COMMONS

PSHE education and the curriculum

We have identified specific areas of the Government’s written evidence for further scrutiny. We invite your comments on the strength of the Government's evidence on the current status of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education and its work in this area. Please include hyperlinks or references for any alternative evidence you refer to in your appraisal.

The comments received will help the Committee evaluate the evidence received from the Department and identify where contrasting evidence exists.

The Committee will use the input it receives to question ministers on July 12 and may quote from comments in its final report.

Evidence

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14 Responses to Sexual harassment in schools web forum

Kadra Abdinasir says:
July 06, 2016 at 05:24 PM
The Government rightly point out the importance of good quality PSHE and SRE education in schools in helping to prevent sexual bullying and raise awareness about its impact. Good quality PSHE teaching can help children stay safe, alerting them to risks and dangers, such as those related to running away, being targeted and groomed for exploitation by predatory individuals for sexual or criminal purposes. It can also help ensure that children’s well-being is made a priority in all schools.

We have been calling on Government to take forward the proposal of statutory PSHE within schools. A variety of studies into the quality of PSHE and SRE classes has shown teaching of these subjects to be inconsistent and requiring improvement. According to a survey conducted by the UK Youth Parliament, 40% of young people perceived their SRE teaching to be “poor” or “very poor” , with a similar survey in 2013 showing that 34% of young people thought it to be “bad” or “very bad”.

Introducing statutory PSHE and SRE in schools and teaching young people about consent, exploitation grooming and healthy relationships in general. PSHE should cover not only an understanding of a young person’s ‘self’ and social behaviours, but also teach a wider awareness of the cultural and media context of the society in which they live. Messages should be emotive and relevant to young people combining input from organisations and charities working directly to help them.

Recommendations:
•We believe that there is enough evidence to indicate that current lack of status for PSHE and SRE in the curriculum leads to inadequate teaching of these subjects. Therefore, we believe that PSHE and SRE should become statutory part of curriculum.
•It is also extremely important that the Government monitors the provision and quality of PSHE in non- maintained schools such as academies in order to ensure that children and young people benefit from the taught subjects.
Chella Quint says:
July 06, 2016 at 10:25 AM
I am commenting on these evidence points from the specific position of my research into menstruation education as part of #periodpositive http://www.periodpositive.com
and the Gender Respect Project (https://genderrespect2013.wordpress.com/)
advising on improving menstruation education in order to dispel myths, provide rigour, and challenge gender stereotypes. Despite this potentially coming across as a narrower focus than you intend to review comments on, I’d urge you to consider the wider consequences of inadequate menstruation education within the frame of this report.

Recent case studies I have undertaken and focus group responses I have collected in my research as part of my M Ed research and through the Gender Respect Education Project indicate that embodied shame from the 'period talk’ or through sustained or repeated transmissions (either deliberate or unconscious) of menstrual shame or stigma, lack of comprehensive menstruation management provision, and a lack of of planned interruptions or challenges to historic and current cultural narratives around menstruation can lead to short and medium term panic and worry about how menstruation will impact day-to-day relationships with peers and staff, disrupt studies, and in the longer term, develop into negative body image, distancing from agency and confidence dealing with life skills around reproductive health, consent and pleasure.

Menstruation is still a taboo in the UK, menstrual distress was reported as the fifth most common reason for reported absence in a 2010 Bolton NHS Trust study, and many teaching resources, when present, consist entirely of a freebie from a company and a leaflet, mostly aimed at garnering brand loyalty early. We are not yet getting this right.

Most schools do not accommodate early puberty and early menstruation, and in a case study for #periodpositive an individual parent had to advocate for herself and her child, because staff had no knowledge of how to support the child in primary school.

Trans, non-binary and intersex pupils are supported by the 2010 Equality Act and schools have a duty of care to ensure SRE is inclusive of all genders.

Ensuring all staff in a school can respond to these needs and questions quickly confidently, that teaching resources do not relay the commercial messages of from large corporations, that all genders are taught together, that trans and non-binary pupils are accommodated, and that corporate marketing materials are not used in place of teaching materials that are engaging, unbranded, rigorous, factual and accessible will begin to address this current lack. I will be seeking opportunities to comment on this issue further, but wanted to initially link in here because of its relevance to the needs of pupils and my research findings.
British Humanist Association says:
July 05, 2016 at 02:42 PM
The Government’s rhetoric on the importance of PSHE, including sex and relationships education (SRE), in schools has, for a long time, not been matched by action. The Department for Education’s recent response to this committee is a clear example of this. It states that PSHE can help to reduce ‘incidents of harassment and violence’, help pupils to ‘make safer choices’, and help to tackle ‘negative attitudes that lead to sexual harassment and violence.’ Crucially, it says that ‘all schools should teach PSHE’. Why, then, is there still no statutory entitlement? The evidence pointing to the need for and benefits of such an entitlement is overwhelming.

The PSHE-specific Ofsted reports from 2007 and 2013, for instance, entitled 'Time for change?' and 'Not yet good enough', stated very clearly that improvements needed to be made in, among other areas, the training of teachers, curriculum time, and the rigour of assessment in the subject. Little to nothing has changed since those reports were published.

It should be clear to anyone that unless the subject is given compulsory status in the curriculum, none of these issues can be properly addressed. New and existing teachers will be less likely to seek out specific training in it, meaningful curriculum time will not be set aside for it, and the rigour of assessment will continue to reflect the subject’s status.

Ofsted are also by no means the only voice highlighting the need for significant improvements in PSHE and SRE provision. The 2015 report of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women stated that ‘shortcomings remain in ensuring the promotion of gender equality and challenging harmful attitudes and behaviours, including among children and teenagers, especially at schools.’ It also drew attention to the fact that sexual and emotional feelings, as well as issues such a sexual abuse, sexuality, and pornography, were avoided in UK classrooms to the detriment of children, much to the detriment of children and young people.

Further, in June 2016 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) published its major periodic review of the state of children’s rights in the UK. It found that ‘Relationships and sexuality education is not mandatory in all schools, its contents and quality varies depending on the school, and LGBT children do not have access to accurate information on their sexuality.’ Unsurprisingly, the report recommended that meaningful sexual and reproductive health education be made part of the mandatory school curriculum for all schools, including academies.

In making this recommendation, the UNCRC joined the following who had all recently done the same: the House of Commons Education Select Committee, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Chairs of the House of Commons Health and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees, the Children’s Commissioner for England, the Chief Medical Officer, the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, the Association of Independent Local Safeguarding Children Boards Chairs, the NSPCC, two royal societies, six medical royal colleges, over 100 expert bodies, 85% of business leaders, 88% of teachers, 90% of parents, and 92% of young people.

In the face of such a weight of evidence and expertise, not to mention the calls of children themselves, it is not good enough for the Government to simply point schools in the direction of its 16 year-old guidance on SRE, which evidently has had very little impact. It is not good enough to simply state that it believes that ‘most secondary academies and many primary schools’ teach PSHE and SRE, when the evidence is that so many clearly do not and the ones that do are ill-equipped to do so well. It is not good enough to suggest that ‘computing programmes’, ‘media literacy resources’, or ‘accredited resources’ are in any way a substitute for good-quality, age-appropriate SRE when it comes to tackling gender stereotypes, addressing homophobic and transphobic attitudes, improving safeguarding, or teaching about consent.

These are piecemeal solutions to problems which require comprehensive and sustainable action. They represent no deviation from the unsuccessful approach that has been pursued by successive governments on these issues for years, and as such they will simply lead to a continuance of the status quo. It is long past time that the Government responded positively to the needs of children and young people and made PSHE and SRE an entitlement for all.

BRITISH HUMANIST ASSOCIATION
Chella Quint says:
July 05, 2016 at 12:53 PM
I am commenting on these evidence points from the specific position of my research into menstruation education as part of #periodpositive http://www.periodpositive.com
and the Gender Respect Project (https://genderrespect2013.wordpress.com/)
advising on improving menstruation education in order to dispel myths, provide rigour, and challenge gender stereotypes. Despite this potentially coming across as a narrower focus than you intend to review comments on, I’d urge you to consider the wider consequences of inadequate menstruation education within the frame of this report.

Recent case studies I have undertaken and focus group responses I have collected in my research as part of my M Ed research and through the Gender Respect Education Project indicate that embodied shame from the 'period talk’ or through sustained or repeated transmissions (either deliberate or unconscious) of menstrual shame or stigma, lack of comprehensive menstruation management provision, and a lack of of planned interruptions or challenges to historic and current cultural narratives around menstruation can lead to short and medium term panic and worry about how menstruation will impact day-to-day relationships with peers and staff, disrupt studies, and in the longer term, develop into negative body image, distancing from agency and confidence dealing with life skills around reproductive health, consent and pleasure.

Menstruation is still a taboo in the UK, menstrual distress was reported as the fifth most common reason for reported absence in a 2010 Bolton NHS Trust study, and many teaching resources, when present, consist entirely of a freebie from a company and a leaflet, mostly aimed at garnering brand loyalty early. We are not yet getting this right.

Most schools do not accommodate early puberty and early menstruation, and in a case study for #periodpositive an individual parent had to advocate for herself and her child, because staff had no knowledge of how to support the child in primary school.

Trans, non-binary and intersex pupils are supported by the 2010 Equality Act and schools have a duty of care to ensure SRE is inclusive of all genders.

Ensuring all staff in a school can respond to these needs and questions quickly confidently, that teaching resources do not relay the commercial messages of from large corporations, that all genders are taught together, that trans and non-binary pupils are accommodated, and that corporate marketing materials are not used in place of teaching materials that are engaging, unbranded, rigorous, factual and accessible will begin to address this current lack. I will be seeking opportunities to comment on this issue further, but wanted to initially link in here because of its relevance to the needs of pupils and my research findings.
sarah green says:
July 05, 2016 at 11:59 AM
Overall, we find this section of the DfE’s response highlights a lack of coherence and coordination between government departments. It is also notable that in media comments DfE frequently tries to imply that PSHE/SRE, including issues around consent and respect, are taught in all schools when that is specifically not the case (see for example the DfE media comment in response to the BBC FOI investigation mentioned above, September 2015).

It is hard to understand why the Government recognizes the importance of PSHE in improving safety and well-being, and recognizes comprehensive SRE education as improving knowledge and values, but steadfastly refuses to make either compulsory.

We are impressed by the Home Office’s cross-governmental Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy as well as the Home Office and GEO teen abuse campaigns but believe there is much more consistency needed from DfE to improve the impact of both such initiatives. The discussion guide commissioned by DfE to accompany the more recent 'Disrespect NoBody' campaign, while a welcome tool to support interested schools in utilizing the campaign, has a limited reach and again fails to acknowledge the disproportionality of abuse experienced by women and girls in line with evidence used by the campaign and the Government’s own VAWG strategy. We refer to our original evidence to this Inquiry where experts on abuse from many fields all recommend the adoption of a ‘whole school approach’ as a way of tackling and preventing harassment and abuse – including strong leadership, better teacher training and CPD, compulsory SRE and making links with experts in the local community.

Finally, we are disappointed that the DfE fails to mention pornography in their response despite the inquiry specifically asking about the impact of the normalisation of pornography among young people and despite the Government’s current plans to implement age controls (in acknowledgement of its harm to young people).
Girlguiding says:
July 05, 2016 at 11:42 AM
Curriculum and Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education (points 36-41)
7.The government’s submission to the inquiry states a belief that most that most secondary academies and many primary schools teach Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). It is concerning to see that the Department for Education does not appear to have any evidence as to whether this is indeed the case.

8.The 2015 Girls’ Attitudes Survey found that in some key areas – relationships, pornography, consent, and violence against women and girls –school provision is far out of touch with girls’ expectations. Of girls aged 11-16:
•Only 49% say they are taught about consent, rape and laws regarding sex but 82% would like to be taught this.
•Only 47% say they are taught about violence against women and girls but 84% say they would like to be taught this.
•45% say they are taught about understanding what is good and bad behaviour within relationships, but 84% say they would like to be taught this.
•Only 25% say they are taught about pornography but 68% say they would like to be taught this.

9.The paragraph also refers to Statutory Sex and Relationships Education Guidance (2000). Girlguiding would once again like to draw attention to the age of this guidance and reiterate the need for updated guidance to be introduced to ensure it is fit for purpose and addresses the issue young people face today such as the use of technologies.

10.Girlguiding is pleased that the Department for Education recognises that PSHE needs to be taught well and that it will continue to keep the status of PSHE under review. However, we believe the best way to ensure that PSHE is taught well is to ensure PSHE is a statutory entitlement in all schools and that the Government needs to demonstrate leadership on this to demonstrate that they are listening to girls and supporting girls to learn free from sexual harassment and violence.
Laura R says:
July 05, 2016 at 11:23 AM
It is welcome that the Department for Education’s recognition that ‘sex and relationships education (SRE) can provide the knowledge needed to tackle negative attitudes that lead to sexual harassment and violence.’

Although the evidence acknowledges that all maintained secondary schools have to provide SRE to some degree, it is concerning that there does not seems to be any official monitoring to substantiate the Department’s ‘belie[f] that most secondary academies and many primary schools’ teach the subject. As it is Government policy to increase the number of academies, even fewer schools will have any legislative obligation to teach even a basic standard of SRE. This will make it harder to gain any understanding of how many schools in England are providing even a minimum standard of SRE.

The Department for Education’s evidence also does not address the fact that the quality of PSHE and SRE is inconsistent. Ofsted’s 2013 report ‘PSHE: Not yet good enough’ found that learning in PSHE education required improvement or was inadequate in 40% of schools. The Sex Education Forum report, ‘Heads or Tails’ also found significant gaps in teaching; half of the 2,000 young people surveyed did not learn how to get help if they were abused in SRE lessons, while more than 40% had not learned about healthy or abusive relationships.

The fact that the Department recognises that SRE needs to be ‘taught well’ is positive. However, the Government’s own guidance has not been updated since 2000 and does not cover issues that have arisen as technology advances, such as widespread access to pornography, cyberbullying and sexting. Furthermore, references to the guidance that has been commissioned by the Department and produced by the PSHE Association does not include any detail of how the Department is monitoring the use and take-up of guidance in schools.

By granting age-appropriate SRE statutory status, standards would be consistent. It is important that this would begin from primary age; to prevent ‘corridor cultures’ of sexual harassment in secondary schools, children need to be taught to challenge the negative values and attitudes they are exposed to from an early age. The Department for Education should also therefore commit to producing guidance for younger pupils, as well as the secondary-age resources referenced in their submission to the Committee.

There is also no mention in Department’s evidence disabled children are more likely to experience abuse than non-disabled children(NSPCC, 2014). However, many disabled young people do not get even basic levels of SRE. For example, a study (2014) conducted by bpas and Deafax showed that just only 33% of young D/deaf people were taught about sexual relationships and the law. As the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) recommends in the report ‘Everyone’s right to know: delivering comprehensive sexuality education for all young people’, as well as providing SRE in all schools, Government should ‘focus explicitly on reaching young people who are particularly vulnerable’.

Later in the Department’s evidence, there is also a suggestion that computing classes are an appropriate environment in which to learn about ‘responsible, respectful and secure use of technology.’ However, the cross-over with issues such as consent, gender and relationships is likely to be missed. Statutory status for SRE would place a higher value on the subject, and reinforce the idea that teachers must be adequately trained in the subject.

Evidence has consistently shown that high quality SRE is key in creating the Department’s aim of ‘[school] environment[s] where sexual harassment and sexual violence are not tolerated, and where any incidents are dealt with swiftly and appropriately.’ Although the Department is engaging with headteachers and practitioners to improve PSHE, it is concerning that there is no available timeline or plan outlining what the Government hopes to achieve. The Education Select Committee made the recommendation that PSHE be granted statutory status in February 2015 and this still has not been taken forward. The upcoming Education for All Bill provides an opportunity to change this, ensuring that all young people are taught SRE and that action is taken to prevent sexual harassment in school.
Alex Phillips says:
July 05, 2016 at 10:59 AM
The Government’s evidence states that ‘Sex and relationships education (SRE) can provide the knowledge needed to tackle negative attitudes that lead to sexual harassment and violence’. The Government says they are committed to safeguarding, yet they are not delivering it adequately in every school, both primary and secondary. In 2015, a Cochrane review concluded that ‘Children who are taught about preventing sexual abuse are more likely than others to tell an adult if they had, or were actually experiencing sexual abuse.’
It needs to be made clear that safeguarding should be interwoven in the curriculum. Statutory Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) and Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) play a vital role in ensuring that safeguarding requirements are met, however SRE and PSHE are only statutory in maintained secondary schools. Despite the Government’s recent decision that SRE and PSHE are not to be statutory, for safeguarding to be delivered effectively, SRE and PSHE need to be statutory in all schools, both primary and secondary.
The Parliamentary Education Select Committee Inquiry into SRE and PSHE concluded: “We accept the argument that statutory status is needed for PSHE, with relationships and sex education as a core part of it. In particular this will contribute to ensuring that appropriate curriculum time is devoted to the subject, to stimulating the demand for trained teachers, and to meeting safeguarding requirements”.
However, the Government does not address the fact that the last Ofsted report which looked at SRE, in 2013 (PSHE: Not yet good enough) showed that SRE was inadequate in 43% of secondary schools that teach it and that it is not taught at all in many schools. Although the Government states that PSHE is something that all schools are expected to teach, and SRE is something that must be taught in all maintained secondary schools (which make up a mere 40% of secondary schools), SRE does not have the same status as other subjects and this is problematic.
There is very clear evidence from Ofsted, local authorities and in a report published later this month by Terrence Higgins Trust (SRE: SShh…stop talking), highlighting from young people themselves that SRE is inadequate or absent in many schools.
Current legislation does not mandate all schools, both primary and secondary, to teach SRE. Furthermore, the Government’s policy is that more schools (both primary and secondary) should become academies. Yet academies have no statutory requirement to teach SRE. The Government has not provided any evidence to support their feeling that ‘we believe that most secondary academies and many primary schools also teach [SRE]’. Terrence Higgins Trust’s report (SRE: SShh…stop talking) has revealed that young people surveyed thought SRE should be mandatory in all schools. Only then can we ensure all children and young people receive and ensure that standards are driven up as more resources, time and finances are given to the subject.
The guidance commissioned by the Government to support the teaching of PSHE and SRE does not cover the breadth of the subjects. For example, the PSHE Association guidance published in 2015 on consent only applies to secondary schools, but primary school-aged children can be victims of sexual abuse. Furthermore, the Government has not provided any data to show that this guidance is being used in those schools that it is relevant to. The Government’s own SRE guidance is in desperate need of updating as it is now 16 years old and much has happened during this time, both in terms of advances and access to technology but also in terms of the law around, for example, same-sex marriage. How can this out-of-date guidance actually do what the Government states it does: ‘It also sets out that they should understand how the law applies to sexual relationships’ when it was written long before same-sex marriage was introduced?
The Government has highlighted their talks with head teachers to produce an action plan for improving PSHE and SRE, there is still no plan, or timeline. To add insult to injury, the recommendation made by the Education Select Committee in February 2015 to make PSHE and SRE statutory in all primary and secondary schools has been rejected by the Government. In July 2016, the United Nations recommended that SRE becomes mandatory in UK schools. This is part of the UNCRC verdict on the UK’s child rights.
The Government must stop using delaying tactics and respond to the persistent calls from teachers, parents, health and child protection experts, MPs including the Education Select Committee and crucially from young people themselves and make SRE a requirement in all schools. There is a obvious opportunity to do this as part of the Education for All Bill. Good quality, age-appropriate, inclusive, SRE needs to be given to all children and young people, regardless of the type of school they attend or their sexuality.
Ruth Hilton says:
July 04, 2016 at 09:56 PM
Section 36: although government thinks it has made clear the necessity to teach PSHE, the subject status has not been raised in line with other curriculum areas nor has any designated curriculum been identified therefore many schools are not providing adequate PSHE for their pupils. (OfSTED PSHE not yet good enough 2013)

Section 37: again, no recommended curriculum for SRE, widespread misinterpretation or misunderstanding that human reproduction in the secondary science curriculum is SRE, no criteria or benchmarks for quality and delivery of curriculum and lack of teacher confidence mean that SRE is not serving pupil needs. According to young people and many parents SRE is inadequate and tokenisations in many schools (both primary and secondary including academies where there is any SRE taught), therefore denying children and young people their entitlement and increasing vulnerability. (Heads or Tails SEF 2016)
Ruth Hilton says:
July 04, 2016 at 09:43 PM
Section 36: although government thinks it has made clear the necessity to teach PSHE, the subject status has not been raised in line with other curriculum areas nor has any designated curriculum been identified therefore many schools are not providing adequate PSHE for their pupils. (OfSTED PSHE not yet good enough 2013)

Section 37: again, no recommended curriculum for SRE, widespread misinterpretation or misunderstanding that human reproduction in the secondary science curriculum is SRE, no criteria or benchmarks for quality and delivery of curriculum and lack of teacher confidence mean that SRE is not serving pupil needs. According to young people and many parents SRE is inadequate and tokenisations in many schools (both primary and secondary including academies where there is any SRE taught), therefore denying children and young people their entitlement and increasing vulnerability. (Heads or Tails SEF 2016)