News Digest 20 November – 1 December

The Health Select Committee took evidence on mental health services this week, during which the Children’s Commissioner spoke favourably of PSHE. Anti-Bullying Week was debated in the House of Commons, and Ministers answered various written questions from MPs.

Children’s Commissioner reiterates support for statutory PSHE in evidence session on mental health
The Health Committee heard evidence on the topic of child and adolescent mental health services: access and funding on Tuesday 21 November. A number of witnesses spoke, including Anne Longfield OBE, the Children’s Commissioner. Luciana Berger asked Ms Longfield whether she thought that “all schools should have compulsory PSHE that covers these issues?”

The Children’s Commissioner responded “From the first day in post, I talked about the need for compulsory PSHE in school. Last week I was talking to the Education Select Committee about the need for schools to be judged on children's wellbeing as well as educational attainment. This is all part of the broad role of schools in supporting children as they grow up. There is so much more scope there, and I think schools understand that high wellbeing means high attainment too. They do not see these as different competing agendas necessarily. They can see that they are very linked.”

Anti-Bullying Week debated in House of Commons
On 23 November the House of Commons held a debate aboutAnti-Bullying Week. Opening the debate, Gavin Newlands MP reminded the House that there are many different forms of bullying and that the effects of childhood bullying on adult mental health remains significant. He said that "Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is also widespread in UK schools" and that “young women are also far more likely to experience bullying, especially sexist bullying, than other students”. He concluded that we should “take a whole-school approach that tackles the gender inequalities in schools”.

Minister for school standards Nick Gibb responded that the Government is trying to do all it can to support schools and colleges in tackling bullying, and that it will be publishing interim advice this term specifically on peer-to-peer abuse. He added that the Department for Education has begun a process of engagement with stakeholders to develop the regulations and guidance for relationships education and RSE, and to ensure that subject content will be age-appropriate and inclusive for all stages.

Written questions

  • Lord Stoddart Of Swindon asked what steps the Government is taking to ensure that LGBT issues are taught well in English schools and at what age such lessons will be aimed. Lord Agnew of Oulton answered that all schools should make provisions for high quality, age appropriate PSHE, which includes RSE.
  • Jim Shannon asked what steps the Government is taking to ensure that first aid is taught in schools. Nick Gibb answered that schools are free to teach first aid and that many do so as part of PSHE education. He made a reference to the PSHE Association Programme of Study, which encourages schools to teach young people how to recognise and follow health and safety procedures, ways of reducing risk and minimising harm in risky situations, and how to use emergency and basic first aid.
  • Lord Greaves asked what steps are taken to educate young people on the potential dangers of social media and the potentially socially beneficial use of social media. Lord Agnew of Oulton answered that the new computing curriculum, which was introduced in September 2014, sets out the expectation that children in England are taught how to use technology safely, securely and responsibly. Additionally, the new guidance for Relationships Education for primary schools, and Relationships and Sex Education for all secondary schools, will consider safe online relationships.
  • Andrew Gwynne asked what cross-departmental initiatives are undertaken to tackle cyberbullying and to protect young people from abuse online. Matt Hancock answered that the Internet Safety Strategy Green Paper sets out the Government’s expectation for social media and technology companies to protect young internet users from online harms. The Strategy also outlines the crucial role education plays in improving online safety. Both the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department for Education are keen to ensure that Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and PSHE (if made compulsory) address the challenges experienced by young people online.

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