HL Deb 12 May 2004 vol 661 cc270-3

2.45 p.m.

Lord Northbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether maintained secondary schools are fulfilling their obligations to teach their pupils about the legal and moral responsibilities attaching to each partner responsible for causing a child to be conceived; and whether this education has been successful in reducing teenage pregnancy.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, all maintained secondary schools have a statutory requirement to teach sex and relationship education (SRE). SRE includes moral and emotional development as well as an understanding of how the law applies to sexual relationships. Improving the quality of SRE in schools is a key strand of our teenage pregnancy strategy, which resulted in a 9.4 per cent reduction in under-18 conception rates between 1998 and 2002.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that good news. At the same time, I have to point out that she drew attention only to what the law requires schools to do. I was hoping that she might be able to tell the House whether the Ofsted reports on schools over recent years have shown that the responsibilities of parenthood are being disseminated to people on the basis that ample research shows that, if they have children before they are capable of properly looking after them, they will disadvantage those children.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Sex and relationship education is taught within the wider framework of personal, social and health education (PSHE). That stresses the social and moral responsibilities and, as children grow older from primary school-age onwards, it addresses all those responsibilities. Since 2003, Ofsted has required every inspection to comment on PSHE in relation to sex and relationship education. That is a step forward and it is part of the way in which we are trying to drive our policy in schools. Indeed, I understand that Ofsted is carrying out an inspection of PSHE, and the results of that should be available later this year. Therefore, there will be something else to look forward to.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that countries which have much more widespread sex education than ours, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, have much lower rates of teenage pregnancy?

Baroness Andrews

Yes, my Lords. It is a very sad fact that our figures are extremely poor compared with those in the rest of Europe. Indeed, I think that one of the worst statistics shows that the poorest areas in England have a conception/birth rate up to six times higher than that in the most affluent areas. Even our most affluent areas have teenage birth rates which are higher than the national rates of, for example, the Netherlands or France. That is precisely why we are investing so heavily in a coherent teenage pregnancy strategy linked to effective SRE in schools. That plays a very important part. We are serious about driving down those rates.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, the noble Baroness is no doubt aware of the emphasis that the Prime Minister recently, and rightly, laid on the part that parents can play in helping to overcome the worrying lack of discipline in schools. In the light of that, does the Minister agree that the earlier that parents-in-waiting, if I may call them that, are supported and educated in the crucial, but still far too undervalued, role that parents play in preparing their children for responsible adult citizenship, the better it will be?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I could not agree more; the noble Baroness is absolutely right. The guidance which schools are now following makes it absolutely clear that schools must work with parents as fully as possible. We carry out much work with parents through the teenage pregnancy strategy and, for example, Parentline Plus, which helps parents to access advice on how to talk to their children. Some very interesting work is taking place with young fathers—particularly those in deprived areas—through Sure Start Plus, for example, which looks at how we can support teenage parents so that they take pride in parenting and become effective parents. I wish that there were more that I could say because a great deal is going on in this area.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, can the Minister say why the Government do not give the same prominence to the "Say no" campaign as they do to the "Know how" campaign?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that in the guidance, heavy emphasis is placed upon how young people can resist and delay early sex and how they can assert themselves, particularly girls, so as not to be pressured into sex. That is a very important part of sex and relationship education.

All the evidence suggests that abstinence alone does not work. That is very well documented, not least from the Alan Guttmacher Institute in America, which is a known authority. Indeed, our policy is evidence based. It is the competence of education plus media strategy which is effective.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, the programmes promoted by the Family Planning Association for schools have been extremely successful. However, does the Minister feel that there is sufficient emphasis upon parenting within such programmes?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, it is up to schools to draw on whatever resources they find. The Government do not tell them what and how to teach in this area although we lay down the framework. Certainly, the FPA materials are extremely effective. But parenting information can be obtained from other sources; for example, the Parenting Education and Support Forum, which has produced some excellent guidance on what a good parenting programme might look like for 15 and 16 year-olds. So, there are a variety of sources, most of which are on the web. Teachers are becoming adept at drawing down what they think they can use most effectively.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that despite the drive for further education in this area, with which we all agree, that should not undermine the assistance that society rightly gives to young teenage mothers and their children?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, that is absolutely the case, and we have a very good record on that. One of the most effective aspects is the Sure Start programme, which concentrates on areas of deprivation, and provides a wide range of support to parents in difficult circumstances.

Baroness Billingham

My Lords, are boys being specifically targeted for sex education? That seems to be an area which is particularly important.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, indeed. As the guidance makes clear, one of the problems is that boys have not always been receptive to or apparently interested in sex education. Many boys do not want to discuss their maths homework with their fathers, let alone sex, so we have a long way to go. However, we have commissioned practical guidance for teachers on engaging boys. The guidance ensures that that is prominent. The PSHE website contains some very good examples of how to engage boys in some of the aspects of building relationships, which is extremely important. We are targeting many of our media campaigns, for example, on local radio, popular newspapers and teenage magazines, which young boys read and to which they respond.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, is the Minister aware that young women leaving care are two and a half times more likely to become pregnant in their teenage years? Can she say what particular attention is being given to their needs in preparation for leaving care?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the commitment of the noble Earl to raising standards for young people in care is very well known. Certainly, those young people should have had access to the best formula of sex education while in school. Many of our programmes focus on young people in deprived areas. The Sure Start Plus programme, for example, is concentrated in 35 local areas. However, I shall find out specifically whether we have programmes which address the question and shall write to the noble Earl.

Lord Taverne

My Lords, will the Minister take note of the comparison between the success of the "Say no" campaign in the United States as compared with the sophisticated sex education campaign in the Netherlands which has produced the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, yes. I reiterate that the evidence we have, which is well researched, is that abstinence campaigns alone, especially ones which do not follow exhortation with education, information and access to responsible contraception, are not effective. However, when we have a coherent education programme, that does affect attitudes. We are in this for the long term.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I appreciate the value of the Ofsted inspection and the importance of the guidance to which the Minister referred. However, it still seems that sex education in schools is of a hit and miss nature. Are steps being taken comprehensively to monitor the programmes in schools and to collect best practice and the most effective methods of teaching, which can be further disseminated?

Baroness Andrews

Yes, my Lords, we are doing all that. It is not only Ofsted which is involved now. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is developing exemplar schemes of work and more guidance. We know that in some places education is patchy. We are developing certification schemes for teachers of personal, social and health education so that they can build up their own good practice. We have targeted 3,000 teachers for that extra certification and quality this year. We think that when that percolates through the schools it will be particularly effective.

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