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Relationship Education in Schools - Hansard Report from Tuesday 16th July.

Relationship Education in Schools            

16 July 2019    
Volume 663

12.39 pm    


(Urgent Question):To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on what steps he is taking to counter misinformation about the content of relationship education in schools.

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This spring, Parliament passed the relationships, sex and health education regulations with overwhelming support. We know that many parents agree that these subjects should be taught by schools. We also know that for some parents, this raises concerns. Parents have a right to understand what we are requiring schools to teach and how their child’s school is intending to go about it. That is why we will be requiring schools to consult parents on their relationship education or RSE policy. Open and constructive dialogue can only work, however, if the facts of the situation are known to all.


We are aware that misinformation is circulating about what schools currently teach about relationships and what they will teach when the new subjects are introduced. The Department for Education has undertaken a number of activities in response. In April this year, we published frequently asked questions designed to bust myths on the subjects. They have been translated into three languages. In June, we published the final version of the relationships, sex and health education guidance, as well as guides for parents on the subjects. Alongside that, we produced infographics that can be easily shared on social media—including WhatsApp, where we know much of the misinformation is shared—setting out the facts. We also sent an email to almost 40,000 teachers, providing them with factual information and links to various documents.


The Department has also been working on the ground with Birmingham City Council, Parkfield School, parents and other interested parties to convey the facts of the policy and dispel myths, to support a resolution to the protests in that school and nearby Anderton Park School. Nationally, we have worked with the National Association of Head Teachers to understand where there might be parent concerns in other parts of the country and to offer support. We will continue those efforts to support the introduction of the new subjects, which we strongly believe are hugely important for children growing up in modern Britain.

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I am sure that Members from across the whole House will join me in affirming the importance of accepting that people have different family relationships and that it is not the shape or set-up of your family that matters, but only that you are loved and cared for.


Passing the Equality Act 2010 was rightly a proud moment for our country, but these rights remain only for as long as we fight to keep them. Respect and equality are the true British values. There is no reason to treat sexuality any differently from the way that we discuss any other part of the Equality Act, or families that may have a difference in age or even a disability. The misinformation is vast and in danger of spreading. With respect to the Minister, whatever efforts the Department has been making to counter that misinformation have clearly not worked.


It is clear from last night’s “Panorama” programme that protests against relationship education are growing across the country. Over 70 schools are now experiencing pressure and intimidation because school leaders are fulfilling their legal duty under the Equality Act. It would also appear, from last night’s “Panorama” programme, that pressure was applied from the Department to Parkfield School to suspend its equality programme to get the school out of the national news. This has led to copycat protests elsewhere, as protesters believe that if they make enough noise, and turn up with loudhailers and hurl abuse at headteachers, other schools will back down, too. There is a desperate need for clear, firm leadership from the Department.


Will the Minister assure the House that Department officials did not pressure the Parkfield leadership team into suspending its equality programme? Will he confirm that he will launch an investigation into such claims? Does the Minister agree with the Government’s lead commissioner for countering extremism, Sara Khan, that the Department has been slow to respond to the growing protests? What lessons have the Department learnt from that? Will the Minister update guidance to schools from “if” to “when”, to ensure that schools have a clear message about the need to teach LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education? Will the Minister send a clear message to school protesters that LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education is mandated by the Government, that compliance will be checked by Ofsted and that attempts to intimidate individual headteachers will not change that?

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I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of the equality of relationships and families, and that is spelt out in the guidance. This is a historic document. Relationships, sex and health education will cover everything from healthy eating to the importance of self-respect and to consent, the pitfalls of social media, recognising the signs of an unhealthy friendship, online safety and first aid. What is learnt in relationships and health education in primary school will provide the building blocks for a child to develop positive relationships as they grow up and into their adult life, and it will teach children to respect those who might be different.


This is a well-crafted document that has received widespread support. We consulted widely on it and it was drafted by experts. We wanted to make sure that the relationships and sex education guidance applied to all schools in this country, including private schools and faith schools, and that is why it has been crafted as it has.


The DFE has been involved from the first minute that we understood that there were problems at Parkfield School. We have had senior officials on a daily basis liaising with the schools, Birmingham City Council and groups of parents. We wanted to resolve this issue on the ground and to try to dispel the myths, so that parents were reassured about what is actually being taught in the No Outsiders programme at Parkfield School.


The hon. Lady says that the Department was slow to respond, but I do not believe that we were. As I said, we responded as soon as we heard that there were issues at the school. We—including senior officials—have been working very closely with the school. As far as the No Outsiders programme is concerned, my understanding is that it had reached its natural end and that, in the following term, the school would move on to religious education—that was part of the cycle. This is my understanding of the situation in the school.


The hon. Lady should understand that we want to achieve maximum consensus with this relationship education. That is why there is the requirement, in regulations, to publish the policy on the school’s website and, in the statutory guidance, to consult parents, but ultimately, it is matter for the school itself to decide on the curriculum—[Interruption.] Hang on. When the school has decided on what it wants to teach and when, it will have the full support and backing of the Department for Education and Ministers.


In terms of “when” versus “if”, paragraph 37 of the guidance says:


“Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age appropriate… At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes.”


What is important and required is that children will be taught about LGBT at some point during their education. Both the Secretary of State and I have frequently been on the record saying that we strongly encourage primary schools to teach LGBT relationships. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says from a sedentary position, “You must tell them.” If we had done that, the guidance would not have achieved the consensus that it has right across the country and right across different types of schools. A large number of schools would not have adopted the guidance. It has been very successfully landed, because of the careful way that we have done this.

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Will the Minister confirm that much of the debate about this issue, including the protests in Birmingham, are about the current curriculum and not the new curriculum, which becomes statutory in September 2020? That new and updated guidance gives people an opportunity to be respectful of faith-based views—for example, on marriage, family and relationships—when the teaching occurs. It fundamentally states that the education should be “appropriate”, having regard to “the age” and “religious background” of pupils. Does the Minister agree that the updated guidance probably has the most comprehensive section ever on respect for religious belief.

Read the rest of the Hansard report.

Education committee ‘unconvinced’ by £72m opportunity areas programme

The parliamentary education committee has questioned the effectiveness of the government’s social mobility “opportunity areas” programme, highlighting concerns over its independence, value for money and a lack of joined-up working.

Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the committee, has written to Damian Hinds, the education secretary, following a number of hearings looking at the policy.

Read the full article.

Teaching workload report.

Teaching is a complex job that draws on enormous amounts of information stored in heads, on paper and in electronic records. Technological change has already altered how this information is processed, which is why it is time to step back and evaluate whether the time spent managing pupil attainment and pastoral data is proportionate to its educational benefits. This report does not, and cannot, tell schools how best to manage data in their own context. Schools are too diverse in the size and nature of communities they serve to employ catch-all rules. Instead we give you a set of guiding principles that we recommend you use when thinking about your own setting. We do think there are changes that can be made by the Department for Education and by Ofsted to give schools greater flexibility in the choices they make about how data is used. We have therefore made a number of recommendations to both organisations. Of course, this report cannot be the last word on data management in schools

Read the full report.

Schools to prepare pupils for fake news.

School teachers need to better prepare pupils of the risks posed by “fake news” and disinformation online, the education secretary Damian Hinds has warned.

Every child will learn about confirmation bias and online risks as a compulsory part of the curriculum as the government publishes new safety guidance for schools.


Teachers will have to help children learn to evaluate what they see online, how to recognise techniques used for persuasion, how to identify potential risks and how and when to seek support. 

Read more.

Ofsted concerned about MATs pooling monies.

Ofsted has revealed that some staff working in multi-academy trusts (MATs) are concerned about the way their schools lose money as finances are centralised. 

Research by the inspectorate found that the most frequently mentioned drawbacks about belonging to a MAT were financial

Read more.


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