Comment: Politicians must seize the chance to ensure schools teach children to keep safe with PSHE
Joe Hayman, CEO of the PSHE Association writes for PinkNews on the importance of the current chance for politicians to support measures to protect children though an adequate PSHE curriculum.
In a perfect world, children wouldn’t need to learn to keep themselves safe. But this is not a perfect world, as the Rotherham Child Abuse inquiry report shows us. While most of our children live happy and safe lives, the Rotherham report is a harrowing reminder of the dangers many children face, and the importance of doing what we can to help children keep themselves and others safe.
Three reports in recent days – including the Rotherham inquiry as well as a Barnardo’s report on the sexual exploitation of young men and an IPPR report into young people, sex and relationships – have called for a compulsory part of the curriculum that helps children and young people to keep themselves safe, build positive relationships, and challenge stigma relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. As Ofsted has stated, failure to provide this learning ‘may leave young people vulnerable to inappropriate sexual behaviours and exploitation’. The Rotherham report’s recommendation in particular, coming in the wake of such widespread abuse, should surely create an imperative to act this time, particularly as many of the victims were critical of the education they received on these issues.
Yet we have been here before. Over the past year, a Children’s Commissioner report, a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the effectiveness of the law relating to child sexual exploitation, and the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into female genital mutilation made similar recommendations. All, like the Rotherham inquiry, made their recommendations after hearing harrowing evidence from young victims, but none were acted upon. These reports come on top of similar calls from the Chief Medical Officer, leading health organisations and the UK Youth Parliament. And according to a survey undertaken by YouGov on behalf of the PSHE Association, parents overwhelmingly support lessons in keeping healthy and safe to sit alongside academic learning.
Ongoing failure to listen to these respected organisations, young people and parents means that we are destined to repeat past mistakes. Fortunately, there is an opportunity for politicians of all political persuasions to put the situation right. PSHE (personal, social, health and economic) education, is the subject through which this learning is best provided, and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has tabled a Bill to make the subject statutory.
With a new Secretary of State at the Department for Education, this is the biggest opportunity we have had in this Parliament to make the positive change successive Governments have been unable to achieve. MPs from across the political spectrum have indicated their support for the subject; now is the moment for the Government to act. At the very least, the Government must allow a free vote and sufficient Parliamentary time for the Bill’s second reading in October. This would enable MPs from all sides to put their support into action and make statutory PSHE education a reality.
The formula for high-quality PSHE education for every child is simple: well trained teachers, adequate curriculum time and consultation with parents. Now is the time to act, so that the Rotherham recommendation isn’t lost like so many others before it.