Education unions, politicians and campaigners have given strong backing to a PSHE Bill that has been brought before Parliament by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.
Meanwhile, a second Bill focused on SRE is proposing that the subject be included on the national curriculum and has sparked a strongly worded debate in Parliament.
The second reading of the PSHE (Statutory Requirement) Bill was due to take place late last month, but has been postponed until February after MPs ran out of time on the day scheduled for the debate.
The Bill, if passed into legislation, would require the education secretary to ensure that PSHE becomes a statutory requirement for all state-funded schools.
It also includes provision that sex and relationships education (SRE) and “education on ending violence against women and girls” be included within schools’ PSHE programmes.
CPD for teachers and guidance on best practice for delivering and inspecting PSHE and SRE are also included in the proposals.
Despite the disappointment at the debate’s postponement, Ms Lucas revealed this week that education secretary Nicky Morgan has promised to act to improve the quality of PSHE.
Writing on her website, Ms Lucas said: “Thanks to the massive campaign supporting my PSHE Bill, Nicky Morgan … promised to take concrete steps to improve the consistency and quality of PSHE in our schools.
“In correspondence with me, she agreed that PSHE is ‘exceptionally important’ and I hope we’ll have made real progress towards ensuring every child gets good PSHE by the time the Bill comes back to Parliament in February.”
Support for the Bill has come from a range of organisations, including End Violence Against Women, Mumsnet, the National Union of Teachers, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), Stonewall, and the Royal College of Nursing.
A range of MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum have reportedly backed the Bill too, including Conservative MPs Dr Sarah Wollaston and Michael Fabricant, Lord Fowler, and Liberal Democrat justice minister Simon Hughes. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives twice voted against proposals for statutory SRE last year. However, the Liberals have now said that they would make PSHE statutory in all state-funded schools if they won next year’s election. Labour has also made the same promise.
Ms Lucas added: “There’s been cross-party support in Parliament, with many MPs joining me to make the case that as well as including age-appropriate SRE, PSHE needs to include a wide range of subjects from life-saving CPR to how to be responsible with money.
“Lessons which help keep young people safe, healthy and happy and aid employability shouldn’t be an optional ‘bolt on’ – they’re critical, as is provision of proper support for the teachers leading them.”
The PSHE Association has also welcomed Ms Morgan’s comments. Chief executive Joe Hayman said: “It is great news that … Nicky Morgan has emphasised that PSHE is ‘exceptionally important’ and the Department for Education has committed to taking concrete steps to improve the consistency and quality of PSHE education.
“It remains our view that statutory status, backed up by intelligent inspection, is the only way to guarantee high-quality PSHE provision over the long term.
“This does not mean dictating a standardised curriculum to every school, but simply ensuring that every PSHE lesson is taught by a teacher who has been trained in the subject, and given adequate curriculum time to meet pupils’ needs.”
NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: “A broad entitlement, rather than a prescriptive curriculum, provides freedom for schools to make their own judgements but also helps protect them from external pressures to avoid or censor these topics.
“The NAHT also recognises that SRE and PSHE should be included at an appropriate level in teacher training, to give the profession the tools to teach a sometimes difficult subject.”
Meanwhile, a strongly worded debate took place in the House of Commons on October 21 as MPs considered a separate SRE Bill tabled by Labour MP Diana Johnson.
The Sex and Relationships Education (Curriculum) Bill, if passed, would require the education secretary to “make provision to include education about sex and relationships, resilience against bullying and sexual abuse, and ending violence against women and girls” in the national curriculum.
In tabling the Bill, Ms Johnson said: “For many years I have been convinced of the need to reform and overhaul the sex education that we provide for our young people, and to focus more widely on relationships and emotions.
“It is clear that the sex education that currently exists in schools is inadequate. It focuses on biology and what fits where, on sexual diseases, and on how not to get pregnant. We know that young people are often very savvy about the mechanics of sex, but lack any understanding of the potential dangers and threats that they face.”
However, opposing the Bill, Conservative MP Philip Davies suggested that sex education was an issue for parents, not schools. He said: “Most of my constituents would probably conclude that the more sex education we have had since the early 1970s, the more teenage pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies we have had. Perhaps somebody might look at the evidence and then they might think that perhaps we should try less sex education in schools – or perhaps, even better, no sex education at all.”
He added: “These are things that should be done by parents and parents alone.”
However, in the days after the debate, Mr Davies was admonished by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service for being “incredibly misinformed”, with statistics actually showing that teen pregnancies among 15 to 17-year-olds are at their lowest levels since 1969.
A spokesman told The Independent: “Mr Davies suggests that evidence demonstrates sex education increases teenage pregnancy rates, when in reality it shows quite the opposite. SRE lessons provide young people with the essential information they need to understand their bodies, protect their health, and have happy, safe relationships.”
The second reading of the PSHE Bill is due on February 27 and the SRE Bill’s second reading takes place on November 21.
For more information on the Bills’ progress, visit http://bit.ly/1wDDyeQ (PSHE) and http://bit.ly/1wDR2ZR (SRE)