Five parliamentary select committees have written to Justine Greening to say the demand for compulsory sex and relationships education (SRE), and personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) in all schools is now “deafening”.
In a public letter, the chairs of five committees – education; women and equalities; home affairs; health; and business, energy and industrial strategy – said there was “widespread concern within parliament and public life at the government’s approach to PSHE and SRE.”
The chairs – two Labour and three Conservative MPs – said ministers “failed to seize” a recent opportunity to give PSHE statutory status following a set of recommendations to prevent sexual harassment in schools, which Schools Week reported on this week.
Referring to an earlier letter in January this year from the five chairs of the committee, which also requested that PSHE and SRE be made compulsory, the chairs said:
“The government’s reply [in January], although accepting that ‘making PSHE statutory would give it equal status with other subjects’, declined to take that simple first step.”
The letter said that “not much has happened since then”, continuing:
“When you came to the education committee on 14 September, you indicated that you were indeed looking at the question of statutory status, alongside existing plans to improve the quality of PSHE.
“We ask that you give serious thought to this proposal and the benefits that would arise from it.
“We also ask you to consider the consequences of failing to act; not only for the quality of education in England, but also for the lifelong consequences which can result from patchy or inadequate access to PSHE and SRE.”
Current government guidance says that all schools should teach PHSE but that it is “non-statutory” as “we consider it unnecessary to provide new standardised frameworks or programmes of study.”
Meanwhile, sex and education relationships are compulsory in state maintained secondary schools, but not in academies, free schools or primary schools, which make up the majority of schools.
The letter follows the government’s published response this week to a women and equalities committee report showing 29 per cent of 16- to 18-year-old girls had experienced unwanted sexual touching at school and 71 per cent of pupils that age regularly heard terms such as “slut” used towards girls.
But the government refused the recommendation to make it statutory for schools to develop a specific approach to such harassment, saying existing legislation was “already strong”.
The government did, however, say it would review current bullying and safeguarding documents in relation to sexual harassment within schools, acknowledging “we may need to reconsider the specific focus the guidance gives on this issue”.
The promise comes as Lord Nash, minister for schools, has separately said “the case for further action on PSHE and SRE delivery is actively under review.”