BHA: Lords debate Personal, Social, Health and Economic education

On Tuesday the House of Lords debated Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, including Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). The debate was initiated by Baroness Massey of Darwen, Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, and saw her and many other Lords argue in favour of strengthening the teaching of PSHE in schools. The British Humanist Association (BHA) briefed peers ahead of the debate.

Opening the debate, Baroness Massey, who is also Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children, said ‘Every child matters. Every child needs PSHE—some more than others and some desperately. Some schools do a great job. Others, perhaps a minority, are, frankly, not interests. This is why, to protect children and to enhance their education, we need a strong statement from the Government about the importance of PSHE. Schools have for many years delivered PSHE in many different ways. I am asking for all schools to be required to deliver it and ensure that they are doing so, however it is delivered.’ She continued by saying that ‘every school should have a policy and ethos that parents and pupils understand about what kind of relationships and behaviours will be promoted in that school… every school should ensure that there is a programme, year on year, for every child in which they can learn, according to age, about drugs and alcohol, first aid, the importance of healthy food and exercise, sex and relationships, risky behaviour and so on. Parents, governors and inspectors would understand this.’

There was wide support from other speakers for strengthening PSHE and SRE. Lord Storey, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on education in the Lords, responded by commenting that ‘PSHE education should not be an add-on for schools to “take off the shelf” as and when they please. It should be an integral part of each pupil’s learning and of the learning ethos of each and every school.’

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds commented that ‘PSHE is a crucial element of our education system and one which could be the key to much of our learning, because it is an area in which values can be inculcated and discussed. I am reminded of that WB Yeats quotation: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. PSHE is one of the places in which that fire should be lit. It is crucial that teachers are trained in the development of those values that should underpin our culture and society… It is crucial that this debate leads to a real endorsement and enhancement of the quality of PSHE.’ The Lord Bishop of Chester added ‘Improvements to sex-and-relationship education must be part of the answer. Of course, some call for a curriculum that is determined by central government. Alongside this there is a demand for compulsory sexual relationship education in primary schools, which, as I understand it, is currently at the discretion of the governing body although it needs to have a policy on the subject. For my part, I can see the case for sex-and-relationship education in the late primary years’.

BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We welcome seeing such strong support for PSHE and SRE coming from all corners of the House of Lords. We believe that all young people have an entitlement to full and comprehensive PSHE and SRE, and have also supported recent calls for stronger sex education as part of national curriculum science – as well as submitting our own response to the national curriculum review.’


For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.