their children, and of those parents who might want to do so in future.

In carrying out his review Sir Alasdair talked to children and young people, parents, schools, faith groups and expert organisations involved in the development and provision of PSHE education. His findings were also informed by the results of a call for written evidence; field visits to a wide range of schools and professionals in local areas, selected on the basis of recommendations from expert organisations, including Ofsted; and focus groups with children and young people.

Sir Alasdair delivered his report to me in March 2009 and I set out his findings and the Government’s response in a Written Statement laid on 27 April 2009. Sir Alasdair’s key recommendations were that, in making PSHE education statutory:

PSHE education must be an integral element of all initial teacher training courses and of the continuing professional development of teachers, school support staff and the wider children’s workforce involved in its delivery; and

governing bodies should retain the right to determine their school’s approach to SRE and in doing so:

they should ensure this can be delivered in line with the context, values and ethos of the school, but in a way that is also consistent with the core entitlement to PSHE education;

governing bodies should also retain the duty to maintain an up-to-date SRE policy, which is made available to inspectors, parents and young people;

governing bodies should involve parents and young people (in the secondary phase) in developing their SRE policy, to ensure that this meets the needs of their pupils, and reflects parents’ wishes and the culture of the communities they serve.

The existing right of parental withdrawal from SRE should be maintained.

In my Statement to the House on 27 April 2009 I confirmed the Government’s intention to accept all of Sir Alasdair’s recommendations. The right to statutory PSHE was included in the pupil guarantee in the White Paper published by my department in June and I confirmed that it would apply to all state funded schools.

In my April Statement I also said we would now consult on the detail of these recommendations, prior to moving to legislate on these matters. That consultation process has now been carried out and completed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) on my department’s behalf, covering a wide range of detailed issues relevant to PSHE, and I am placing copies of their report setting out the results in the House Libraries.

This report makes clear that a wide range of views and opinions were expressed, which the QCDA gathered through a variety of means, including an online consultation to which 6,000 people responded. QCDA also consulted through conferences, focus groups and specially designed surveys of children and parents. The QCDA report also sets out their view that the results of their online consultation were influenced by campaigns on these matters conducted by several specific interest groups. The report explains that the QCDA sought to take this into account in their analysis and interpretation of the data.

I have considered carefully the outcomes of this consultation, together with Sir Alasdair MacDonald’s report and all the other information that has become available about these matters since my decision to review SRE in November 2007.

As a result, I can confirm our decision to accept the recommendations of the SRE Review Group and to proceed with legislation to make PSHE education part of the statutory national curriculum in both the primary and secondary phases. As the SRE group established in 2008 recommended, PSHE education will therefore be a foundation subject in the national curriculum in key stages 3 and 4, with the existing non-statutory programmes of study forming the basis for a core entitlement that all pupils should receive. At primary level the proposed new programme of learning, “Understanding Physical Development, Health and Wellbeing”, will be the basis of the core entitlement that all pupils should receive.

Over the past few months an issue has arisen about the age up to which parents should be able to withdraw their children from SRE, if they wish to exercise their right to do so. Currently parents have the right to withdraw their children up to the age of 19. In practice, only a very small minority of parents choose to exercise this right. However, I believe it is very important that this right is maintained. This is all the more necessary once, subject to the will of Parliament, PSHE education becomes a statutory part of the national curriculum.

It is important that parents, schools and young people are all clear about the age that is set, and that this is supported by parents and young people, as well as being practically deliverable and legally enforceable. We have, therefore, consulted experts in SRE and representatives of faith groups, among others, about this. In addition, my department commissioned some further quantitative and qualitative research in October 2009 to gather further relevant information. I am placing reports of the outcomes from that research in the House Libraries.

This research, which was carried out with samples of parents and of adults, found quite a wide spectrum of opinion, against a context in which four out of five parent respondents (81 per cent) to the surveys said they supported the principle that all children should receive SRE. When asked about the right of withdrawal, 20 per cent of parents said there should be no right of withdrawal, 33 per cent of parents said the right should end at age 11, 9 per cent said it should end at age 14, and 7 per cent at the age of 16. A clear majority therefore supported a reduction in the age to which a right of parental withdrawal should apply.

After careful consideration of the outcomes of discussions with experts and other interested parties, including representatives of faith groups, and of the findings of this research, I have concluded that parents’ right to withdraw their children from SRE should continue until their children reach the age of 15. I have come to this view because I believe that proceeding on this basis is balanced, practically deliverable and legally enforceable, and maintains the right of withdrawal for the small number of parents who wish to exercise it. I also believe that setting the age limit at 15 offers the best chance of building a strong consensus.

This means that every young person will receive at least one year of SRE before their 16th birthday.

It is of critical importance, in ensuring that PSHE helps children to achieve all their Every Child Matters outcomes, that the content of the new PSHE education curriculum is carefully thought through and constructed. This has already been the subject of detailed consultation with schools, young people, parents, faith groups and experts in the field, and through the work of the SRE Review Group. The proposed content of SRE that will be taught when PSHE education becomes statutory will now be subject to further formal statutory consultation on the detail, the process to be overseen by the QCDA and to be concluded by autumn 2010.

In order to implement the measures set out in this Statement we will include provisions, as necessary, in the forthcoming Children, Schools and Families Bill.