Sex and relationships education should be compulsory in all schools, says a report published today by the education select committee.
The cross-party group of MPs called for the government to give personal, social and health education (PSHE) and sex and relationships education (SRE) statutory status in both primary and secondary schools, including academies and free schools. In January the House of Lords voted against such a proposal.
However, the MPs want SRE to be rebranded relationships and sex education (RSE), putting the focus on relationships.
The select committee, which held four evidence sessions at the end of last year, said high-quality SRE was particularly important for vulnerable children such as LGBT children, those in care and those with special educational needs.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, has already put forward a bill, due for its second reading later this month, for the subject to be mandated.
In 2013, Ofsted found that PSHE was not good enough in 40 per cent of schools. The report also criticises the current government strategy for the subject, saying that it is weak and that “the recent actions taken by the government are insufficient to make much difference”.
It adds: “There is a mismatch between the priority that the government claims it gives to PSHE and the steps it has taken to improve the quality of PSHE teaching.”
The report shows since funding for free PSHE continuing professional development (CPD) was scrapped by the government in 2010, the number of participants in the certified course has fallen from a high of 1,937 in 2009/10, to just 175 last year. It now costs £700.
The committee recommends that funding be re-instated.
Chair of the committee Graham Stuart (pictured) says there is “overwhelming support” for statutory SRE. “It’s important that school leaders and governors take PSHE seriously and improve their provision by investing in training for teachers and putting PSHE lessons on the school timetable. Statutory status will help to ensure all of this happens.
“Young people have a right to information that will keep them healthy and safe. SRE forms an important part of any school’s efforts to safeguard young people from abuse, and is particularly needed to protect the most vulnerable children. PSHE builds character and resilience, and will help young people to live happy and healthy lives.”
Ms Lucas said it was “fantastic” the select committee recognised the need for statutory PSHE and SRE. She said: “The importance of ensuring every child has access to education around sex, health and relationships – as well as teaching on everything from life-saving CPR to how to be responsible with money – can barely be overstated. This shouldn’t be an optional ‘bolt on’ or a postcode lottery.”
Lucy Emmerson, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, says the committee’s investigation has “effectively scrutinised the inconsistency of SRE in schools” and she said the subject is often neglected.
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: “Children and young people should be taught the importance of respect and healthy relationships and to understand the role of the family – in all its forms. That is why Labour will make age-appropriate sex and relationship education compulsory in all state schools.”
A Conservative party spokesperson fell short of backing the report. They said: “Sex and relationship education is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and many primary schools also teach it in an age appropriate manner.
“We also expect academies and free schools to deliver relationship education as part of their provision of a broad and balanced curriculum.”
The sexual health charity Brook’s chief executive Simon Blake, who gave evidence to the inquiry, welcomed the report. He said: “Now it is time for politicians to take action to safeguard children and young people’s physical, mental and sexual health and well being by following through and making sure all schools offer young people comprehensive PSHE education.”
However, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said improvements should be made through “considered and managed” curriculum change, not legislation.
He said: “We are proposing that an independent commission should be set up to review the core curriculum every five years, and decisions such as how to deliver effective PSHE should form part of that process.”
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson says that it has set up a “new expert subject group” to identify where teachers need support, but adds: “However we are aware that more needs to be done to raise the quality of teaching in this area and we will consider the findings of this report carefully.”
The seven recommendations by the committee are:
* The DfE should develop a work plan for introducing age-appropriate PSHE and SRE as statutory subjects in primary and secondary schools
* All schools should be required to run a regular consultation with parents on the school’s SRE provision
* The parental right to withdraw children from elements of SRE should be retained
* The government should formally endorse and issue the SRE guidance produced by Brook, the Sex Education Forum and the PSHE Association. It should also promote this more actively to schools and governors
* The funding of CPD for PSHE teachers and school nurses should be reinstated
* Ofsted should resume its regular subject surveys of PSHE provision
* SRE should be renamed Relationships and Sex Education – RSE – to emphasise the relationships element