Children, Schools and Families Bill

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Director and CEO of the Catholic Education Service, Oona Stannard gives Oral evidence at the Public Bill Committee, Children, Schools and Families Bill.

Recorded by Hansard. Thursday 21 January 2010 (Afternoon)

[Janet Anderson in the Chair]

Children, Schools and Families Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House

1 pm

The Committee deliberated in private.

1.9 pm

On resuming—

The Chairman: I welcome everyone to this Committee session on the Children, Schools and Families Bill. May I remind hon. Members and witnesses that we are bound by the deadline agreed to on Tuesday? That means that this part of the evidence session must end at 2.30 pm. I hope that I do not have to interrupt hon. Members and witnesses in the middle of their sentences, but I warn you that I will do so if need be, as it is important that we stick to the time and ensure that everyone who wants to has an opportunity to contribute.

We will now hear evidence from the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group, the Personal, Sexual, Health Education Association, the Church of England, the Catholic Education Service and the Campaign Against Premature and Inappropriate Sex and Relationship Education in Schools.

Welcome to our meeting this afternoon. Would you please introduce yourselves to the Committee?

Oona Stannard: I am Oona Stannard, chief executive of the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales and a former HMI.

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: I am Jan Ainsworth, chief education officer for the Archbishops’ Council’s education division and general secretary of the National Society.

Jan Campbell: I am Jan Campbell, and I chair the board of trustees of the PSHE Association. I am a former teacher and adviser.

M. Shahanur A. Khan: My name is Shahanur Khan, chairperson of the Campaign Against Premature and Inappropriate Sex and Relationship Education in Schools. I am a parent, school governor and tutor.

Gill Frances: I am Gill Frances, chair of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group.

The Chairman: I believe that Tim Loughton would like to put the first question.

Q173. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I think that everyone will agree that the standard of sex education in this country, in whatever environment, leaves a lot to be desired. We had a headmaster this morning who said that he thinks that everything in PSHE, including sex education, could be better taught as a cross-cutting subject in the various other subjects that are already on the curriculum, rather than making it a statutory curriculum subject. Do you think that that is right? Why are schools not already teaching the elements of PSHE? Why would they not want to have good, standard elements of PSHE, regardless of whether it becomes a curriculum subject? Surely it is in the interests of all their pupils to be well versed in the whole healthy living agenda, or whatever you want to call it?

Jan Campbell: To take your last statement on why should everyone not do it, I would say that everyone should. Why, then, are they not? There is a variety of reasons. It may be that its non-statutory status can be a get-out clause when there are so many other pressures and priorities on head teachers. However, where they grasp the importance of a subject, it is hugely appreciated. I heard one head teacher of a successful secondary school comment recently that PSHE education enables young people to develop the knowledge and skills that help them to tackle issues that might otherwise get in the way of their learning, and I think that that was quite powerful.

Q174. Tim Loughton: Why should it be done in isolation, rather than how it is being done now, but better?

Jan Campbell: Your argument is whether it should be taught across the curriculum or as a discrete subject—

Q175. Tim Loughton: You mentioned the point that that is not the case perhaps because of all the pressure on the curriculum. We are adding yet another pressure on the curriculum, and something will have to give, will it not?

Jan Campbell: I do not think we are, because most schools are already delivering some discrete PSHE education. What we are doing is hopefully encouraging better quality by giving it the status and ensuring that the teachers who deliver it are well trained and supported.

To return to your first point about whether it should be taught across the curriculum or as a discrete subject, I do not think it is either/or, but both. There is evidence that where it is only taught across the curriculum, it can disappear. It is difficult and complex for teachers always to teach to two sets of learning objectives and ensure that neither suffers. If you are trying to teach an aspect of relationships in, for example, an English lesson, through exploring relationships in some literature, you will be exploring the literature, the approach through writing and the way that the writer is portraying those relationships. Moving from that to the point where young people reflect on their own relationship skills and how they can apply what they have learnt and develop the skills that they can put into place in friendships, families, communities and workplaces is a more complex thing, and often gets missed out.

Gill Frances: There is also another issue. If you had something like maths being taught across curricula, you would have people who are not experts in maths. What is incredibly important with PSHE is that we need to build a body of specialist teachers who are able to deliver on it. We want all teachers to be able to do the basics, but being able to deliver a good PSHE lesson is like any other subject—you need to be trained to do it.

Q176. Tim Loughton: Could that happen in extended school time rather than in curriculum time?

Gill Frances: Not everybody is part of extended school. We are saying that this is core. We are talking about children and young people having the right to have life skills. We are talking about parents, professionals, children and young people—we have this huge consensus that children should have life skills for life as they are living it now, in preparation for the lives that they lead as young adults and adults. That is crucial. It would be so easy to lose it in extended school time, in extra cross-curricular things. If it is important enough, let’s have it as a core subject, ensuring that every child in the classroom has the opportunity to learn those essential life skills.

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: May I make two other points? One is that different schools will adopt different curriculum solutions. If it is compulsory, it will mean that they have to put it into the mix at the start. The new secondary curriculum enables secondary schools, at any rate, to look again at how they are delivering their statutory obligations. That may still reflect the traditional subject-based curriculum; however, in a number of cases, particularly in relation to aspects of the humanities curriculum, it may take a more integrated approach. There is ample scope for some of the aspects that fall under the PSHE education umbrella to be delivered in that way.

That brings me to the point that PSHE education is a bit of a portmanteau. You have a number of separate areas of work that you are expecting children and young people to engage with, and they do not always sit particularly naturally together with each other.

The final point, which relates much more to our closer concern, is that this particular area—well-being, and sex and relationships education—is treading on areas that are still controversial. Teaching controversial value issues in schools, whenever they arise, is a complex and demanding task. That is why we are entirely supportive of better training, better resources, better equipping of teachers.

One of our core concerns, obviously, is religious education. There is an automatic cross-over in a number of areas in PSHE. For instance, the guidance on sex and relationships says that you need to be conscious and respectful of the faith and belief background of your parental communities and make sure that that is reflected. But that is very difficult, because you may find yourself as a teacher saying, “But there is a conflict here. I know what the community wants me to teach, but I know what I think and what guidance says good PSHE is.” There is a huge area where staff and governors need support.

Oona Stannard: I agree with everything that has been said so far. It can be built on a notion of entitlement—that is entitlement to staff for their professional development and an entitlement for pupils—but we must bear in mind the caveats about the governors’ responsibility for policy and for the particular character of the school.

There is another factor if it is to be built formally into the curriculum. That is the added benefits for parents—the rigour, the statements made about it, and the rights of parents far more overtly to engage in consultation about what is happening, seeing resources and being advised of what is happening. It enhances the role of parents, when it’s done well, if it has that formal place.

M. Shahanur A. Khan: Education is important. It can play an important role in society at large. We are not against education. There are many areas where the Government can help our children to achieve their very best in science, English and maths. If PSHE becomes compulsory it could put a lot of work on to our teachers. That could have an effect on our children’s education in other subjects in the main curriculum, which will develop their quality of life, their employment and so on. It should be the parents’ responsibility to give the right education at the right time to their children.

Under British law children are allowed to be taught according to their parents’ wishes. Under article 2 of the first protocol of the European convention on human rights, education must be given in accordance with parents’ “religious and philosophical convictions”. Ordinary parents are very naive. They do not have a clue. They do not have authority. As far as we who live in Tower Hamlets are concerned, people do not have a way to find out the right way.

We believe that the Government should empower parents, governors and our religious scholars to help our innocent young children from the age of five. Young children from the age of five should not receive the kind of education that will mislead them, encourage them to explore sexual activities and even make them immoral. That could be a problem for society in the future as sexual crime could be enhanced. Community cohesion could be hampered. We respect religious values and, clearly major religions say that, outside marriage, relationships are strongly prohibited. If we have good, nice family circumstances and make our family life stable, lively, nice and are helped by the Government, I hope that most of the problems will be reduced.

Q177. Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): During my time as Public Health Minister, I had the opportunity to meet lots of parents from different communities and different religious backgrounds and, most of the time, whoever I was speaking to and whatever their religious background, their concern as parents about drugs, alcohol and sexual relations was common. What Oona Stannard said about opportunities to engage parents was positive.

Currently, the Bill does not provide for the Secretary of State to set attainment targets or assess PSHE. Given what we all must agree is a rather patchy delivery on all aspects of the area, do you think that, in making this a statutory part of the curriculum, there is enough to improve delivery and outputs? Do you think that it is right that there should not be attainment targets or assessments?

Oona Stannard: I freely admit that I am answering on the basis of my previous experience as an HMI when I saw very good PSHE education taking place. When that was the case, it was not hampered by the lack of attainment targets. It was well evidenced in portfolios of work and other processes that took place to assess young people’s level of knowledge and understanding, their engagement and reflection. There is still plenty of scope in the flexibility of not having attainment targets, and that can be evidenced by thematic inspections and all sorts of methods that can look into such matters. I do not see it as a negative.

Jan Campbell: There is a difference between assessment and testing. Most of us are in favour of more rigorous and more effective methods of assessing the progress of pupils, and tracking progress. It is very important that teachers can track the progress of children so that both teachers and the children themselves know that they are learning and getting better at this important part of the curriculum. Lots of work needs to be done on doing that in the most appropriate way for the subject and in the most helpful way to children, young people, teachers and their parents. Lots of work is being done at the moment. Some development work is being carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency on the assessing pupil progress project. Although there are no attainment targets—there is not an eight-level scale—there are some end-of-key-stage statements, which help to give a national standard against which teachers can make judgments. Most of all, however, we are encouraging teachers and young people to be able to articulate what they have learnt, so that they can describe progress and achievements and find good ways of doing that.

Gill Frances: There is a stage just before that in which it is really important to involve children, young people and their families in what is going to be taught and how it is going to be taught. So, you then start right from the beginning, as a partnership, and you have processes, in which the children and young people are telling you, through a whole range of activities, about what they think that they are learning, what they think they ought to be learning and why, and what they have learnt. So, it does start before that, and it is really important that children, young people and parents should be involved in working that out in the first place: what is going to be taught and how it is going to be taught—the how being extremely important, especially when talking about various aspects of sex education when you would want to be delivering it in a moral framework.

M. Shahanur A. Khan: I would like to say that, again, it is mainly dependent on the parents. Children are under a lot of pressure with subject attainment and progress assessment, but they go through a lot of stages. Young children must have some clear understanding of society, but their psychological and emotional development has to be taken into account. If the Government put a lot of pressure on children when their learning—especially at the age of five, six or seven—is most likely to be play-based, that could be reflected in their educational achievement in the wrong way. They might have to bear or feel too much, too soon. That could happen. So, the Government should be careful about that, and consider how they can handle matters in a light way to get good achievement while clearly addressing the parents’ concerns, views, understanding and religious beliefs. Otherwise educational performance, in some way and in some part, could be hampered. Thank you.

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: You have to be really careful how you frame things. I have been listening to this. We do not have a specific position, but you do not engage in anything in education, schools or lessons without having some sense of where you are going with it and what you want to come out of it for pupils. Sharing that and devising that with pupils is good practice. You are then ensuring that they are committed to what they are doing and engaged with it. Clearly, much of the content that is expected to be delivered through PSHE engages young people in particular very acutely, because it directly relates to how they live their lives and the kinds of choices that they are going to make. That is clearly one of its aims—to enable them to make better choices.

The downside is that if that becomes too formalised—the attainment targets and so on—will we be moving into prescribing? We have a view about what we mean by “well-being”, so will we test all children on how strong their well-being is? That takes you into quite difficult territory. It is almost the same with drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Are we expecting them all to come to the right view in the end? They will know what the right answer is, regardless of what they do in their own lives. There are some very tricky issues to weigh up in looking at that, but the notion of explaining what it is you are aiming for and what it is you want pupils to achieve and experience is wholly good.

Q178. Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Do you think that the Bill gives the state too much power to impose its values on parents, and does not leave sufficient room and respect for the values that parents themselves may think appropriate for their children?

Gill Frances: No, I do not. The Bill provides a list of topic areas. The principles underpin the topic areas. There is a safety net within which schools will be expected to work with pupils and their parents and their community—to work at how they are going to do that, what methods they are going to use to educate children about that list of topics, and also how the moral framework will be developed. I think it is absolutely crucial that a school would want to teach within the values or the moral framework that they are already using for the rest of their curriculum, which they have already agreed with parents. It seems absolutely fundamental. That would be promoting equality, accepting and working with diversity, and making sure that the information is accurate, balanced and age appropriate. Those underpinning values are crucial. They are almost more important than the list of topics.

Q179. Mr. Stuart: I assume Mr. Khan probably does not agree with you.

M. Shahanur A. Khan: We believe the Government are putting more pressure on the parents. Previously it was down to the parents, and the parents could withdraw their children up to the age of 19, but now it is reduced to 15 years. But we are all aware the consent age is 16 years and the children are going to be adult at age 18. Previously, under UK law and the convention, parents’ views, opinions, consent and their values and identity were preferred. I think the parents have a right to exercise their duty, because their duty is to help the children to achieve. They are the future of this country. They are the good citizens of this country. If you do not give the parents much room, and tell them, “If your child does something wrong, or if your child does not go to school, I will prosecute you”, where is my right? Where is my culture, my identity and my belief? Everything that is good for society, we can exercise; but if you do not allow that, obviously, it is trimming away the right of parents.

Q180. Mr. Stuart: I agree with you, Mr. Khan. Perhaps I can turn to Jan. Do you believe that home education acts as a safety valve for parents who find that the values taught in schools are not acceptable to them? There a lot of other reasons why people would home-educate, but many people worry that the provisions in the Bill are there to stop the one area where parents can take their children out and ensure they get the values that they want them to have. They worry that they are going to bring in national monitoring—effectively, licensing—of parents in their own homes teaching their own children, and that this is a back-door way to state control and state imposition of values, no matter where you go with your child. I wonder if any of you share that view, particularly, Jan, as I know that the Church of England Education Division submission to the Badman report concluded:

“We have seen no evidence to show that the majority of home educated children do not achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes, and are therefore not convinced of the need to change the current system of monitoring the standard of home education.”

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: Let us go back to sex and relationships, which is where you started, and whether the Bill gives enough protection to parental views. We are content with the way the Bill is drafted, particularly in the light of the framing principles against which PSHE ought to be devised in any school, which is to take account of the appropriate age of the pupils and of their religious and cultural backgrounds. As I have seen successive drafts of the guidance on sex and relationships education, I think there has been a very determined effort to make that real, to enable guidance to be given to schools, to help them to have precisely that conversation with parents, to work out together how sex education and other controversial issues will be dealt with within the school. I think it is the duty of the state to have some notion of what the entitlement of every child should be, and that clearly will be enshrined in law and in what schools have to provide.

As you say, there is recourse if parents do not find that their beliefs and their way of life are sufficiently reflected within the state-maintained sector, with all its variety, including a variety of faith-based schools within that sector. They have recourse to remove their children and to educate them at home. You have quoted our response to the Badman report. It is for Government to do what they want to do in relation to the report that they heard and the view they take on that.

Q181. Mr. Stuart: Can I press you on that? The difficulty is that the Badman report was used as the basis for the monitoring proposals, which the Church says it opposes. Not only did you not agree with the report’s conclusions, you felt disappointed by the impression left by the selective use of your submissions; you actually felt manipulated. You concluded, as did I, that the Badman report reached what appeared to be a predetermined outcome. In other words, it did not properly assess the evidence but decided before it started that it would conclude in favour of greater state interference and greater monitoring. Do you have any comment to make on that?

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: We were certainly very clear that only one section of our evidence, which tried to take a broad-based view and look at a range of issues, was actually quoted. I understand that there has been a subsequent scrutiny of the review and how the report was put together, and I am clear that however the Badman conclusions were reached, it is believed that there was good reason for those conclusions.

From our perspective, we recognise that parents who home educate are very alarmed by the level of scrutiny that they feel the report contains. Although we would not support a heavy-handed regime, there is room for some more regulation and scrutiny without taking away from parents’ right to educate their children themselves.

Q182. Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I would like to probe whether people think that age 15 is a little late for sex and relationship education, in terms of pupils potentially missing out on vital education at the right stage of their development.

Gill Frances: The first thing is that we at TPIA are, to be frank, not too worried about the right of withdrawal, because so few children are withdrawn from sex and relationship education. It is a tiny, tiny percentage. We know from all the evidence and from schools reporting back to us that even when parents are concerned, generally speaking, when the parents talk it through with the school and the school tells them what will be included, most parents turn around and say, “Oh, brilliant. That’s absolutely fine. I’m happy about that.”

Interestingly, over the last few months, I have had three reports from schools that parents who were concerned about SRE being taught in primary schools but then said okay have had their child come to them and say, because they have the right language, that they are in trouble and that somebody in their family or wider friendship circle is approaching them in an abusive fashion. The parents have been incredibly pleased that their children could do that. One mother said to me, “Thank God. If it had been up to me, I wouldn’t have been able to talk to him about these things, and my little boy wouldn’t have been able to tell me what was happening.” In terms of safeguarding, it is incredibly important that it is early.

To come back to your question, it seems to me that keeping the status quo of up to 19 does not make sense when having sex is legal at 16. It is incredibly important that there seems to be a consensus on 15, and that most of the interested parties and stakeholders have said, “Fine, we’ll go with 15.” To be honest, I am not particularly concerned about it, because I think that the vast majority of parents will not withdraw their children. It is a bit of a red herring for me.

Oona Stannard: The possibility of not being able to withdraw a child after 15 has been a challenge to me. There are certainly people in my community who would wish it to stay until the end of schooling. I feel that the role of parents is paramount in all this. It is parents who educate children, not Governments.

We live in a society that, sadly, has surrounded our young people with sexual images in the media and advertising, and you only need to turn the television on. I feel sorry for young people because that so often gives them the impression that it would be unusual not to be sexually active. Actually, it is the other way round, which is the reality for the majority of young people who are not sexually active at a young age.

Therefore, my willingness to proceed with this reduction in age is predicated on weighing up all the factors, and thinking that if schools have all the support needed, if teachers have an entitlement to be qualified adequately to deal with PSHE education, if parents are consulted, and if all the things are put in place to make that a good area of the curriculum, it should help to be a counter-cultural balance to the messages that young people are getting, and give them a better understanding of the reality of life. Hopefully, it will be so good that when parents come to ask questions or view what is going to be offered to their young people—bear in mind, I repeat, that it will be in keeping with the character or nature of the school, and the governor’s policy—they will say, as they generally do, “Oh yes. I want my child to be involved in this.” As we have heard, levels of withdrawal from PSHE education and sex and relationships education are minuscule.

M. Shahanur A. Khan: Although the amount of withdrawal is very little, we have had a lot of consultation with local parents and there is a lack of communication and information. They have not got clear information about what is happening in a school in that context, and when. That is one reason why parents have no idea at what time their children can be withdrawn.

Returning to the consultation, there is a significant percentage that says, “No”. On things being compulsory from age five, what happens when the children reach puberty in terms of their beliefs and those of their parents? Parents are the main educators of the children, and home is the best place for children to learn. We believe that parents are not given enough strength, power and educational empowerment to help their children. If we give sufficient support, problems that we hear about such as pregnancy and so on could be dramatically reduced. The family structure, a stable family, relationships, good manners, good morals—those are important values, and if we do not give that aspect to parents to help their children, how can we expect the parents to make a contribution?

I believe that parents can make a great contribution to their children. I am a parent and I try my best to find time to spend with them. We had a big meeting at the Muslim centre. More than 700 people turned up from different communities and faiths. We said that something should not be compulsory from the age of 5, but clearly, the schools said no. We should listen to the voices of parents and to their problems. It is a social-economic cultural problem that can lead to things such as pregnancy, abortion and misbehaviour. If we handle this at the grass roots, it will be reflected and society will be in a better position. We live in a nice, coherent and venerable society where we should respect each other and listen to the views of others about what is appropriate. Five is not the appropriate age for children to start such things.

I have been a governor of a few schools. There were cases of one or two children in year six experiencing some kind of puberty. We dealt with that accordingly, in consultation with their parents and the teachers; we didn’t say very much. So why is this cycle going to be put into effect? Their mentality will be blocked. There is no consciousness at that time; they have no power of judgment; anybody can mislead them. That is the worry of the parents.

Oona Stannard: May I add a rider? I think that we have a big problem simply because we are using the word “sexual” and having to deal with that in relation to talking about children of five years of age. Good sex and relationships education is not about sexualising children; it is anything but. It is about keeping them safe, when it is done well. We all have to be very sensitive to this, and we have to ensure that people understand the reality of what the education will look like at the different stages. We must also keep in mind that it is “and relationships”. If we do it well, we will be helping to keep children safe, and if done well, it will not undermine the invaluable work that parents are doing. There shouldn’t be a tension. Parents should be involved, and have their say.

Gill Frances: What children and young people have been telling us in numerous surveys for 20 to 30 years is that they don’t just want the biology. They want the teacher and their parents to talk to them about feelings and relationships and real-life scenarios. They say, “When I’m grown up, if somebody does this, what should I do?” They want to have those sorts of conversations. As for biology, you can always look that up in a book. They really want to talk about feelings and relationships.

Jan Campbell: I shall be brief. I believe that the Bill will strengthen the relationship between schools and parents. By putting it on this footing, it is encouraging schools and parents to have a dialogue and strengthens the already common practice of partnerships between schools and parents. A young person in the east end of London said to me recently that the PSHE education lessons had helped him to have conversations with his parents about some very difficult things.

Q183. Annette Brooke: I appreciate what everyone has said. One of my concerns about opting out is that I see relationship education as being much broader than sexual education. I have always thought that the seven-year-old should be able to learn what is normal in a family; if they come from an abnormal family, they will not know. For instance, there are problems such as domestic violence and all sorts of other things. Is there a core part to the relationship part of sexual and relationship education? Would some children miss out if it could not be picked up in the other sections? I am looking for a safety net for the children of parents who opt out of some very basic relationship education.

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: I hope that there are other avenues and other areas of the curriculum in which such matters could be considered. For Church of England schools especially, collective worship would be one such place. Reflections on what life is about and the good life, even for very little children, would include some of that. It would not be the same; it would not have the curriculum focus. But you would certainly have a values framework—an aspirational framework, based on the foundation of the school—that would offer that picture.

It would not be the same as small-group work, with the opportunity to talk with the teacher, but at least something is being fed in all the time. It is about what we think the good life looks like, or what should our relationships be like with each other. It will not be a place to address specifics, but you can paint an aspirational picture that helps children to place it alongside their daily experience and the experience of their friends and others.

I would also think that there would be opportunities within certain approaches to religious education to start exploring what our obligations are to each other and how we should behave to each other. That clearly happens, and there have been opportunities for pupil disclosure in those contexts as well, which then enables a school to look specifically at what might be happening to particular children.

Gill Frances: I see core emotional and social skills as an absolutely fundamental core to PSHE. They would be part of statutory PSHE. Little children would learn how to listen, be respectful to each other, play and work collaboratively, assess risk, solve problems and go get help. I see all those things as the core emotional and social skills, part of PSHE and therefore not withdrawable-from—I do not think that that is a word, but you know what I am saying. That would be absolutely crucial. It seems to me from all the discussions, especially in the House of Commons on the last reading, that people were really keen on life skills being taught. I see life skills as absolutely core to compulsory statutory PSHE.

Q184. The Chairman: Mr. Khan, could you be fairly brief? I would like to move on. Would you like to make a contribution? Then Caroline Flint would like to ask you a question.

M. Shahanur A. Khan: Thank you. Opportunity is important. We should respect family relationships, marriage and family values, which are the building blocks of society and can help make society, from my point of view, a kind of heaven. If parents’ thinking and beliefs are not reflected in relationship education and other kinds of education, it should be clarified and the parents should be given some kind of power, so that if they do not like it, they can drop it.

One of the papers says that one lecture is going to use naked pictures of young boys and girls, labelling and identifying the different parts of the body. Those are the kinds of resources. If those kinds of resource are being used and we are saying community cohesion, equal opportunity and diversity, where are parents’ values? Where are parents’ rights? Were children’s understanding, age and sensitivity considered or not? That is fundamental. We have to be careful about that. Otherwise, it will be a problem for society later—maybe not now; maybe by the time we have passed away.

If the Government are to decide, our request is to do something in the interests of society and look into the real facts and figures. There is not just one thing to solve so that other things will be fine. They are interrelated, such as social deprivation, housing problems, health problems and many others. It is true that there is teenage pregnancy and so on, and we understand that the Government have tried to resolve it in this way—by giving them a good education in a safe way—but parents do not feel that. I believe that the Government should respect parents’ opinion and values, and their religious beliefs and faith.

Q185. Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): With the greatest respect, Mr. Khan, the Government and Members in this room do respect the views of parents in our ethnic communities. May I suggest that although you might reflect the views of the gatekeepers of those communities, you might not reflect the views of the vast majority of parents in our ethnic communities? They may take a different view.

I am afraid that the gatekeepers in such communities might orchestrate opposition to PSHE in our schools along the lines that you have mentioned. You had a meeting with 700 people. How many of them were women? How many people there were mothers? They will have their own view. I am afraid that we may go down the path of yet again having a large silent majority in our communities who dare not voice their own opinions because the leaders of those communities may turn on them. Would you mind answering that?

M. Shahanur A. Khan: Thank you. We are not disrespecting anyone. If someone has different beliefs and faiths, we should respect them. That is their right, which they can exercise. If someone expresses a different opinion, they should be respected; everyone has that right to exercise. If a pair of parents has a kind of relationships belief, that is fine; we should respect them. We have no objection—it is down to them, and their views have to be taken into account as well. I am not saying that we should disrespect or not recognise them—that is their duty, which they can do, and it is up to them. Once the children grow up and become adults, it is down to them. They can do whatever they like—maybe change their minds or do something different. It is okay; it is down to them. But there are parents, and there is a time in which they are responsible, and we have to give the children some right and proper education and guidance. That is our concern.

Q186. Mrs. Cryer: How many of your audience—your 700—were women?

M. Shahanur A. Khan: I do not have the exact statistics, but a big number were women—women of Somali and Bangladeshi origin, among others. It was a big number.

Q187. Mrs. Cryer: So the majority of them were women?

M. Shahanur A. Khan: Not the majority, but there was a big number who were female. There was a mixture of people—they did not say which region they belonged to—but we observed that there were different people from different areas, and many women were there.

Q188. Caroline Flint: I am glad that a number of you referred to the relationships aspect of sex education. The problem is whenever we debate such issues, what seems to go out into the public sphere is that it is all about telling kids to go and have sex. I am hopeful that the changes will create a much more cohesive discussion of the issue, rather than the way it has been segmented in different ways with biology and what have you. I must say, Mr. Khan, that I respect parents, and as I have said earlier, I hope that it will offer opportunities for a better discussion of what should be offered within schools.

Do you accept that an awful lot of parents—I do not want to be too stereotypical—and fathers find it incredibly difficult to talk about relationships with their children? Do you also accept that there are parents who, sadly, are a danger to their own children? Should we not try to find the sensitive balance, to see it as something not against parents, but working with them to equip our children with the best possible protection to make informed choices, which they face on their own as they grow older and have to make challenging decisions that may affect the future course of their lives? Do we not have to find a way to deal with that within our school community, working alongside families and communities?

M. Shahanur A. Khan: Thank you. We believe that the family does not get enough support. Parents need to get more support, education and empowerment. Otherwise, we cannot expect many things out of them, because they are not professionals or experts in the field. Maybe we need to give some education, but what kind of education? How much? What resources are going to be put in place? Who will teach it? How will they teach it? How will the curriculum be built up? There are many things to deal with, and if they are not addressed properly, we will have a problem. You mentioned that some parents are not safe. That could be different, but it could be dealt with by the professionals, by the state. I think that there is an agency that can help those who need that kind and level of support. The questions are how much and in what context, but we cannot put those things in general, because they are not in that stage.

Q189. Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): I have listened very carefully to all the answers to this question. I am clear about the answer of Gill Frances from the TPIAG. I am clear about Mr. Khan’s answer. I am clear about Jan Campbell’s answer on whether the Government are right to reduce the age to 15 at which parents have the right to withdraw their children from SRE lessons. Jan Campbell and Gill Frances were in favour of the measure. I am clear that Mr. Khan is against the measure. I am not clear about the views of the Catholic Education Service or, indeed, the Church of England.

Amendment 63 would change “15” to “16”. Is the Church of England in favour of that amendment and of putting back the age when parents have the right to withdraw their children from SRE lessons until the age of 16? If you were to vote, would you vote in favour of that amendment or against it?

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: May I read you the note that I prepared in advance of the Committee. It says:

“The logic of our position is that the parental right of withdrawal is removed, but we recognise that until parents are confident that due attention will be paid to their own views there may be a need for it to be retained. We are supportive of the right being terminated when the child reaches age 15.”

If the matter were to go through General Synod, there would be a very hearty debate, but the chair of the board of education and ourselves are confident that, in the end, it would reach that position. It is not likely to go through General Synod, and in a sense, the board of education is anticipating what it might decide.

As I stated in my response, our position is that sex education and sex and relationships education ought to be an entitlement. If we are supporting the statutory provision of PSHE, we are supporting the statutory provision of sex and relationships education, but we recognise that there is still some way to travel in building parental confidence in what is actually taught in schools. Mr. Khan represents one end of that journey. There is quite a long way to go.

It does not make sense to say, “No, you shouldn’t have any formal education in this area. We will throw you out at 16, legally entitled to engage in sexual intercourse and all manner of other things without having prepared you in any way for it.” We do not know what parents will be doing. We are respectful of their rights and know that they will be doing something, but the school, as an agent of the state, has a kind of responsibility to say that you need some preparation. We were supportive of the compromise position that there ought to be at least a year when we know that every young person will have some opportunity to prepare themselves for this role. That is leaving aside, as we all know, what actually happens. Our position is that we are supportive of the right of withdrawal terminating when the child reaches 15.

Q190. Mr. Gibb: Thank you. That is clear.

Oona Stannard: This is an incredibly difficult question. If I had the option, I would like to sit on the fence.

Q191. Mr. Gibb: Can you explain the view of the Catholic Education Service? That is really what I want to know.

Oona Stannard: Quite. We are holding two things in tension at the Catholic Education Service. One is that we believe in the right of parents as the primary educators of their children. We also believe that the education that parents choose in the type of school that they choose for their child and the responsibilities that that gives the governing body in policies and so on is crucial. At that level, we would prefer that it remained a right to withdraw the child from PSHE at 16, until parents were completely confident about what was being provided. But it is a small number who seek to remove their children, and I am confident that our schools will, as they do now, dialogue so carefully with parents that their level of confidence is such that they do not want to withdraw their child.So, in a way, I am saying that we would like to have our cake and eat it, because we think that having that right would assuage parents’ concerns, but I am also saying that we do not think they would want to exercise it.

On the other hand, there is my earlier point about the messages that society is giving to young people—that, at 16, they can legally be sexually active, married and so on. Bearing that in mind, we come to the point of thinking that we have to prepare our young people for that scenario; we have the opportunity in our schools to do it with the realism of facts, coupled with ensuring that they know what the Church teaches. So, I would say that, without the right of withdrawal and with all children remaining, they will have a very good education in PSHE.

Q192. Mr. Gibb: I am still not quite clear. I understand that you believe in exhorting parents to allow their children to attend the lessons until 16, but we have a clear decision to make. There is no sitting on the fence, I am afraid, for us. We have to decide whether to approve this law, removing the right of anyone to withdraw their child, even if it is only one parent who has worries and who, despite all your exhortation, still does not want her child to attend those lessons. We have to decide whether to remove that minority’s right to withdraw their child from those lessons. So, what way would the Catholic Education Service advise me to vote on that amendment? Fifteen or sixteen? I understand your point about how they should attend, the school should do it well, they should have a dialogue with parents, but we have a law to make, one way or the other, and I need your advice, speaking on behalf of the Catholic Education Service, about which way to vote. If I sit on the fence, 15 will become the law.

Oona Stannard: Fences are very uncomfortable place to sit, are they not? At this point in time, I would probably err on saying: allow the right of withdrawal until 16.

Q193. Annette Brooke: We have the unenviable reputation for having a very high rate of teenage pregnancy in this country. Clearly that is down to a huge number of complex factors. How important is compulsory sex and relationship education as part of breaking into that spiral?

Gill Frances: It is key, and we know that from all the international evidence, from countries where there is compulsory SRE and PSHE. In Sweden it has been compulsory since the 1950s. We know that the Swedes’ teenage pregnancy rate is much lower and that their sexual health is much better than the sexual health of our young people. SRE is absolutely crucial.

I also want to go back to the last question and remind you all that more than 86 per cent. of parents support SRE. The evidence from across the world also tells us that good SRE helps young people to delay having their first sex. Most of us—I assume most of us here—do not want our young people to have sex early; we want our young people to have sex when they are old enough to take full responsibility and to have sex within a safe relationship. It is important to look at the evidence from across the world and see that, if we do not prepare our children and young people, they would not have the skills and knowledge. If they do not have the skills and knowledge, they are more likely to have sex early, so it is absolutely crucial.

Jan Campbell: Certainly, having prepared for this by talking to teachers, senior leaders and young people, the overwhelming evidence that I got from young people was that PSHE as a whole and SRE as part of that actually made them feel more responsible. It gave them facts, it enabled them to think through situations that they might encounter in the future, before they encountered them, and it gave them strategies for dealing with situations that might prove challenging and difficult. That includes situations in which they might feel pressured in some way to engage in sexual activities, but all sorts of other risky or potentially risky behaviours. They felt that it gave them a sense of responsibility and that it would protect them in that way. I think that that is incredibly important for us to remember.

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: That sounds as though that is the right answer, but we have had sex education, which the vast majority of parents have not withdrawn their children from, and we still have the kind of record that we do in terms of early engagement in sexual behaviour, getting into risky situations and teenage pregnancies, so there is clearly something else at play there. I do not think it is a very easy correlation. It certainly would not be easy to say, “We will not do it any longer, because it is not working,” but it behoves us to say, “What else is at play here that is interfering with our very good intentions in trying to equip young people to engage responsibly in a whole range of things to do with adult life? Why is what we are doing not working?”

Gill Frances: Because not all schools are providing what I would call quality SRE. They are relying on doing a bit of biology and science and hoping for the best. They are crossing their fingers and not actually delivering it as part of PSHE and within the core of life skills. So young people are learning a few unrelated facts, which they cannot link to their real lives, and then they cannot use them. I learnt maths in the same way. I cannot actually use maths now as a grown up, because I only ever learnt to do sums.

Jan Campbell: I agree with Gill. One of the problems is that not all young people are experiencing high quality personal, social and health education. In some schools it is not prioritised because it is not statutory. By giving statutory status to this important subject, which keeps children and young people safe, it comes with packages. It comes with a greater commitment to ensuring that children are taught by teachers who have had some training. Our children at the moment are taught by teachers who have no training in these sensitive areas. This will promote initial teacher education, which I know is already on the cards. It will encourage teachers to engage in CPD. It will professionalise the subject, which is really important. It has been there for a long time, but no one has bitten the bullet and said that at the moment it is not fair that some children get this and others do not. We let our children down unless we support them in this way.

Oona Stannard: May I add that I think we do a disservice to PSHE if we think of it out of the context of the rest of the child and young person’s experience. Yes, there is a lot of biology and science to be learnt. Yes, there is a lot about relationships that needs to be learnt, and the meshing of the two. But you cannot look at this without also thinking about the values with which the child is growing up, their development as a whole person, a spiritual person, and things such as their self-esteem and aspirations. All these things come into play and make it important and are factors in its success or otherwise.

Q194. The Chairman: Mr. Khan, may I ask you to be brief, because we have four more questions to put to you all?

M. Shahanur A. Khan: Why the increase? We do not believe that it is simply due to a lack of education or the quality of education. Yes, that could contribute in some way, but this is not the right age to give this to them. The children are young. They can misuse it. They can malpractise it. Not only that, but we could make worse our pregnancy rate and other things such as abortions and STIs.

I can give an example. Tower Hamlets, where I live, is the poorest and most deprived borough in the UK, as far as I know. We have one, two or three-bedroom flats or houses where seven, eight, nine or 10-member families live. The children aged 17, 18, 19, 20 are adult and have to share one bedroom. They do not have enough money. Most of them are unemployed. They do not have support. There are many social, economic and other factors. How can we expect those children to be good? Their parents have no privacy. The 18 and 19-year-olds have no privacy. Obviously they will see that as a dimension. Some of our colleagues see other things exposed in the media, which the children will pick up on. We cannot control whether children will be good. We cannot blame one set of factors for what is happening without looking at other factors. We have to find and sort out the other important factors that contribute to pregnancy, and so on. One improvement would be to give more support to family relationships. That could be one of the ways. Housing, education and many other things could help, rather than just looking at one point and saying, “If we do this, the problem will be solved.” We do not believe that. We need to look at the wider factors. Thank you.

The Chairman: Caroline, could you be fairly brief, because we have three other questioners, and we have only 15 minutes left? Thank you.

Q195. Caroline Flint: One of the aspects of delivering sex and relationships education is that it should be age-appropriate. If you look at say, a class of 11 or 12-year-olds, their exposure to sex may vary enormously. Sadly, a number of 11 and 12-year-olds are starting to engage in what I would call inappropriate sexual relationships, which may end up with them getting pregnant by the time they are 13. They could be sitting alongside an 11 or 12-year-old who is not at all interested in that area. How do we get the delivery right on this? How do you deal with the children who are more at risk? We can deal with the factors that make them more at risk to early sexual relationships, but we do not want to end up with a situation where other 11 and 12-year-olds, who have what I would consider a more normal childhood, are overburdened with the things that they are not thinking about yet.

Gill Frances: The specialist teacher who we are talking about would know how to teach PSHE using group work, or differentiated learning, to use the jargon term. It is also important to remember that one in eight girls have periods from the age 10. That is another crucial fact to put in. The other thing that needs to back up and underpin PSHE is pastoral support. In many primary and secondary schools, you will find that they run small sub-groups or working groups with children and young people who need extra support. They will pick up those extra issues during lunch time or through extended school provision. That, of course, has to be planned, and those children need to be identified, supported and helped.

Q196. Tim Loughton: My concern is not that we should not be teaching sex and relationship education, but its quality and age appropriateness and the parental veto. We have been obsessed with sex and relationship education, but that is just one of the seven criteria for PSHE. Just as it is feared that sex and relationship education is squeezed out of the curriculum now, is not sex and relationship education in danger of being squeezed out of the PSHE curriculum, which will now be part of the bigger curriculum, which will be under even more pressure? Could we not end up with less sex and relationship education because of all those other things that people have to try to fit into the curriculum, competing with everything else?

The Chairman: Jan Campbell, would you like to start?

Jan Campbell: I am happy to have a go. All of the aspects of personal, social, health and economic education are already in the curriculum. What the programmes of study have done is bring them together so that they are more cohesive. There is nothing new there that is not already in the curriculum, or that schools are not already tackling. However, by bringing things together in a cohesive way and giving it statutory status, so that teachers are better trained and more able to deliver things in a cohesive way, we are less likely to overburden the curriculum. Certainly, with the secondary curriculum, the approach that Jan mentioned earlier is that there should be a fresh look where subjects are brought together. There is no need to have lots of little boxes and tick them off. There is an encouragement that young people should be exploring concepts—the very big ideas—so that they are looking at things like healthy lifestyles, managing risk, dealing with relationships, managing their money and developing their careers. That would create a better situation.

Q197. Tim Loughton: It is a quality issue. It is not a compulsion issue. If we had better quality sex relationship education and personal education now, we need not have such a situation. I am still not convinced how quality will appear all of a sudden when we have great platoons of new, wonderfully qualified sex and relationship education teachers rather than Mrs. Miggins, the geography teacher who happens to have a free period on a Thursday afternoon and has been given sex and relationship education to do, as happens haphazardly at the moment. It is primarily a matter of quality rather than compulsion, and how we will fit it in, is it not?

Gill Frances: Generally speaking, schools do not use their precious resources to train teachers in non-statutory subjects. That has been a major issue. A head teacher will prioritise training teachers to deliver on the statutory curriculum, so we at the TPIAG have always felt that PSHE needs to be professionalised and brought together as one subject, not as lots of disparate subjects.

Q198. Tim Loughton: You could contract it out. Independent schools tend to bring in outside experts—maybe the FPA and others.

Gill Frances: That could be the case, but those sorts of people come into a school and add value to the existing programme. They do not educate, as such. We cannot just have nice, interesting visitors coming in. Children and young people like having visitors in, but the programme of learning has to be managed by teachers to pick up the assessment and all those things that you are concerned about. You cannot do that by having a series of visitors alone.

The Chairman: I know that the Minister particularly wants to say something. I shall bring him in now.

Q199. The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): It has been a very interesting session. I want to ask a specific question about training. Do you think that, with making the PSHE statutory, there is almost a need for specialist teachers? Or is it something that requires more training of teachers? I was head of PSHE in the 1980s. It was regarded as revolutionary. It was a collection of other teachers who were committed to it, and training was an issue then. Is that a step too far? Is it a silly suggestion or is it something that should be considered, alongside all the other pressures and general training needs?

Gill Frances: Competence and confidence comes with training. Perhaps you were born a good PSHE co-ordinator. Some people are born that way and that is great, but the rest of us need training. We need different chunks of training. Everyone needs a bit; some people need a bit more, and some people need specialist training. We would never expect any other area of the curriculum to be taught by a non-specialist. We really would not expect that, and we cannot expect this to be the same.

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: May I support that with one of my personal anecdotes. When I started teaching at a secondary school, the related areas of the curriculum, which were dealt then—not in such specificity, but with a PHSE element—were delivered through tutorial time. That meant that whoever was the form tutor did it. So the quality and pupils’ experience was hugely variable. There was no consistency and no comparability. Some of it was absolutely dreadful.

Oona Stannard: There is a particular issue about the qualifications and experience that primary teachers will need because they are all likely to be involved in PSHE when it becomes statutory. At secondary level, as Mr. Coaker implied, there will be a need for some to be highly specialist leaders of others in this area and for different degrees of training and specialists. But there is not a need for an equal level of training for every teacher because some might already be involved in PSHE. It needs to be much more discriminatory, and provision needs to be made for that.

The Chairman: May I ask you all to be fairly brief because the Minister wants to come back with another question, and we are short of time.

Jan Campbell: I believe that the quality will increase if we have specialist teachers of the subject.

Q200. Mr. Coaker: What do you think the attitude of the young people—school pupils and students themselves—would be to all of this work? We talk very much about the pupil voice. I guess, to a certain extent, I answer my own question, so I shall leave it there. What do you think?

Oona Stannard: I have no doubt that they are enthusiastic about PSHE education at all times, except if it is not done well. They are highly critical if it is not done well, but they want the opportunities that it offers. On the many occasions when I talk to young people, they prove to be very reflective, sensible and keen to have this experience at school.

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: One of the other occasions when they are critical is when they feel that they are being fed a line. I say that out of the Church school context, in which most people think we are feeding them a line, although we are not. It is about equipping young people to understand a range of views, being very clear about what stems from a Christian approach, but also giving a range of views, so that they can make choices and decisions for themselves. If they feel someone is telling them what they should think—including about cigarettes, alcohol and the rest—then there is a certain distancing going on. So, again it is the skill of the teacher, and knowing what you are doing.

Jan Campbell: May I quote a young person? This young person said, “It’s about life, mate, you can’t get more important than that.”

M. Shahanur A. Khan: In terms of education, the quality of education, yes, the professionals can debate that, but I think you should not forget to give some personal training and support to the parents and governors as well. If SRE is of good quality, age-appropriate and other things, we should also have to give the two sides, to give the good education which can convince our parents, communities and others.

Q201. Mr. Stuart: We are all agreed on the need for quality SRE, where it exists. Are there any places where it is good already? Authorities have been under a duty to reduce teenage pregnancy, while the PCTs and others are supposed to be a partnership to reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. All the indicators I have seen are pointing in exactly the wrong direction. The answer of those who are keenest on SRE is, “Oh, we just need to do more of it and do it better,” and, “If only it was statutory, it would all be sorted.” Can you point to somewhere where they have got it right? What about Jan’s doubts, which she expressed earlier, although I know she was not coming down one way or the other? Tell me where I can look and have confidence where this is going to be the future for the whole of England.

Gill Frances: In the local authority areas that have cracked it and are giving good sex education training—supporting sex education in schools alongside good sexual health services, with a range of other measures as well—you will find teenage pregnancy rates going down.

Mr. Stuart: Can you name one?

Gill Frances: Hackney and Southend are the two that jump to my head. I can find you more.

Oona Stannard: I am sure that I can point you to many schools—I would have to retrieve the names. A lot of our schools use a programme devised by our archdiocese in Birmingham, “All that I am”, which is very popular and successful.

Jan Campbell: We could all give you a list of schools, if you would like.

The Chairman: My apologies, but may we move on? Nick Gibb would like to ask something and we have two minutes left. Very quickly, Mr. Khan.

M. Shahanur A. Khan: I think we can get support from the community groups and faith groups, which could help to build that up and review the kind of problems we are facing. Thank you.

Q202. Mr. Gibb: What proportion of the curriculum should PSHE absorb?

Jan Campbell: I do not think we should put a percentage.

Mr. Gibb: What maximum should it be?

Jan Campbell: I do not think we should put a percentage.

Mr. Gibb: We have to.

Jan Campbell: But we do not do that for any subject.

Mr. Gibb: We do—there are guided hours, and most GCSEs are regarded as 10 per cent. of the curriculum.

Jan Campbell: Qualifications have guided hours, but no other area of the curriculum has a percentage allocation determined by Government.

Rev. Jan Ainsworth: The secondary curriculum approach will certainly be, “You make sure you meet the outcomes”, so it is up to the school to determine what proportion of time and where they need to focus. Different schools will offer different curriculum solutions, so you may not have anything labelled as PSHE education, but you might have it delivered in all sorts of different ways.

Oona Stannard: I am not able to put a figure on it and I do not believe that a figure is necessary.

Q203. Mr. Gibb: You think it should be statutory, but you are not prepared to say what proportion of the curriculum it should take up. That is an odd, mixed message.

Oona Stannard: It is statutory to have a daily act of collective worship, but we do not say that the children have to sit there for five or 10 minutes or whatever.

The Chairman: I am very sorry, but I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions of the witnesses. Thank you for giving up your time. The legislation will be much better informed for us having heard your views. Thank you very much indeed.

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


†Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)

†Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Minister for Schools and Learners)

†Cryer, Mrs. Ann (Keighley) (Lab)

†Flint, Caroline (Don Valley) (Lab)

†Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)

†Johnson, Ms Diana R. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families)

Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)

†Linton, Martin (Battersea) (Lab)

†Loughton, Tim (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)

†McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)

†Prentice, Bridget (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)

Purchase, Mr. Ken (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op)

†Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)

†Timpson, Mr. Edward (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)

Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)

Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)

Sarah Davies, Sara Howe, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee


Sir Mark Potter, President, Family Division of the High Court

Bob Satchwell, Executive Director, Society of Editors

Barbara Esam, Lawyer, Strategy And Development Division, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

District Judge Nick Crichton, Family Drug and Alcohol Court

Dr. Julia Brophy, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy