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Education: Sex Education

Volume 747: debated on Monday 8 July 2013

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government which organisations and individuals have challenged their proposed changes to sex education.

My Lords, as part of the national curriculum review, the Government received representations from organisations and individuals on the draft curriculum for science, which includes information on reproduction and the human life cycle. A number of organisations, including the Sex Education Forum, were signatories to a letter to the Times on 15 April outlining concerns that the science programme of study omitted detail on reproduction and growth. I assure noble Lords that we have taken their representations on board, and revised programmes for study have been published this morning.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I have some inkling of what is in the Statement, although I look forward to reading the document in full. Does he accept that the proposed watering down of the biological sex education content within that document means that many pupils will leave primary school with little knowledge of the human life cycle? Within that context, does the document state explicitly that the menstrual cycle shall be taught without details of hormones? Can the Minister indicate how that is going to be monitored in schools? If a teacher does in fact mention hormones, are they likely to be disciplined?

My Lords, in the new curriculum there is as much, if not more, about reproduction and the life cycle as in the previous curriculum. Key stage 2 science includes changes experienced in puberty, but this Government believe that it is right that teachers should make the final decision about when and how that content is covered. Of course, Ofsted inspects to ensure that pupils receive the right cultural, moral and social experience.

How many young people themselves have been consulted about the content of this curriculum? If a lot of young people had been, I am sure they would have told the Government that they want to know the information in time, before the hormonal changes take place. Timeliness is related not only to puberty but to contraception, sexual health and the prevention of unwanted teenage pregnancy.

My noble friend is quite right in her observations. The non-statutory notes and guidance specifically say that pupils should draw a timeline to indicate stages in the growth and development of humans, and should learn about the changes experienced in puberty.

Have comments by the National Youth Parliament been taken into account? Could the Minister give us a hint as to the Government’s response?

We have taken its comments into account, but I am afraid that I will have to write to the noble Baroness in detail to answer her question.

What progress are we making in terms of how our closest neighbours deal with teenage pregnancy? What are we learning from them in their teaching of sex education?

Our teenage pregnancy rates are now at their lowest level in more than 40 years, and data for 2011, released by the Office for National Statistics in February this year, showed a continuing decline. The Government believe that the best protection is a good education, and we believe that our curriculum reforms will strike the right balance to allow all schools to improve their focus on the issues that are relevant to the circumstances.

My Lords, I am sure that the House is pleased that the Government have put more about sex and relationships into the curriculum, but surely some concerns must remain if academies can choose not to teach it. How are the Government going to ensure that academies teach young people about sex and relationships?

My noble friend is quite right that academies are not obliged to teach sex education, although, if they do, they have to have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance on these matters. I repeat the point that Ofsted inspects for all social, moral and cultural provision in schools, and we will be ensuring that it focuses on this point.