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House of Lords Hansard

Female Genital Mutilation: Education in Schools

04 February 2016
Volume 768


    Asked by

  • To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many schools are now using personal, social, health and economic education classes to inform their pupils on female genital mutilation.

  • My Lords, female genital mutilation is child abuse and a crime. An effective multiagency approach is key to safeguarding girls from FGM and schools play an important role in this, as they do in safeguarding children from all forms of abuse. Schools have the autonomy to tailor their local PSHE programme to reflect the needs of their pupils, including teaching about FGM, drawing on the resources and evidence provided by experts and organisations such as the PSHE Association.

  • I thank the Minister for that Answer, but in a way she makes my case for me, because we have a safeguarding duty to the 60,000 girls who are at risk. If we do not inform them about the risks of FGM—what to look for and who to go to—then I believe we are derelict in our duty. Does the Minister agree with me that one of the best ways to protect girls is to make teaching on FGM mandatory, whether through PSHE or other means, and will she now commit to do so?

  • My Lords, since 2014 FGM has been included in the PSHE programme of study so that is now an option for teachers, but we believe that it should be up to schools to have the autonomy to reflect the needs of their pupils. Of course teaching about FGM is one option that they can include, but we believe it is up to schools to think about the needs of their pupils and the communities that they serve, and it is for them to decide what best to cover and how best to cover it within their curriculum.

  • My Lords, would the Minister agree with me that, however good schools’ PSHE programmes are—and some are excellent—schools cannot mop up all the ills of society? Would she further agree that this is a highly sensitive issue, which is about the law and violence against women, and therefore needs delivering to teachers and pupils in a sensitive and expert way by people such as the school nurse or a doctor? It is not a case that can be taken very lightly.

  • I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, which is why we shall be shortly publishing for the first time statutory multiagency guidance for front-line professionals on FGM specifically, which will apply to schools and children services as well as police and healthcare professionals. It is essential that everybody works together to support any young women who may be in this position and make sure that, as a community, all agencies are working together to help tackle this crime.

  • Would my noble friend please update the House on the current state of protection orders?

  • As noble Lords will be aware, protection orders were fast-tracked last summer to come into place before the summer holidays, so that any girls at risk could benefit from these new orders. Eighteen FGM protection orders were issued between July and September. That is the first set of data that we have.

  • My Lords, while individual prosecutions are matters for the Director of Public Prosecutions, are the Government satisfied that the law is adequate, and will they consider an investigation as to why there are so few prosecutions?

  • As I said, we will shortly issue the statutory multiagency guidance, which we believe will help teachers, for instance, and other professionals to be able to identify this risk more easily and therefore to work with the police. The Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced a new mandatory duty on teachers, social workers and health professionals to report to the police known cases of FGM involving victims under the age of 18. Again, we believe that reports of these cases should assist the police; I have also mentioned protection orders. Therefore, we are building a framework within which professionals can work to help to tackle this crime.

  • Does the noble Baroness know how much training the NHS gives to its front-line staff so that they are able to recognise this situation and deal with it?

  • As I say, we are introducing a range of statutory guidance. Since April 2015, the NHS has collected enhanced data on women and girls seen by the NHS who have been subject to FGM. The second quarter of this data from July to September 2015 reported that 17 girls under 18 had come to the attention of the NHS. Therefore, with the enhanced data collection, the guidance we are introducing and our attempt to join up the NHS with schools and the police, we are starting to see progress in helping professionals identify this issue.

  • The noble Baroness referred just now to the role of schools. When I represented a multicultural constituency in the other place, one of the things that used to concern me was the instance of girls being suddenly taken away for long holidays, and we tried very hard to raise this with schools to see whether they were being taken away for this purpose. It would be useful to know whether this is included in the guidance to teachers. I point out to those colleagues who have been in this House for quite a while that nobody here ever raised this issue for as long or as often as our late friend Baroness Rendell—Ruth Rendell. I suggest that we set up some initiative on FGM in Ruth’s name.

  • I will be very happy to take the noble Baroness’s suggestion back to the department. As regards the question she raised about teachers being able to identify this, I went on to the PSHE Association website to have a look at the section on FGM, and the issue that the noble Baroness raised is mentioned there, as are a number of other useful elements of guidance. As I have said, with new statutory guidance coming in and the updating of the safeguarding guidance for schools, we are attempting to get as much information to teachers as we can so that they can play their role in helping to protect young women.

  • My Lords, can I come back to PSHE? The Minister has highlighted its importance—indeed, the Government’s own website says how important it is. Will she confirm that PSHE has to be taught only in maintained schools, so that the 70% that are academies, as well as free schools, do not have to teach it? Does she not think, given the importance of PSHE and this issue, that it should be taught in all schools and that advice and guidance should be given to all schools?

  • We state clearly in the introduction to the national curriculum that we expect all schools to deliver high-quality PSHE. Of course, the noble Lord will be aware that, when inspecting, Ofsted considers how a school ensures the spiritual, moral, social and cultural needs of its pupils. Ofsted inspects all schools—maintained, academies and free schools—so this enables PSHE to be considered in a proportionate and integrated way as part of their inspection.