News Digest 30 January - 3 February

This week in Parliament, Justine Greening made promising statements on the importance of a broad PSHE curriculum and PSHE and SRE were discussed as part of a debate on the Digital Economy Bill in the House of Lords. Barnardo’s released shocking data on growing peer-to-peer sexual abuse.

Justine Greening stresses importance of PSHE
On February 2nd Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities, gave a number of significant answers in Parliament on PSHE and SRE. The Education Secretary indicated that the Government  is taking the need to improve provision seriously and reiterated that DfE will provide an update on further steps at the report stage of the Children and Social Work Bill, most likely late February.

Ms Greening stressed the breadth of the subject and linked PSHE strongly with learning about rights and responsibilities and improving live chances as well as meeting the needs of British business, while stressing the importance of listening to children and young people who say their PSHE and SRE is not good enough:

  • Asked about PSHE education’s role in promoting equality the Education Secretary responded that: “We want schools to put high-quality PSHE at the heart of their curriculum, ensuring that all young people are prepared for life in modern Britain. Effective PSHE not only helps provide pupils with key life skills, but gives them the knowledge to understand their rights and responsibilities to respect individual differences and to challenge prejudice and discrimination”
  • On PSHE education’s role in boosting social mobility and productivity, Ms Greening said:“We know that strong PSHE can make the biggest difference to young people growing up in more disadvantaged communities. It is important not only that we have healthy, resilient and confident pupils coming out of our education system who are better placed to do well academically, but that we improve our non-academic outcomes, as that is also hugely valued by employers” and that “. . . PSHE can really help students develop their teamwork, communications skills and resilience—precisely the sorts of things that British business wants”.
  • On the question of whether the Department would support current efforts to strengthen SRE as part of the Children and Social Work Bill, Ms Greening stressed the need to consider the breadth of the subject:“. . .  it is right to ensure that the next steps we take are the right ones, and that they can move this forward for the long term. We need to ensure that the young people in our education system today leave school with not only the relationships education but the broader life skills they need to lead successful lives." 
  • Asked by Philip Davies about parents’ role in deciding what’s appropriate to teach, Ms Greening responded that she agreed but stressed the importance children and young people’s voices: “I strongly agree that parents' involvement in ensuring that what children are taught at school is acceptable to them and appropriate is vital. However, the most important voices that now need to be listened to are those of young people and children, who say that they do not feel that they are getting the necessary level of education in this area and want a more up-to-date approach to enable them to deal with the world in which they are growing up.”

Statutory sex and relationship education debated in parliament
On January 31st, Diana Johnson MP pleaded for statutory status for sex and relationship in parliament. In the conclusion of her introductory speech she asked the Minister of Education: “Does she support making age-appropriate SRE—or, even better, the more encompassing PSHE—a statutory requirement in all academies, free schools, primary schools, and new grammar schools?”

Caroline Dinenage, speaking on behalf of the Government, said that “The Government are fully committed to exploring all the options to improve the delivery of sex and relationships education and PSHE” and that they are actively considering calls to update the guidance on SRE, which was issued back in 2000”. She concluded the debate by saying that her “hon. Friend the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families has committed to update Parliament further during the passage of the Children and Social Work Bill.”

Digital Economy Bill
On February 2nd, the Digital Economy Bill was debated in the House of Lords. Baroness Jones of Whitchurch begged to move amendment 71, which asks to include internet pornography as part of sex and relationships education.

Though many peers were in favour of the amendment, it was ultimately withdrawn after Lord Ashton of Hyde, speaking on behalf of the Government, assured the House that the Government is taking the matter of statutory PSHE and SRE seriously. He reiterated the Government’s intention to come with an update on the matter in the next stage of the Children and Social Work Bill.

Written questions on PSHE and SRE

  • Lord Northbourne asked the Government whether it is their policy to ensure that all boys are aware of the responsibilities of parenthood by the time they leave school. Lord Nash answered that all children have the opportunity to learn about responsible parenthood in the non-statutory subject PSHE.
  • Peter Kyle MP asked whether SRE will be introduced to tackle homophobic bullying. Caroline Dinenage MP answered that the Government is currently considering how to improve the delivery of SRE.

Barnardo’s stats suggest significant rise in child-on-child sexual offences
On February 3rd, Barnardo’s released new police figures that reveal a 78% rise in reports of child-on-child sexual offences between 2013 and 2016. The figures, acquired by Barnardo’s under Freedom of Information rules, caused the charity to strengthen calls for SRE in order to tackle the growing problem of peer abuse.

Javed Khan, Barnardo’s chief executive said: “An estimated third of sexual abuse is carried out by children. Rehabilitating children so they don't go on to harm others is vital to preventing further sexual abuse. High quality age appropriate mandatory SRE lessons would help children recognise what a healthy relationship should look like.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Child Protection and Chief Constable of Norfolk police, Simon Bailey said: “These figures highlight the importance of building resilience in young people and educating them about sexual relationships. This can’t be left to chance.”

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