Skip to main content

National Curriculum: Violence against Women

Volume 748: debated on Monday 28 October 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the National Curriculum with the aim of preventing violence against women; and whether any such plans include making sex and relationship education a statutory part of the school curriculum.

My Lords, violence against women is unacceptable. We expect schools to teach children not to tolerate violence. Schools may include this topic in personal, social, health and economic education as a non-statutory subject. Maintained secondary schools are already legally required to provide sex and relationship education, and we would expect all academies also to do so. The SRE guidance, which schools must have regard to, states that teachers should support children to avoid all forms of abuse, bullying and violence.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he agree that with women and girls experiencing higher levels of physical and sexual abuse, the Department for Education should actively support the Home Office’s strategy entitled A Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls? This includes sending schools information about prevention campaigns and overseeing the implementation of such campaigns.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s work on women’s and girls’ rights and opportunities. We support the principle behind her Question, and the DfE fully supports the Home Office’s excellent strategy in this regard. However, we do not believe that the most effective way of doing this is for the department to try to send messages to all girls. We are looking into how best to get information and messages to them. The This is Abuse campaign run by the Home Office is already doing good work in this regard. Later this year, Ministers from the Department for Education, the Home Office and the Department for International Development are to meet representatives from head teachers’ and teachers’ unions to discuss how best to raise awareness among staff and pupils of risks linked to gender-based violence. I am sure that the noble Baroness will also agree that any messages need to go to boys as well as girls.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has been passionate about the importance of parenting being part of citizenship. If the Government took that on board, the very important issue of domestic violence would fit very neatly into it.

I take the noble and learned Baroness’s point. We should do everything we can to improve parenting in this country. But, I am afraid, it is also the case that there are many children whose parents are not going to do the job and we must do that in schools.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that behaviour and attitudes tend to get repeated down the generations? This includes the repetition of violence and, among men and women, the acceptance of violence. Therefore, does he think it is important to say that violence is wrong and to give victims the confidence to speak up and say that it is wrong and that they will not put up with it?

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend’s point. I think she is particularly referring to domestic violence, where we have a lot of work under way, but there are a number of cycles that we need to break through work in schools: worklessness is one; violence is another good example.

My Lords, the last time the sex and relationship guidelines were updated was at the turn of the century, when the founders of Facebook were still in high school and Twitter was confined to the bird world. Will the Minister explain why the Government are so opposed to updating those guidelines to help teachers help children understand the internet world that they are growing up in now?

My Lords, as part of the recent PSHE review, we looked at whether or not the SRE guidelines needed to be updated. We concluded that they represent a very sound framework for guidance in this area. We are doing a great deal on internet safety, as the noble Baroness knows, including bringing it into the curriculum for the first time, and a great deal of work with CEOP. We think that the framework is there and that to keep constantly changing it due to changes in technology is counterproductive, as technology is moving so fast.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that recent polling shows that one in three girls is groped at school and sexual harassment is routine? May I suggest that where schools do best practice, other schools are encouraged to learn from them?

I agree entirely with my noble friend’s comments. We have asked Ofsted to publish best practice on PSHE, and we encourage all schools to do what the best schools can.

My Lords, may I take the noble Lord back to the Answer that he gave to my noble friend Lady Prosser? If I heard him right, he said that he thought that the message did not need to go to all girls. Can he tell the House which girls he thinks do not need to hear this message?

I did not intend to give that impression. If I did, I apologise. I just think that the method of getting the message to all girls needs to be carefully thought out.

My Lords, as millions of men are brutalising millions of women and that means that millions of other people know about it and do nothing, can we encourage the public to take some responsibility? For instance, a few weeks ago, two 14 year-old boys heard a woman being beaten up, went and bashed on the door and then informed the police. Can we not encourage the public to become more involved?

The noble Lord makes a good point. We can try to do this but I feel that it is really a job for the police authorities.

My Lords, the two topics mentioned in the Question clearly refer to abhorrent sides of our society; we all agree on that. However, does the Minister agree that dealing with all those problems by inserting them on a statutory basis into the national curriculum is almost a confession of failure and that there have been many other interesting suggestions made from around the House today?

I am grateful for the noble Lord’s question and I agree entirely. Pupils will often respond better to dialogues with mentors from outside agencies that are skilled in their work. It is right to help pupils in this way: issues around drug-running in gangs, for instance, are completely different from those relating to forced marriages. Schools should be free to engage with outside agencies as appropriate.