MPs will tomorrow hear evidence about making sex and relationships education (SRE) compulsory in schools – ahead of a bill due before Parliament on Friday.
The education select committee is set to hear evidence from eight witnesses in the first session inquiring into the bill’s proposal that personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) be required in all state-funded schools.
Brighton MP Ms Lucas has put forward the bill calling for PSHE to be statutory, and for SRE to be a mandated part of those lessons. The bill faces its second reading in Parliament on Friday and has cross-party support, with the Liberal Democrats confirming their support.
This contrasts with a vote last year, when a Labour amendment to the Children and Families Bill proposing the same was voted against by Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. The vote was lost, 303 to 219.
Speaking at the time, Edward Timpson, Children’s Minister and Conservative MP, stated: “we strongly believe that teachers need the flexibility to use their judgement to decide when and how best to provide PSHE in their local context.”
A House of Lords vote on the same issue was also defeated in January this year.
Despite prior failures, Ms Lucas welcomes tomorrow’s committee meeting and the upcoming reading of the bill. Speaking with Schools Week 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 understated.
“Parents want it, and teachers want it. But as long as PSHE remains a non-statutory and non-examined subject, with a low priority in the Ofsted framework, there will be virtually no coverage of PSHE in teacher training. In school, PSHE teachers are not given the curriculum time or training that they need – statutory status is key.”
In contrast, as reported by Schools Week last month, UKIP have called for the teaching of SRE to be removed for children under the age of 11.
In total, the Education Select Committee has received more than 400 pieces of written evidence from health organisations, local authorities, teaching unions, religious groups and the general public in response to the inquiry.
Sexual health charity Brook, which jointly submitted evidence with the Family Planning Association, said: “FPA and Brook believe that teacher training should incorporate mandatory training on SRE to prevent classroom bias being passed on to pupils.”
However, Professor David Paton, chair of industrial economics at the University of Nottingham with a research interest in the “economics of teenage pregnancy”, will give oral evidence at the committee countering the proposal. In his written evidence to MPs he said: “There seems no sound reason to introduce statutory SRE in schools or to end the right to parents/carers to opt their children out of school-based SRE.”
Talking to Schools Week he also said: “There is no consistent evidence of the impact of sex education on the outcomes of teenage pregnancy or abortions.
“What is interesting is that professional organisations are pushing for statutory sex education but almost all of the responses from parents are against. There is an ideological divide about who are the experts.”
The Bill is additionally supported by Valerie Vaz, Yasmin Qureshi, Tim Farron, Glenda Jackson and Barbara Keeley. As well as proposing statutory PSHE and SRE, it also petitions for education to end violence against women and girls, and to inspect PSHE and SRE.
Schools Week will be live tweeting the education select committee tomorrow. You can see updates by following @awonlocation
For more on this story, see Friday’s paper.