MPs have launched an inquiry into the future of PSHE and sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools.
The Education Select Committee has called for evidence to help with its investigation, which will tackle a range of issues including whether PSHE should be a statutory subject.
The cross-party inquiry comes after an Ofsted subject report last year judged that PSHE was not good enough in 40 per cent of the 50 schools it visited – primary and secondary.
The report – Not Yet Good Enough – also found that half of secondaries needed to improve its SRE, while many teachers lacked training to tackle sensitive or controversial issues in both PSHE and SRE.
Inspectors expressed concern about a lack of “high-quality, age-appropriate SRE” in more than a third of schools which they said could leave children vulnerable to “inappropriate sexual behaviours and sexual exploitation”.
The MPs’ inquiry will touch upon a range of issues including:
Whether PSHE ought to be statutory “either as part of the national curriculum or through some other means of entitlement”.
Whether the current accountability system is sufficient to ensure that schools focus on PSHE.
The overall provision of SRE in schools and the quality of its teaching, including in academies.
Whether recent government steps to supplement the guidance on teaching about sex and relationships, including consent, abuse between teenagers and cyber-bullying, are adequate.
How the effectiveness of SRE should be measured.
PSHE is currently a non-statutory subject and the government has not provided standardised programmes of study, saying that schools are best placed to tailor provision to local need.
SRE is statutory in maintained secondary schools. However, the Department for Education (DfE) has been criticised for the fact that its current SRE guidance was last updated in 2000 and as such does not sufficiently tackle issues such as cyber-bullying and e-safety.
Earlier this year, the PSHE Association, Brook and the Sex Education Forum published its own SRE guidance designed to supplement the existing DfE advice.
Dr Hilary Emery, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said that leaving PSHE to schools has created an inconsistency across the country.
She explained: “The current situation, where PSHE is left to the discretion of schools, means that the teaching children receive in this vital subject lacks consistency. Making PSHE statutory would lead to improvements in the quality of provision, with better teacher training, assessment and closer inspection.
“We are pleased that there will be cross-party focus on the future of PSHE and SRE in schools, and hope this results in a more secure future for the subject.”
Lucy Emmerson, co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum, added: “This inquiry is an important opportunity to look at how standards can be improved so that all children are guaranteed good-quality SRE. We particularly welcome the fact that the committee will question whether PSHE should be statutory. We have campaigned for statutory SRE within PSHE for many years and change is urgently needed.
“This inquiry is a final opportunity for the coalition government to take decisive action to bring SRE up-to-date and to ensure that learning about consent, relationships and sex is included in the education of every child – as is their right.”
Written submissions to the inquiry must be made by noon on June 6. For information, visit www.parliament.uk/education-committee
The DfE’s current PSHE guidance and related information can be found at http://bit.ly/1mQQYmk
The updated supplementary advice issued earlier this year is at http://bit.ly/1h64gnz
Read SecEd editor Pete Henshaw's editorial on this issue here. CAPTION: Call for evidence: The cross-party inquiry into PSHE will consider the quality of sex and relationships teaching among other issues