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Personal, Social and Health Education

Volume 768: debated on Wednesday 10 February 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they propose to take to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic education compulsory within the curriculum.

My Lords, this Government want to prepare all young people to succeed in modern Britain. High-quality teaching of PSHE is central to that and we expect all schools to teach it. After careful consideration, we believe that it is not the availability but the quality of PSHE teaching that is the most pressing issue. We have now asked leading head teachers and practitioners to produce an action plan for improving PSHE. We shall continue to keep the status of the subject under review and work with these experts to identify further steps that we can take to ensure that all pupils receive high-quality, age-appropriate PSHE and sex and relationship education.

I thank the noble Baroness for her response. I have just received a letter to Neil Carmichael from Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, which states, as the noble Baroness has stated, the importance of PSHE. This is in response to a letter from four chairs of committees—education, health, home affairs and business, innovation and skills—all supporting the view that PSHE should be compulsory. To quote a brief paragraph—

The question is coming up. Does the Minister agree that the following is important?

“PHSE is a crucial part of preparing young people for life. It can provide them with knowledge and confidence to make decisions which will affect their health, wellbeing and relationships, now and in the future. It can help develop the skills and attributes needed to secure employment, and can help protect young people from abuse in many forms.”

When will the Government start listening to such eminent people and when will they respond to these concerns and stop making excuses to disadvantage young people?

We certainly agree that PSHE is important but what we are most concerned about is the variability in teaching of the subject. That is the most pressing problem, so we want to focus our efforts on ensuring that all children have access to high-quality teaching. However, we do not believe that this will be achieved simply by statute, which is why we are engaging with head teachers to ensure that we can provide all schools with the information that they need to teach high-quality PSHE.

My Lords, when there is so much pressure on treating patients in the health service even without industrial action, is it not sensible to have a policy that prevents disease in the first place? Surely good sex and relationship education has an important part to play in achieving better health. It is very urgent that the Government take action on this, even given what the Secretary of State is saying.

My noble friend will be aware that sex and relationship education is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools as part of the national curriculum, and indeed many primary schools choose to teach it. We are absolutely clear that both sex and relationship education and PSHE are important, which is why we are working with organisations such as the PSHE Association and leading head teachers to ensure that all schools have access to best practice in this area.

I am delighted that the Minister believes that PSHE should be of high quality and that an age-appropriate action plan is being put together. I am also delighted to hear her say that all students should access PSHE, as that presumably means that all schools will be teaching it, which is a victory for common sense and a victory for the noble Baroness, Lady Massey.

I am always happy to see a victory for the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. As I said, this is an important area. We are pulling together a group of head teachers who will be producing an action plan and publishing a comprehensive toolkit which will help schools plan and develop their curriculum and access learning and impact, and set out how PSHE can be part of a broad offer to all pupils and parents.

My Lords, the police are dealing daily with more incidents of domestic violence and child abuse, and social workers are overwhelmed with case loads where there is harm in the family. Does the Minister not agree that PSHE classes present an excellent forum to give young people an increased awareness of how to protect themselves and indeed how to respect each other? As programmes have already been prepared by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and the NSPCC, we would not be starting from scratch.

I agree with the noble Baroness. PSHE can be a very important element of a young person’s education. It can help them develop resilience and manage risks but also focus on the skills and attributes that can help them lead fulfilling lives. It is extremely important, and there is a lot of good practice in evidence out there which we want to help bring together to make sure all schools are delivering high quality.

My Lords, the letter which the Secretary of State issued today, after some delay, amounted to an announcement that she had nothing to announce. Why is it that when a range of organisations as diverse as Barnado’s, the Royal College of Nursing, the NSPCC and the National Union of Teachers all express support for the recommendations of the Education Select Committee, the Government believe that they have a monopoly of wisdom on this crucial issue?

That is not the case at all. In fact, we did announce something today, which is that the variability in PSHE is unacceptable. We want to focus on improving teaching. It cannot be right that 40% of teaching of PSHE is less than good. We want to focus on that and make sure that all young people get access to the high-quality teaching in this area that they need.

My Lords, although I agree with all that the Minister has said in response to the questions, is it not the case that engaging parents—making sure that what is taught in schools relates to and engages parents as much as possible—is also important to any government action which may be forthcoming in the future?

Yes, it is absolutely right that parents need to be involved, as do head teachers, which is why, as I say, we are bringing together a group in order to help to develop a comprehensive array of guidance, tools and best practice for schools to use in this area.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for raising this important issue, although as somebody who is involved in running schools, I am slightly wary of compelling them to do more things given how much there is already in the curriculum. I would draw my noble friend’s attention to one thing with this working group. In the PSHE Association scheme of work, which is the basis for much PSHE teaching in schools, there is no mention that I could find of character. Yet the DfE has made the development of good character the fifth pillar of its activity. Can I make sure that there is proper representation on this working group for organisations that are concerned with how schools can develop good character among pupils?

Yes, and I can quote from the letter from the Secretary of State:

“I want PSHE to be at the heart of a whole-school ethos that is about developing the character of young people”.

I hope that that reassures the noble Lord.