I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of statutory personal, health, social and economic education.
In March 2017 the then Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), announced her intention of putting relationships and sex education on a statutory footing, and of creating a power to make PSHE statutory in future, following further work and consultation. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 provides for it to be made statutory in all schools in England through regulations. A call for evidence is running from December 2017 up to this month. I welcome that call for evidence, which gives us a chance to explore what world-class PSHE looks like, going forward into the 2020s. I hope that this debate will be a useful part of that process.
PSHE in this country has suffered on several fronts. It has been caught up in sterile debates about the difference between knowledge and skills, and about school freedom. It has also become a battleground because of its status as the home of sex and relationships education. It has been incorrectly associated with generic and sometimes obscure pet subjects—even origami. Often, we have lost sight of the fact that PSHE at its best supports the development of skills and attributes such as managing risk and taking responsibility, and the honing of critical skills that set young people up to succeed in other areas of the curriculum and in their wider lives. Surely that is what education is about.
Despite some of the cartoon battles that I have mentioned, there is a fair level of consensus about what PSHE includes: the knowledge and skills that young people need to stay safe—online and offline—healthy, and prepared for life. There should be programmes of study such as that prepared by the PSHE Association, with a spiral curriculum that is consistent with the ethos of the school and able to take account of the specific needs of the school’s community. It can support children’s mental and physical health, reduce the risk of drug and alcohol misuse, support financial capability, develop employability skills and provide emergency life-saving skills. Many schools provide excellent PSHE education, but others struggle. The fact that the subject is not mandated in all schools does not help; if there is a tussle for timetable space, the statutory subject will always win. Figures from the Department for Education itself show that time given to PSHE fell by 32% from 2011 to 2015, and the Select Committee on Education warned that that situation could still be deteriorating.
Mandatory or not, PSHE is of course not a magic bullet, but a clear position in the school curriculum, with support from inside and outside the education community, would be a good start. Giving PSHE statutory footing and enabling schools to act within a broad framework would make it easier for the Government to deliver their stated aims of improving outcomes in safeguarding pupils against online harm, and in mental health. That is because PSHE is a complementary subject area: for example, relationships are influenced by other areas covered in PSHE and cannot be taught in isolation. Although parents, teachers and pupils support the subject, I believe that schools would welcome clarity on its status. A Government decision to establish mandatory PSHE must be the start of the work, not its end.
The hon. Lady is making a strong case and I congratulate her on securing this important debate. Does she agree that it is not appropriate for parents to be able to withdraw their children from some of the lessons? Should not the guidance and regulations make it clear that all pupils have the right to know the facts? There is a big difference between opinion and fact, and all children, regardless of faith or background, have the right to know the facts.
I agree. Things work best when the home and the school work in partnership, not when they are in conflict. I am the mother of a teacher who often tells me about problems she has in trying to teach religious education in school. Some parents want their child removed from the lessons, because they do not want their child to be taught about other religions. That does not help. All children should be treated equally and have equal access to information, as the hon. Lady says. I completely agree.
One of the key benefits of PSHE, I believe, is that it increases academic attainment. A report by Pro Bono Economics in 2017 found that the provision of high-quality PSHE has a positive impact on young people’s academic attainment. Moreover, a study of 200 social and emotional skills programmes, predominantly delivered through PSHE lessons, demonstrated an 11% improvement in young people’s academic achievement. Encouragingly, evidence also showed that PSHE can have a positive impact on life chances, as it was the academic performance of the most disadvantaged children that improved by the greatest amount as the result of receiving high-quality PSHE.
PSHE does more than just add value to the qualifications that young people leave school with. Evidence suggests that it supports children in developing skills and characteristics such as teamwork, confidence, flexibility and resilience—all of which will enable them to achieve in their future lives and careers. I am sure that many hon. Members in the Chamber have had conversations with employers about young people leaving education with a handful of perhaps excellent qualifications, but no life skills. Many years ago when I was young I learned those life skills through such things as Saturday or holiday jobs, which are hard to get now. I learned what it was to be an adult by working with older women in Timothy Whites—whatever happened to them?—on a Saturday. Those things are not there for young people now; they need somewhere where we can teach them the life skills that they need to become the sort of employee that employers are looking for.
That is because the world of work that young people enter now is very different from the one I entered when I left school. People are not just looking for examination results; they want a candidate with the ability to adapt, innovate and work in partnership. Key leaders in business and industry support that view. The CBI has said that there is a need to focus
“not only on knowledge and skills, but also on the key attitudes and behaviours that are needed for success in life outside the school gates”.
That is where PSHE can certainly help. There is strong evidence that it improves academic attainment and young people’s prospects. I remind the Minister that at the Education World Forum in January he said:
“Preparing pupils to compete in an ever more competitive jobs market is the core purpose of schooling”.
I agree, and if he means what he says, as I believe he does, we need to be serious about attainment and social mobility, and about making provision for high-quality PSHE as a statutory requirement in schools.
Many other Members want to speak, and I do not want to cover every aspect of the subject, but I want to talk in particular about one area that is dear to my heart. In 2015 I tried to get a private Member’s Bill through Parliament—the Compulsory Emergency First Aid Education (State-funded Secondary Schools) Bill. Unfortunately it did not succeed, and the Government and the Minister did not support it. Perhaps the Minister was right and it was not the right place for the matter to be dealt with; perhaps the place for it is in PSHE. I should be happy to know whether he thinks that that is so.
I have worked hard on the issue for a number of years, as have many other Members of Parliament. The British Red Cross, the British Heart Foundation and St John Ambulance have all welcomed the call for evidence, believing that the teaching of first aid could sit happily within PSHE. The teaching of first aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation, as a mandatory component of statutory PSHE in both primary and secondary school, could be done in one hour a year, each year. It would ensure that all children and young people had the opportunity to learn that crucial life skill, building up knowledge and confidence over the course of their time in school. We know the statistics about first aid: only 5% of adults feel knowledgeable or willing to act in an emergency. Up to 59% of pre-hospital deaths from injury could have been prevented with basic first aid. More than 30,000 cardiac arrests occur out of hospital every year in the UK, and fewer than one in 10 people survive. If we could match the survival rates found in parts of Norway, where CPR is routinely taught in secondary schools, we could save around 5,000 lives per year in the UK.
As a mother of teachers, I understand that teachers are hard pressed and that their job is difficult, with long hours and little space, but I believe teachers are best placed to deliver the training, and they are not alone. They do not need specialist training to deliver it, because there are many quality, approved resources already being used in schools, such as those used by the three organisations I mentioned. The British Heart Foundation provides free CPR “watch and learn” training kits, which are in place in 66% of secondary schools. The British Red Cross provides “Life. Live it.” first aid for children and first aid learning for young people, with resources for primary and secondary schools. St John Ambulance provides free online access to its streamed sessions under the banner, “The Big First Aid Lesson”, which many of us will be aware of. The most recent session reached 125,000 students in a single sitting, in addition to more traditional teaching resources.
First aid learning must be appropriate to the development level. The optimal age to start teaching cardiac compressions is around 12, but learning the symptoms of cardiac arrest and how to call for help can begin with much younger children. When they start school, children should be taught how to dial 999 and what happens when they do. That will impart a sense of confidence and responsibility to act. In the current climate, when we all, particularly young people, go out to bars, cinemas or concerts, there is an ever-present threat of terrorism. We need to turn young people into life-savers so that they do not become bystanders.
I hesitate to intervene, because my hon. Friend is making such a powerful case, but does she agree that as well as the practical benefits she is talking about in terms of saving lives, another benefit of first aid training for young people is that it builds up their personal confidence and their employability?
I absolutely agree; that is almost the next point I was coming on to.
The training needs to be appropriate to the developmental level, but no matter how young children are, they can start learning about things such as what to do if they get a cut, how to put somebody in the recovery position and how to ring for help. Those are important things.
Beyond the process of learning those skills, as my right hon. Friend has just said, their inclusion in PHSE could have other benefits. The International Committee of the Red Cross believes:
“First aid is not just about techniques. It is an act of humanity”.
I agree. It is a key responsibility of citizenship. Teaching those skills will help create the next generation of good, caring citizens. It will teach character, something we all want to see happen. The Red Cross is surely right about that. Empowering young people with the ability to act and potentially save a life can transform how they feel about themselves and improve their self-esteem. It could also encourage more people to go into that career area and become paramedics. I have met many young people who, after having first aid training and perhaps joining St John Ambulance, went on to become paramedics and work in the national health service, because they found that they had a key skill and they understood its importance.
First aid training has wide support: 97% of teachers think it is vital for young people to learn essential skills in school, and 89% of people think that CPR should be taught in all schools in the UK. Some 95% of parents agree that first aid should be taught in secondary school, and 97% of 11 to 16-year-olds agree that they should be taught first aid, saying that they either definitely or probably should be taught it at secondary school.
We have a world that is fast changing—very different from the one I grew up in. It is a world full of threats online and the demands of social media. We hear a lot about the pressure young people are under. We know that young people need to learn about consent and about the terrorist threat. I am from a lucky generation; I grew up after the second world war, in a time of peace. Young children now face constant threats—things we could never have dreamed they would face—and if we are to equip them for those threats, to deal with them in their everyday lives, we have a duty to ensure that in school every child is taught PHSE. It is a place to learn life skills that will equip them for the challenges ahead.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on an excellent speech on this important subject.
When I was visiting one of my local schools a week ago, I was handed a copy of all the subjects it teaches in its PHSE syllabus. I must say that I was impressed: it is a sensible, measured group of subjects, all dealing with issues that young people need to get to grips with, which will hugely help them as they embark on adult life.
I do not intend to speak for long, but I will talk about one specific issue I would like to see addressed in PHSE education. I will do so as a result of having been visited by one of my constituents, Denise Coates from Houghton Regis, who is a cancer survivor and an ambassador on the issue for the Luton and Dunstable hospital—perhaps the best-performing hospital in the country. As a cancer survivor, Miss Coates is passionate about the early diagnosis of cancer, something that I note absolutely fits with the priorities of the Department of Health and Social Care and its new 28-day target to diagnose cancer.
On the list of PHSE subjects, which I got from one of my local upper schools, I was pleased to see that children are taught “What is cancer?” That is an excellent first step. We know that around 2 million people are living with cancer in our country; in my clinical commissioning group area, Bedfordshire, there are about 2,300 cancer cases and 960 cancer deaths per year. Denise Coates has a simple and straightforward request, which, if we are already teaching children about what cancer is in PHSE, it is possible, practical and extremely worth while to grant: that children be taught about the importance of early detection of cancer for themselves and to spread that learning within their families. That is potentially life-saving. All of us in this room will have lost family members to cancer. I lost my stepsister, who had four children, at the age of 49 and my mother died of cancer when she was 66. I know I am not unusual in this room.
We know that the golden key to cancer is early detection. If we teach that to our children, both girls and boys, when they are young, they have no embarrassment about examining their own bodies and know what to look out for. If they take that message home to their families and ensure their families do likewise, we can do much better. We know there is a particular issue, for example, with many in the Asian community in this country presenting late for cancer. That is tragic, because sometimes it will be too late—the saddest words in the English language. That is something we could prevent.
I have a very simple request. I have written to the Department of Health and Social Care, as a member of the Select Committee on Health, to seek its support on the issue. I implore the Minister to listen to my representations this morning. I say to the schools in my constituency and in every constituency up and down this country, “If you are already telling children about cancer, just go that extra step. Talk to them about the incredible importance of early detection. It is life-saving. It could save their lives or their family members’ lives.” I pay tribute to my constituent Denise Coates, who first brought the issue to my attention. I am doing my part this morning to further her campaign.
I did not expect to be called so early in the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on bringing this matter to the House for consideration. I will concentrate on two things in the short time I have: mental health and some of the projects undertaken back home in Northern Ireland.
I received, as did many other Members, a briefing from the Shaw Mind Foundation that outlined that mental health is currently only taught as an optional component of PHSE, despite 75% of mental illnesses starting before the age of 18 and data showing that three pupils in every classroom suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition. In addition, child suicide calls to ChildLine are at a record high, while self-harming among girls is up 68% and is getting worse every year. In her introduction, the hon. Lady referred to our needing focus. I think we need to focus on mental health—particularly children’s mental health. Despite those figures, the NHS currently spends 11% of its budget on mental health services, and we are always asking for more resources for that.
Research shows that pupils and parents strongly support further mental health education. In Northern Ireland, a scoping paper on adolescent mental health gives some shocking statistics. More than 20% of young people suffer significant mental health problems by the time they reach 18, and the demand on resources is higher than ever. Rates of mental ill health are estimated to be 25% higher in Northern Ireland than other parts of the United Kingdom, and suicide rates among those up to the age of 19 are disproportionately higher as well. The emotional wellbeing of children and young people is poor, and it takes almost 10 years between young people presenting first symptoms and getting support.
All those things tell us the story of where we are. I know Northern Ireland is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I want to state the facts, because they will hopefully add to the debate and will make other parts and regions of the United Kingdom understand where we are. There are also specific groups of children who are more likely to face discrimination in the realisation of their right to the highest attainable standards of healthcare, including those living in poverty and economically deprived areas and children in contact with the criminal justice system. All those things tell us we need to do more and to focus on this.
Researched conducted by Ulster University on behalf of the Commission for Victims and Survivors found that almost 30% of Northern Ireland’s population suffer from mental health problems. Most of that is down to the troubles. You will probably understand that better than most in the Chamber, Mr Robertson; your past membership of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee perhaps gives you a wee bit more knowledge.
The rates of suicide among under-19s are disproportionately higher in Northern Ireland compared with other parts of the UK. We need to ensure that people are trained and available to deal with that. The increase in prescribing antidepressants for under-16s is unfortunately happening in my constituency and I suspect others as well. I have spoken with teachers, youth workers, church volunteers and many parents who are concerned about children and how they handle the traumas in their lives. The overarching theme in their comments is that there is not enough support or key workers to help children in need of someone to talk to.
I will give an example of some small things we have been doing, which will perhaps add to the debate. A good friend of mine, who is not a member of my political party—I have tried many times to bring him over; I am working on it, and maybe someday I will persuade him—recently described to me a very small pilot he has going on in his local community group, of which he is chairperson. He told me he had managed to source funding to meet with six of the estate’s troubled youths. A few of them have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and others have other problems, but all are crying out for attention.
He told me that he secured funding to take them on outings after they had small group discussions or were successful in small tasks. He gave the example that some of the kids were frightening an older lady by using her fence and garden as a racing hurdle of sorts. Instead of telling the boys off, he used class time to take them to help to tidy her garden, so they were invested in the work that was done. That was followed by a trip to McDonald’s, which is usually something to look forward to. The boys discussed what they were thinking and how they felt with Big John—I will call him that, because that is what they know him as—who is trained to work with children and had the time to counsel them.
The scheme is open to only six youths at present, but the effect on their mental health and wellbeing could be the difference in how they function in their adult lives. We need more people who are trained and more funding available to allow schemes like that to run in all sectors of the community. I commend Big John and Big Catherine, who is also involved. They give up their own time to make it happen.
One in five children in Northern Ireland are hurting from mental health pain and need help as urgently as if they were bleeding. We would not withhold a bandage on the NHS and we cannot withhold this healing process either. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead on bringing the issue forward. Other Members will contribute, but I believe that we need to focus on mental health, and PHSE classes should be only the first in a number of the steps that we need to take.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Robertson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate. PHSE is one of the most important parts of our curriculum. Yes, we need to make sure that our children are given an academic education that enables them to compete with the rest of the world, but just as vital as academic skills are life skills. I am not saying that schools should replace parents in that regard, but they undoubtedly have a role to play.
It was nearly a year ago that the Government tabled amendments to what is now the Children and Social Work Act 2017 allowing for regulations requiring PHSE to be taught in all schools in England. The new curriculum containing PHSE is expected to be taught from September 2019, and the Department for Education launched a call for evidence on the issue last December, which is due to close in about a week’s time. One question it asks those taking part is:
“Thinking about PSHE in primary schools”
and secondary schools,
“what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught and why?”
I will put forward two things that should undoubtedly be taught as part of PSHE.
For one thing—I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead, with whom I have worked closely on this issue—first aid should be taught to all children. The statistics in this area are startling. According to the British Red Cross, only 5% of adults would feel knowledgeable, confident and willing to act in a first aid emergency. That is particularly worrying when considering that up to 59% of pre-hospital deaths from injury could have been prevented with basic first aid.
I should clarify that first aid is already on the PHSE programme of study, under the theme of health and wellbeing. However, because it is not a mandatory component of the programme, coverage is patchy. Some schools do not include it at all, so 60% of children have no first aid education whatever. When I met the Minister—I know he cares passionately about this subject—he rightly pointed out that the curriculum is full and that teachers have important things to focus on. Let me be clear: I am talking about one hour of training, once per year. That is the minimum we would need to teach children the basic first aid skills to become life savers. I do not think it is onerous to find one hour in our curriculum to give our children the knowledge to save lives.
I would suggest that teachers agree. A 2014 YouGov survey of 1,157 teachers found that 97% believed it vital for young people to learn essential first aid skills in school. Hon. Members may say that parents would surely not agree and that they would want their children to learn academic subjects. Not at all. The survey suggests that 95% of parents agree that first aid should be taught at secondary school. Nor do students think it is a waste of their time, with 97% of 11 to 16-year-olds agreeing that first aid should be taught at secondary school. Frankly, I am not surprised by that. Evidence suggests that learning first aid can improve people’s life chances and empower them to step up and take responsibility, and that it provides them with a sense of contributing to their community. That is surely something we all want for our children, and it is achievable with one very simple change.
The second subject I would like to see taught in PHSE is weapons awareness education. We continue to have difficulty in tackling the scourge of knife crime, but that is not to say that the Government are not taking action. I welcome steps such as minimum custodial sentences for repeated knife possession, but we need to do more on education so that we tackle the issue at both ends.
I have campaigned on this issue for some time now. I remember attending a weapons awareness lesson run in my constituency by a charity based in the neighbouring constituency of Clacton called Only Cowards Carry. That charity was set up by Caroline Shearer, a truly inspirational woman, in 2012 after her son, Jay, was fatally stabbed in my constituency. What is really interesting is that these hard-hitting lessons show people the danger of carrying blades and knives. They show that someone is far more likely to be the victim of a knife crime if they are carrying a knife themselves. Trust me: the lessons have a lasting impact. Students who walk into a lesson cocky and confident walk away startled at the brutality of the impact that knives can have.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point, particularly on gang violence and knife crime, which as he knows are a real scourge. There are fantastic organisations such as Lives Not Knives in Croydon, which offers to go into schools where young people have been victims of knife violence or lost relatives and loved ones. Does my hon. Friend agree that making such education part of PSHE nationally, so that it is assumed that everyone will have access to it, is a good way of tackling this issue? Too many schools do not want to invite these people in, as that would be to admit that they have a problem, and they are often in denial that they do have a problem. Knife crime is a problem for all teenagers in this country, particularly in our inner cities, and they all need to be made aware of it.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because he has made a point I was about to come to. Charities provide this education and awareness, often free of charge or at very low cost—it is often sponsored or funded by the local police and crime commissioner—but they have an issue getting through the door of the schools, because the headteachers and subject leaders will say, “We don’t really have an issue with knife crime” or “We don’t want to say that we have an issue with knife crime.” Whether people have an issue with knife crime or not, and whether the issue is in school or not, we know that it is affecting constituencies up and down the country. Given the growth in cases of county lines activity, cuckooing and grooming of young people, in particular, with gang violence, which brings with it the drugs, knife crime and intimidation, it is absolutely right that this education should be part of the PSHE curriculum so that we teach pupils about the danger of carrying knives.
Just as with first aid education, I have regularly been told about the great demands on our curriculum, but again, I am talking about only one 45-minute lesson in year 9 or 10. That would not be a huge burden on the national curriculum. I am therefore asking the Minister for a total of one hour and 45 minutes as part of the curriculum.
PSHE provides an important opportunity to ensure that children walk away from school not just with the knowledge that they get from academic subjects, but with those all-important life skills. First aid is an important life skill. We should commit to ensuring that every student receives training through PSHE, and not just to enable them to save lives, although that should be reason enough. By fostering self-esteem and confidence, we give students the opportunity to develop skills and we support their personal development. As I have said, the other part of their personal development on which we should focus is weapons awareness. Children should be left under no illusion whatever about the danger that comes with carrying a knife. As I said, the danger is to not just others but themselves.
I hope that the Government will commit to ensuring that children learn both subjects as part of the new curriculum, and that the Minister, who cares deeply about this issue, will be able to say that he is the Minister who made every child a life saver.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I express my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce). This debate is so timely. As she rightly said, the Minister is very much in listening mode at the moment, because he is doing the consultation on the content of PSHE.
I want to echo what my hon. Friend was saying. PSHE, when it is good, is about life skills, confidence and resilience. Sadly, when we look at the most recent Ofsted research on PSHE, we see that it is not of a good enough standard, with 40% of schools rated inadequate or requiring improvement in their delivery of it. With all the topics now being debated in relation to the Children and Social Work Act 2017 making PSHE—and, at a younger age, relationship education—mandatory, I hope we can ensure that all schools are able to deliver a good standard, if not an excellent standard.
The Minister will not be surprised that I want to focus on a particular area, which is what relationship education for primary school children could cover. In the work that I have been doing for the past four years with charities, academics, professionals and, indeed, parents and survivors, looking at how we prevent child abuse, the key thing everyone has said is needed—I am glad that the Minister and the Government have listened—is proper relationship education for primary school children. Why is that important? Well, we know that one in 20 children will experience sexual abuse. The most recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics, for the year ending September 2017, show that of the sexual offences reported to the police, 37% are against children. That equates to 51,000 children a year. The Sex Education Forum says that 53% of children in schools have not learned how to recognise grooming or sexual exploitation. Of course, good relationship education for primary school children does not involve talking about sex; it involves talking about respecting yourself and other people and about what are appropriate and inappropriate relationships. Then, when children get older and go to secondary school, we would of course start talking about sex and consent.
Today is Safer Internet Day, so it is appropriate for me to bring into the debate the new phenomenon of online abuse. The statutory sex and relationship guidance in place at the moment is 18 years old. I do not want to age anyone in this Chamber, but the younger generation are growing up in an online world; we mainly grew up in the real world, for want of a better phrase. We do not really understand the 24-hour pressures that young people are under. In addition, we are only starting to recognise how abusers use the internet. I went to my local police force and watched officers trying to tackle the online grooming and then abuse of children. One in three children is now a victim of cyber-bullying. We need also to consider peer-on-peer abuse. One in five indecent images shared online was taken by the child themselves, according to the National Crime Agency, and 40% of child sex abuse is carried out by other, usually older children. That is why relationship education is important. It is not just about protecting children; it is about teaching children what is right and wrong in relation to others.
Of course, abuse is not just sexual: 82% of 13 to 17-year-olds have seen something hateful online in the past year. That means something targeting people or communities because of their gender, transgender identity, sexual orientation, disability, race, ethnicity or religion. RSE and PSHE prevent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender phobia. That is a big issue, particularly online. Two out of five LGBT pupils were never taught about LGBT issues, and only one in five was taught about safe sex in same-sex relationships. This education is about teaching all children to respect others, but also about teaching LGBT children about their own choices and that they are okay.
Good sex and relationship education has a protective function. According to the Sex Education Forum, children who receive such education choose to have sex later in life, have fewer unplanned pregnancies, are more likely to use protection and are less likely to have sex against their will.
There is an argument that sex education, in particular, but also relationship education and PSHE in general, should be left to parents. I see the two forms of education going hand in hand, but I also point out that one in five parents feels ill equipped to teach children about the digital age. Half of young people living at home say that their parents know only some of what they are doing online. Sadly, we also need to reflect on the fact that nine out of 10 abused children know their abuser and 80% of child abuse happens in the child’s or the abuser’s home. What I am saying is that although we must of course respect the right of parents to make their choices, the state has a statutory duty to protect all children, and this debate is showing very clearly that we want all children to have the life skills to be able to flourish.
I therefore have three specific asks for the Minister in relation to PSHE and relationship education for primary school children. One is that they follow what the debate is showing and that the content is broad ranging. The second is that the Minister make available the necessary resources so that teachers have both the time and the skills—or the ability to draw on external agencies—to deliver that broad-ranging curriculum. Thirdly, I ask that there is protected time—one hon. Member has already asked for one hour and 45 minutes—in specific lessons or a commitment to weave these life skills within all lessons. For example, in maths we could be talking about credit cards and balancing our budgets.
I thank the Minister. I know that he is in listening mode, and I hope that “listening mode” translates into the PSHE that we are all looking for.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I will do my best to get the time keeping back on track, as I am conscious that there are a few speakers remaining.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce). I have been proud to support her work over the years on emergency life-saving skills in schools. I will focus on that topic briefly.
I am conscious that the Schools Minister has a list of about 150 subjects that colleagues have raised with him over the years as the single most important subject that should be added to the national curriculum in some way. On many of the occasions that I attempted to add to that list, he shared some of those subjects on there. He has an unenviable task.
Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), I want to focus specifically on the importance of emergency life-saving skills. Those who have already spoken on this subject have talked about many of the statistics, but I want to focus on a few. There are 30,000 cardiac arrests a year outside of a hospital, for which the survival chances are 12%—a disgraceful 12%, which is one of the lowest rates in the world. For every minute that passes in which somebody is not given help, their chances of survival fall by a staggering 10%. Even worse is the fact that 10,000 cardiac arrests are witnessed, but those witnesses do not have the confidence to do anything for fear they will make it worse, but they can do no worse than do nothing. I understand that, because as a young boy I found my father. I did my best, purely based on what I think I had seen on “Coronation Street”. Luckily some passers-by came. They did their best. Sadly we lost my father, but it showed me that these statistics are real.
We are simply asking for a one-hour session. As was mentioned, that one hour to create a generation of life savers could save 5,000 lives a year. Those are real people—the people that we represent. They are people of all ages, not just older people. In my constituency a couple of weeks ago, Matt Fiddes found his two-year-old son. He performed CPR and saved his two-year-old son. This captured the imagination of the public. Unsurprisingly, the good people of Swindon expect me to help deliver on this. I have lobbied the new Secretary of State for Education. I will continue to chase this. This was the subject that first secured the required 100,000 signatures for a parliamentary e-petition. Some 95% of parents support it. It is rare in politics to unite all sides of the House and 95% of parents. The British Heart Foundation, the Red Cross and St John Ambulance are poised and ready. They have the materials and videos. My constituency office has done the training sessions with the videos. They are fantastic. They are poised to go.
This is an absolute win-win situation for everybody. It would slot perfectly into PSHE. It will make a real difference. I know that the Minister understands the importance of this and he has encouraged schools to do this. Let us make that a given. Let us create that generation of life savers. Let us genuinely make a difference.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Robertson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this debate and setting it out in the manner in which she did.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that this is obviously an England-only debate, with education being devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so it might seem somewhat strange—despite the fact the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has contributed—to see a Scottish MP engaging in today’s debate beyond our third party responsibilities. However, this is an issue that I feel strongly about and there are undoubtedly things we can learn from each other about the content and delivery of our curriculums.
PSHE not only helps children and young adults live healthier physical lives, but it also promotes better mental health. In addition to helping youngsters gain valuable transferable skills to help prepare them for life and work, PSHE also provides pupils with the relevant skills and knowledge to ensure they are safe online. That is an extremely important skill, given how accessible the internet and social media are to the current generation of young people, as I am finding out with my 11 and seven-year-old daughters.
It is also vital to note that relationship and sex education is a fundamental component of PSHE, and one that I am particularly passionate about. If it is implemented effectively and across the board, I firmly believe that we can help create positive and respectful relationships between boys and girls, which will help to tackle and eliminate sexist attitudes before they turn more violent later.
I received a report last week from the National Education Union and UK Feminista, which conveys the extent of the problem of sexism in our classrooms. The report highlighted that sexual harassment is prevalent in schools, with over a third of female students being subjected to some form of sexual harassment. Sexist language is too often dismissed as banter, with two-thirds of female students and teachers experiencing or witnessing it on a weekly basis. Less than a quarter of our female students think that their school takes sexism seriously. Those stats present a worrying picture of what life is like for too many female students.
Education is meant to be a place where our children learn, socialise and find their way in the world. Our education system should not be a place where sexist attitudes and behaviours, often fomented at home, are born and/or reinforced. One respondent to that report spoke about the sexual harassment she is experiencing:
“Some of the boys make comments on a lot of the girls in our years bodies and the girls just have to ignore it because no one thinks it’s a big deal. The boys also slap the girls butts and touch their breasts without any consent.”
It is shameful that we have allowed that sort of behaviour to go largely unchallenged in many of our schools. If we fail to educate in order to tackle and prevent sexism in classrooms, as sure as night follows day, we risk these behaviours manifesting later in life.
The Scottish Government’s “Equally Safe” strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls addresses the need to eliminate the systematic and deep-rooted inequality that women and girls face in their daily lives. The report completed by the National Education Union and UK Feminista shows that many of these deep-rooted behaviours are established very early at school. Sexism in schools is endemic, but not inevitable. The UK Government and others have to make PSHE a statutory part of the curriculum to ensure that every student receives education about the importance of positive, healthy and equal relationships. We need to get serious about adopting a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment.
There is undoubtedly more that we in Scotland can do in this area, but I am proud of some of the progress that has been made by the Scottish Government and others. Through the curriculum for excellence, personal and social education is a subject that covers aspects of planning for choices and changes, substance misuse, relationships, sexual health and parenthood. Following a report completed by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, the Scottish Government have outlined their intention to complete a review of PSHE. I hope that the Scottish Government are ambitious in this review, meet the calls made by young people during the consultation and use the review to lead the work into creating an inclusive school environment founded on the values of respect, inclusivity and equality.
The case for PSHE is undisputed. The evidence has been provided on the benefits that PSHE has in promoting healthy living, economic wellbeing and solidifying positive relationships. The statutory status for PSHE is supported by 85% of business leaders, 88% of teachers, 92% of parents, 92% of pupils, the Children’s Commissioner for England—I could go on and on, as the list is extensive. The current system is helping to foster behaviours that can grow more violent later in life. This debate is about introducing PSHE into all classrooms. It is about equipping our students with the skills, attributes and knowledge to prepare them for later in life. However, this debate has also been about the importance of sustaining a positive relationship between boys and girls, helping to eliminate sexist attitudes from our schools and preventing these behaviours from growing more violent.
Sadly, on average two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner each week. The attitudes that lead to this murderous behaviour must be addressed. We cannot leave it to an incremental shift in societal attitudes over generations to resolve this issue. We must address this head-on through a gender-based violence prevention education framework. Statutory PSHE is the ideal vehicle for this and I urge the Minister to get on and implement it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate. As I considered my contribution, I was struck by a story that I was recently told by a pupil of a local school in my constituency, leading me to focus specifically on the provision of first aid training in schools.
When visiting St Paul’s School for Girls, I met a student who had recently witnessed a woman collapse in the street in front of her. Rather than panic, as I fear I and many of us in this room may have done, the young student displayed great maturity, helping the woman into the recovery position while also applying pressure to a head wound that she had sustained. As it turned out, the woman was a refugee who did not speak any English, leaving her unable to explain what was happening to passers-by. By having the wherewithal and composure to carry out those actions, the student helped to save the life of a woman who had in fact suffered a heart attack. For her actions, the student was later given a richly deserved commendation by local emergency services.
That student was able to provide the life-saving assistance that she did only because she had studied first aid as part of her PSHE course at school, enabling her to recognise what was happening and implement vital assistance before the emergency services arrived. How many of us in this room could say that we would be able to do the same? Would we be able to step in and offer that vital first-response assistance until the professionals arrived, thinking how terrible the situation was or wishing there was someone there to help?
The “Every Child a Lifesaver” coalition, which is made up of the British Red Cross, the British Heart Foundation and the St John Ambulance, is campaigning to make first aid a mandatory component of a new, statutory PSHE curriculum, and I would like to offer it my wholehearted support. This is not a big commitment. Just one hour a year over the course of their time in school could provide students with the essential skills, including CPR, that they need to save a life. The statistics are irrefutable. Only 5% of adults would feel knowledgeable, confident and willing to act in a first aid emergency. More than 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the UK every year, and fewer than one in 10 people survive, and most—around 80%—out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the home, while the immediate initiation of CPR can double the chances of survival in some cases. Organisations such as those I have mentioned provide all the necessary tools to teach these vital skills, and it is up to us as legislators to give them the platform that they need to impart their knowledge to today’s students.
There are more than just the obvious life-saving benefits to students of statutory first aid training. First aid training develops leadership skills, decision making, resilience and the ability to cope with adversity, supporting personal development and employment skills. It can improve young people’s life chances and empower them to step forward and take responsibility, while providing them with a sense of contributing to the community within our shared society. It will also ensure universal access to this essential knowledge and life skill, improving health inequalities across all communities and at every socioeconomic level.
The Department for Education consultation on making PSHE, including first aid, compulsory is open until only the 12th of this month, so I hope that this debate will raise the profile of this important decision and encourage as many as possible to take part in the consultation, so as to ensure that more children are able to act as my constituent did, and feel confident enough to step in and provide what could prove to be life-saving assistance to a person in need.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship for the first time, Mr Robertson.
I congratulate my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce), on securing this debate and the excellent case she made. I will start with the immortal words of those bards of New York City—I know you are a big fan, Mr Robertson —Salt-N-Pepa:
“Let’s talk about sex baby,
Let’s talk about you and me,
Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.”
That was a really big song when I was growing up. I was aware that people were talking about sex all around me, and that there were good and bad things, but I never heard anything about it at school. That was where I looked to be educated about the challenges of the world, but I never heard anything about it. I could conjugate lots of Latin verbs, but I certainly did not understand this.
The point is that children are already getting a broad PSHE education. They get it from their friends and siblings, where it is no doubt patchy at best, from the television, which is no doubt worse, and—this should probably make us collectively shudder—from the internet. The subject is out there. Children and young people hear words and research them, but goodness knows what they are shown. I feel that we have a duty to equip our young people with the facts of life and the critical reasoning skills to make good decisions when they negotiate the weird and wonderful opportunities that the world presents them. I believe that to not do so is to let them down.
Two years ago in Nottingham, thanks to the excellent work of Catherine Kirk and Councillor Sam Webster, we introduced a sex and relationship education charter. We went to our schools and got them to sign up, and 70% of them currently are. With two years’ worth of research, we can now say that staff feel more confident in delivering good lessons, pupils have shown maturity and their participation has improved, and in many schools zero parents have chosen to opt out. That context will change as we move on to a statutory footing, but some of the learning that we have in Nottingham will stand us in good stead.
We seek to equip our young people to pass what I call the “Friday night test”. When they are out and about on a Friday night, wherever they may be, we will not be with them, their teachers will not be with them and, most of the time, their parents will not be with them. In those moments of challenge, whether about money, alcohol or sex, have we equipped them to make good decisions about the different risks and benefits? If we have not, we have failed them. In researching this contribution, I saw that a Terrence Higgins Trust survey shows that 70% of young people say they that they have not learned about issues regarding consent. Deary me, what an indication; it is like sticking them in a car on the M1 but not having taught them how to drive.
We need to educate our young people about broader PSHE issues, and we need to do it well. Again, SRE is a pretty good example. That same piece of work by the Terrence Higgins Trust found that more than half of our pupils received relationships and sex education just once a year or less, and—this is the key point—half of our young people rated the RSE that they received in school as either poor or terrible. They are judging that against the standard of what they see in the real world. They are voting, although not quite with their feet, because I suspect that they do not have much choice. We cannot kid them. There is a big, wide world out there and we have to equip them properly.
That starts with properly resourcing our teachers so that they can engage confidently on the wide range of issues. We should also be saying that schools should not be doing this on a termly drop-down day, which students miss if they are away or think is a day when they do not have to contribute as much. Instead, this subject should be woven through the curriculum. I know that the Minister has lots of asks for an hour here and an hour there, but the best way to aggregate them is to weave them through on a daily basis. Our children will be faced with these decisions every day, so let us put it in their education like that too.
Low expectations are a great challenge in my community. This is a gendered issue, and that is worth reflecting on this 100th anniversary of some women getting the vote. There is a perception—this is the sort of cod psychology that young people are exposed to on social media—that we get the love that we think we deserve. Through proper PSHE and SRE for our young people, I want our young women to understand that if they put into the world, they can get good things back. They should expect good things of how men treat them and how their friends treat them. At the moment, that does not happen enough, and I hope that this is seminal moment to change things.
I want to finish by saying that on 28 June—the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) asked for an hour and 45 minutes of termly time, but I am just asking for half a day of the hard-pressed Minister’s time—Nottingham will celebrate our first sex and relationship education day. The schools, city council staff, statutory agencies and voluntary agencies will come together to celebrate what we have done and to encourage the whole community about their responsibilities. We will issue some of our research and guidance, and some of the things that parents could do to challenge the things that they are not comfortable with.
I have to say that I do not get excited about the alphabet soup. In preparing for today, I was desperately trying to work out whether it was PHSE or PSHE. As long as the content is there and our young people are getting it, you can call it whatever you want—I am very relaxed about that.
That event is on 28 June. Hopefully, Nottingham will demonstrate once again that it has been a model for what we are seeking to do as a nation, and I hope that during the consultation we can draw on some of that experience too.
I too thank the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for introducing this important debate and for her insightful opening speech. I was an English teacher for over 20 years before being elected in 2015, so I have an interest in the debate and I will contribute from that perspective.
Personal, health and social education is extremely important, as I understand because I had the opportunity to deliver that part of the curriculum. Alongside many other subjects and activities, it has its place in the curriculum in helping to prepare our young people for their future in a positive way. Its importance in Scotland is evident in Education Scotland’s national review, which my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) mentioned. We understand the importance of developing curricula to suit individual contexts and meet our young people’s needs, and of early intervention for making a big difference to the risk of young people developing mental health problems.
I listened carefully to hon. Members’ speeches and the range of areas that they would quite rightly and justifiably like to be included in PHSE education, such as cancer education, which the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) mentioned; mental health, for which the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made a plea; first aid, whose importance the hon. Members for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), and for Colchester (Will Quince) talked about; weapons awareness, which the hon. Member for Colchester also mentioned; relationship education and online safety, which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) talked about; tackling sexism and sexual violence, which my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North discussed; and the importance of relationship education, which the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) talked about.
All those areas are, of course, extremely important in our young people’s development—who could possibly disagree with any of them?—but we must guard against treating personal, social and health education as an entity all on its own. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead reminded us that it cannot be treated in isolation. The valuable lessons that we hope to impart to our young people must be built into the fabric of our schools and, we hope, of our communities and country, which is a point that the hon. Member for Nottingham North also made. Those lessons include respect for ourselves, a sense of self-worth, respect for others, the importance of understanding difference in all its forms, the value of communication and the importance of kindness. We may expect all those things to be present in our PSHE lessons, but they must also form the backbone of our schools’ ethos and be displayed by school staff every single day to set an example.
The many demands on time in the school day mean that young people are lucky if they get more than one formal PSHE lesson each week, as all hon. Members present will know. In Scotland, PSHE is woven through and embedded in the curriculum for excellence and its focus on life skills. Learning and teaching can take place in a variety of ways and contexts. The value of experiences in the home, in our leisure time and in extra-curricular activities also offer a rich seam for young people to learn life skills.
At the school where I was teaching just before being elected, every year group would have one or two days completely off-timetable once a year. They would be taken to a different part of the school and they would rotate around workshops. They would get talks and practical workshops on first aid, and people—professionals and victims—would come in to talk about recovery from alcohol and addiction. Those are ways to focus on areas that headteachers and communities are concerned about.
We have all seen reports on television and in newspapers of all the things that people—with great justification—expect young people to be taught at school, such as internet safety, sexual health, relationship education, financial education, careers education with work and CV skills, road safety, self-awareness, positive thinking, mindfulness, gambling awareness, awareness of eating disorders, how to cultivate good mental health, cyber-bullying, strategies for coping with bullies, resilience, leadership, healthy nutrition, the importance of sleep, good study habits, and even scepticism. I could go on for about half an hour, but I will not—I think I have made my point. Nobody here would say that any of those topics is not important. They are all important, and they are all considered essential in the PSHE curriculum, but they cannot all be accommodated unless young people have a PSHE lesson every single day. As far as I am aware, no school does that.
Even if a school wanted to formally timetable PSHE every single day, what would it remove from the curriculum to do that? I suggest that we need to think of PSHE as the thread running through our entire curriculum. As an English teacher, I had the privilege of exploring important life lessons through literature, such as the importance of family and friendship; the drive for revenge; the need for reflection; the courage to battle through diversity; the importance of standing up for our beliefs, even if that sometimes means standing alone; and the power of forgiveness—all sorts of things. As an English teacher, I was in a privileged position. Other subject teachers might not have such a rich tapestry to work with, but all school staff, not just teaching staff, have an opportunity to teach by example the most basic life lessons and requirements, such as kindness, self-respect and an awareness of the needs and difficulties of others. We must not be tempted to confine those lessons to PSHE in a way that is neither sustainable nor desirable.
We are all PSHE teachers—especially parents. As the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead said, schools and homes work best when they work together, and as the hon. Member for Rotherham said, it is the job of schools and parents to reinforce positive messages and positive behaviour. I accept that that is a challenge for parents, who are raising children in a world that has changed so much since they were children. As the hon. Ladies pointed out, the world is changing rapidly and because of that, school and home need to work all the more closely together.
PSHE deserves its place in the curriculum as somewhere for the proper discussion and exploration of all sorts of important developmental and personal growth issues. However, to be completely honest, our entire curriculum is PSHE whether we are in a maths, English or PSHE classroom. It is not separate. It is wound into the very fabric of all the life lessons and academic lessons we want our young people to learn to live successful and happy lives.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) not only for eloquently introducing this debate but for all her tireless work in trying to legislate for compulsory emergency first aid education. I also thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have made valuable contributions to this debate, not just today but for a number of years—long before I became involved.
Despite being late to the debate, I was proud to lead the push from the Opposition Front Bench with my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for the Children and Social Work Act 2017 to include statutory personal health, social and economic education, including relationship and sex education. From debates in Committee and on Report, we ended up with a broad cross-party consensus—something that is rarely seen in the House, although it is reflected in this Chamber. It was also reflected in the proposals of the then Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), to make elements of PSHE mandatory in all schools and to make the new subjects—relationships education and relationships and sex education—mandatory at primary and secondary level respectively.
Hon. Members’ wide-ranging contributions are testament to the breadth and scope of PSHE. They will be pleased to know that I will not focus on or rehash the pertinent points already made in this debate. As we all know, the Department’s consultation is due to close on 12 February. The intention is to teach the new sex and relationships education curriculum from September 2019, but no date has been given for the roll-out of statutory PSHE, nor has any commitment been given that PSHE will include SRE.
As hon. Members have highlighted, the introduction of statutory PSHE is backed by a plethora of organisations. When it is taught well, children enjoy the lessons and it is effective in helping them to lead healthier lives, both mentally and physically. It builds resilience and gives them a better understanding of the world around them. It helps them to develop empathy skills, work with others, communicate, think critically, cope with setbacks and keep themselves and others safe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) outlined.
The Government’s commitments were made under a different Secretary of State. The new Secretary of State was chair of the all-party group on social mobility when it published a report that challenged the Government to recognise in their educational policy that
“social/emotional ‘skills’ underpin academic and other success—and can be taught”.
Is he willing to rise to his own challenge, or has his thinking changed?
Will the Minister advise us whether the Department has any dates at all in mind for implementing regulations for the roll-out of statutory PSHE? I understand that he may find that difficult, because for PSHE to be taught effectively, the Government must address the hash they have made of our education system more widely. Giving teachers and schools more to do when they are struggling with depleted budgets, ongoing recruitment and retention will not necessarily yield the right results.
Just last week, we found out that Ministers had missed their own teacher recruitment targets for five years in a row. There are 10,000 fewer secondary school teachers than needed, and nearly 35,000 teachers left the profession in 2016. Last year, 500 headteachers wrote to the Prime Minister to ask her to reverse £3 billion of cuts. Local schools are sending begging letters to parents for essentials such as paper and glue. Schools are facing cuts for the first time in 20 years. If the Minister is going to tell us—I hope he is—that the Government remain committed to statutory PSHE, will he also tell us how they intend to fix the education system that they have broken, to equip it for any statutory roll-out of SRE or PSHE?
Teachers tell me that PSHE is seen as an add-on, typically taught for an hour every fortnight by someone whose job it is not, or by an outside agency brought in to tick the box. What they tell me is backed up by evidence from the Department for Education’s own data, which shows that time spent teaching PSHE fell by 32% between 2011 and 2015. They also tell me that what statutory SRE and PSHE need is specialist teachers, that it needs to be part of the overall teacher training programme, and that any qualified teachers whose role will include teaching it need to be appropriately equipped and resourced—a view shared by the National Education Union. Will the Minister tell us what budget the Department has set aside for that?
If you will permit me, Mr Robertson, I would like to use my final few minutes to speak about what I see as absolutely the most valuable part of PSHE: sex and relationships education. I echo the powerful points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham about the subject. From my former career as a child protection social worker, the details are etched on my brain—I wish they were not—of every single child I ever worked with who suffered sexual abuse. I remember working with children who had been abused and teaching them about their personal areas—the areas that no one has a right to touch. I taught them what to do if someone did—if it happened at home or at school, if the perpetrator was an adult or if they were harmed by another child. Not a single child I worked with had ever been taught that in school or by their parents. Many of the dedicated teachers I met along the way asked me for my materials so that they could replicate that learning in their classrooms.
Time and again I have heard the argument made that it should be up to parents to take responsibility for teaching their children issues covered in SRE and PSHE, but the fact is that not all parents and carers feel able to. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), whose musical tastes we now know a little more about, pointed out that parents and carers cannot be with their children 24/7. As in all school subjects, the best results are achieved by parents and school working together, where what is taught at school is reciprocated at home and vice versa—a point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead, and for Rotherham.
I have been out of child protection practice for four years now, but things have certainly not changed. A recent Sex Education Forum survey found that 50% of young people were not taught at primary school how to get help if they experienced unwanted touching or sexual abuse. I am not saying for one second that child sexual abuse would be eradicated if such teaching were introduced, but I am sure that some of the children I worked with might have been able to tell someone sooner, stopping the abuse from being repeated. The teenagers I worked with might have been able to spot the signs of grooming or the fact that one of their friends was at risk.
I know acutely the heartache and scars that sexual abuse can leave. Even if introducing PSHE with SRE stops that from happening to just one child, it will be totally worth it. That is the reality of our debate, above anything else. We need this provision now, not in 2019 or at some other date, and not rolled out piecemeal. Viewing the matter in that context should make the new Secretary of State treat the failure to provide statutory PSHE, including SRE, with the urgency that it deserves. I sincerely hope that the Minister will answer all my questions and those of other hon. Members, and that he will confirm that the Government are ready to show some leadership in developing this long-awaited and vital part of our children’s curriculum.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this debate and on her powerful speech.
The teaching of high-quality personal, social, health and economic education is a very important issue, and I welcome the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on it. We believe that the education system must prepare all pupils for life in modern Britain. Schools have a key role to play in developing rounded young people who can navigate the challenges of the modern world with confidence. They should teach pupils a foundation of knowledge to use and apply in a variety of contexts, allowing them to thrive and develop and preparing them to become fully engaged citizens and contributors to society.
The context of this debate is that standards in our primary and secondary schools are rising. Some 1.9 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools today than in 2010. The attainment gap between children from poorer and wealthier backgrounds has closed by 10% since 2011. The proportion of pupils taking at least two science GCSEs has risen from 63% in 2010 to 91%. Children’s reading is improving. I agree with one point made by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson): reading literature introduces children to a range of emotional and life experiences.
We also know that high-quality PSHE and age-appropriate relationships and sex education are important in contributing to keeping pupils safe and healthy. Technological advances have brought great opportunities, but young people today also face unprecedented pressures as they navigate the digital world. Effectively planned PSHE programmes can provide young people with the necessary knowledge to manage risk and build understanding of dangers such as drug and alcohol misuse and cyber-bullying, as well as supporting them to enhance their own wellbeing. Schools are encouraged to deliver PSHE as an integral part of their duty to provide a broad and balanced curriculum. Many schools already use their curriculum and school day to support pupil wellbeing, for example through their PSHE curriculum and through a range of extracurricular activities.
We know that these subjects are important, but they also need improving, which is why we have committed to a programme of reform. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 requires the Secretary of State for Education to place a statutory duty on all primary schools to teach relationships education and on all secondary schools to teach relationships and sex education, or RSE. The Act also gave the Government the power to make PSHE a compulsory subject to be taught in all state-funded schools, subject to further careful consideration.
As part of our reforms, in March 2017 we set out in our policy statement key areas that we anticipate that relationships education, and relationships and sex education will focus on, for example, teaching pupils about different types of relationships, and about unhealthy and healthy relationships, both on and offline. That is likely to include consideration of issues such as boundaries, appropriate behaviour, consent and respect for others, which were powerfully raised by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). She is right about protecting young children, and I agree that relationships education at primary school should equip pupils with age-appropriate knowledge, so that they can keep themselves safe.
Teaching about friendships and family relationships in primary school forms the building blocks for RSE in secondary school. Pupils should understand their own and others’ relationships, as well as the impact that relationships have on mental health and wellbeing. This knowledge will support pupils in making informed decisions.
As part of our reforms, we are also working closely with experts to determine what PSHE should look like in the context of statutory relationships education and RSE, and we will consider age-appropriate content and guidance. PSHE is currently a non-statutory programme in maintained schools. Schools are encouraged to teach PSHE, and this is outlined in the introduction to the national curriculum framework document, which was published in 2013. PSHE can encompass many areas of study, and in considering whether it should be made compulsory, it is important to balance the need for schools to have freedom and flexibility to tailor their local PSHE programme to reflect the needs of their pupils.
As set out in the policy statement, we could expect mandatory PSHE to cover several broad pillars, for example healthy bodies and lifestyles, including issues such as cancer, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). PSHE could also include issues such as keeping safe, puberty, drugs and alcohol education, healthy minds, including emotional wellbeing and mental health, economic wellbeing and financial capability, and, lastly, careers education, preparation for the workplace and making a positive contribution to society.
Many schools already teach PSHE well, and we want to understand how they do that in a way that complements their broader curriculum. In some primary and secondary schools, sex education is also taught as part of PSHE. The teacher voice omnibus survey report, published in October last year, explored schools’ approaches to PSHE and SRE. The vast majority of senior teachers—85%—said that their school taught both PSHE and SRE. Most of the others—8%—said that they taught PSHE only.
Schools are free to use PSHE to build, where appropriate, on the statutory content already outlined in the national curriculum, the basic school curriculum and in statutory guidance on areas such as drug education, financial education, SRE, and the importance of physical activity and diet for a healthy lifestyle. Teachers have the freedom to address the areas that are most relevant to their pupils, drawing on evidence, good practice and advice from professional organisations. We encourage organisations to develop materials for schools in their area of expertise.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire and others, including the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead and my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), raised the issue of first aid. There is nothing more important than keeping children and staff safe, which is why we have put in place a duty requiring schools to support all children’s medical needs, and we have set up a scheme so that schools can buy defibrillators at a reduced price. Schools can teach emergency first aid and life-saving skills in a variety of ways, for example through the wider curriculum, through assemblies or through PSHE, and we have given headteachers more freedom than ever before to shape the curriculum to the needs of their pupils.
I will not give way to the hon. Lady, if she does not mind; I want to cover other people’s contributions.
We also encourage teachers to draw upon high-quality resources in the classroom, including guidance on first aid and emergencies from the British Red Cross, St John Ambulance and the British Heart Foundation. The British Heart Foundation provides free teaching kits to secondary schools on CPR. The kits are reusable and no trained instructor is required. Similarly, St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross provide free resources to schools on first aid, and they can also provide specialist trainers to teach first aid in schools.
In the last few years, there have been calls from many organisations, including parent bodies, to make PSHE a compulsory subject, and those calls have been echoed in reports from Committees in the House. We have made it clear that we want to provide all young people with a curriculum that ensures they are prepared for adult life in modern Britain. Good schools establish an ethos, a behaviour policy and a curriculum that teach children about the importance of healthy, respectful and caring relationships. They recognise that healthy, resilient and confident pupils are better placed to achieve academically and to go on to be successful adults.
An Ofsted report in 2013 concluded that PSHE was good or better in 60% of the schools inspected for the report. However, as the hon. Member for Rotherham said in her contribution, PSHE required improvement or was inadequate in the other 40%. The report also found that sex and relationship education required improvement in over a third of schools.
I am committed to ensuring that our programme of reform is underpinned by evidence. That is why we are currently conducting a thorough engagement process on the scope and content of relationships education, relationships and sex education, and PSHE, involving a wide range of interested stakeholders. The Department is engaging with schools and teachers, parents and pupils, experts in safeguarding and child wellbeing—
I will not give way to the hon. Lady; I have literally one minute left.
The Department is also engaging with subject experts, voluntary organisations and other interested parties, including other Departments and public sector bodies. There are too many to list, but examples include the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Barnardo’s, the PSHE Association, the Sex Education Forum, faith organisations, secular groups, Stonewall, the Terrence Higgins Trust, Young Enterprise, parent bodies, teaching unions, academics in this field and young people.
To ensure that we retain a focus on what is deliverable in schools, the Secretary of State has asked Ian Bauckham to advise on this piece of work. Ian is chief executive officer of the Tenax Schools Trust and executive headteacher of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Kent. He brings over 30 years of teaching experience, including 13 as a headteacher, to this piece of work. He is working with officials to ensure that we really understand how to support schools in delivering high-quality provision.
As the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead knows, to complement the engagement process, the Department is running a call for evidence, which closes on 12 February. It aims to gather views from as wide a range of bodies as possible. The responses so far to that call have been very encouraging, including from a large number of young people and parents. In the next steps, we will consider carefully those responses and other views collected through the engagement process, to determine sensitive and age-appropriate content, including the future status of PSHE, which I know Members here are awaiting patiently. We are also aware that there is a huge interest in this matter in all parts of this House. To answer the question of the hon. Member for South Shields—she has been bursting to ask it again—the regulations and guidance will be subject to a full public consultation later this year.
The commitment we have made to making relationships education and RSE compulsory in all schools, and to considering the case for doing the same for PSHE, will further ensure that pupils’ wellbeing continues to be supported in our schools. I hope that reassures hon. Members of the Government’s commitment to this vital agenda for children and young people.
I thank everybody who has taken part today; this is a very important subject. I was a little concerned to hear the Minister talk about first aid in schools and only mention defibrillators. Defibrillators are very important, but first aid in school covers all sorts of things. A defibrillator will not help if somebody is having an epileptic attack. All sorts of first aid needs to be taught, not just defibrillation. The Minister also said that these things “can” be taught; I would have preferred him to say they “should” be taught.
I will finish with a quotation about the purpose of education:
“Education is the engine of our economy, it is the foundation of our culture, and it’s an essential preparation for adult life. Delivering on our commitment to social justice requires us to place these 3 objectives at the heart of our education system.”
That quote is from the Minister himself, in a speech he gave in 2015. I agree with him, and it is about time that we did that. We have all considered the importance of statutory PSHE and I look forward to seeing the results of the consultation.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of statutory personal, health, social and economic education.