MP Caroline Lucas has tabled a bill to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education a statutory requirement for schools. It receives its second reading in the House of Commons today.

The Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation is calling for the Bill to cover “honour” based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Sara Browne who leads that campaign joins VoR's Juliet Spare for a discussion about the Bill.

Also taking part is Dr Julia Hirst, former secondary school teacher and Reader in Sociology Sheffield Hallam University. And Anthony Ozimic, Communications Manager of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children runs a campaign called Safe at School, to remove “graphic sexual material” from the school syllabus.

The discussion 

Sara Browne: "We think it’s really important the bill covers violence against women and girls. In our current society we must recognise that young people go through lots of pressures as they’re growing up and we must make sure we equip them that they know their rights and where to get help.

"This Bill concentrates brilliantly on training teachers, making sure they understand the issue if a child discloses something to them and that they know what to do. We’re focussing in on schools having the right policies in place and looking at the whole package to make sure our young people are safe.

"We think it’s really important that we address ‘honour’ based violence, forced marriage and FGM. Everyone needs to know their rights. If we talk about these issues more openly we’ll have a more open society."

Dr Julia Hirst: "I used to be a secondary school teacher and it was working as a science teacher that I really found out what young people were asking for in terms of sex education. What was most significant for me was when I used to teach PE and it was when girls were in the back of a bus on the way to a match that they asked questions. I think I did my best pastoral work driving to matches in those informal situations.

"I’ve since done 25 years of research with young people ranging from 6 – 25 and with parents. As an academic I have to critique all the evidence that comes out in terms of associations between sex education and young people. And I’m concerned not just with sex education contributing to preventing STDs, and teenage pregnancies - but that it helps young people to communicate and think about what their needs are and gives them the knowledge and skills to think about what they might do.

"It’s not about encouraging them to have sex – it’s about equipping them to know how not to have sex, if that’s their choice. If they do choose to be in sexual relationships it’s important that we’ve skilled them enough with enough confidence that it will be consensual."

Anthony Ozimic: "Our campaign is about representing the views of parents who are concerned about what is being taught in the classroom and the explicit almost pornographic programmes and teaching resources which are being used in some schools. It’s about empowering parents to talk up and use their right and responsibility as the main educators of their children on sexual matters.

"This Bill needs to be opposed; we don’t need this Bill to deal with bullying or sex abuse or safe guarding. Teachers know that they need to protect their pupils; pupils are told they can go to teachers if they’re worried about abuse.

"We are concerned that the PHSE and SRE is being used as a cover for a narrow metropolitan mind-set that endorses that sexual activity is acceptable underage and countenances the idea that pornography is not morally wrong and does not take into account the primary role of parents as the main educators of their children in this regard. Our children belong to our families; they don’t belong to the State."

JH: "I wish we lived in a world where every child was able to sit down with their parents and talk about things that are upsetting them at school. But that really isn’t a reality. Some young people do talk about issues, but some don’t. It’s those children who come from more socioeconomically deprived areas where who they’re brought up with adds an extra tension in terms of being able to exercise their choice. You (Anthony) talk about the rights of parents, what about the rights of the child? Under the UN Convention on Human Rights we have to give young people the knowledge and the skills to protect themselves and to have good health. We have NICE in terms of research on positive outcomes on health and education and Ofsted and 90% of parents who are proactively saying we want this to happen in schools."

SB: "Children are exposed to these things outside of school, on their mobiles, all of the time-everywhere and that’s the exact reason it’s so important we get into school and teach young people about their rights, how to say no. We shouldn’t be on opposing sides. We’re getting at the safety of young people. Everyone around the table agrees safety of young people is the goal. We need to be realistic about the world. It’s not just metropolitan areas; people can access a mobile phone anywhere across the country. It’s a national issue. We’ve done research from all police areas across the country and these are issues (‘honour’ based violence and FGM) that spread across the country. We need to be realistic about the society we live in and equip people with those skills so that they can be safe."

AO: "We’re talking about cultural problems, we talk about parents who don’t’ feel they’re able to speak to their children effectively, we’re talking about issues such as nature of pornography, we’re talking about issues such as violence and that may be connected with certain groups in society. The issue that pornography is everywhere and we have a sexualised society, then let’s get a Bill in Parliament to ban pornography, let’s get a Bill to ban that things that sexualise the issue. ‘Honour’ based violence and FGM is a matter for the police, not school. They don’t need to teach about that. That is something dealt with in the CJS. If parents feel they don’t have the education or skills to teach children about issues relating to sexuality, well let us focus on helping them and their responsibility and take away their right to schools under the thumb of bureaucrats who draw up the guidelines to implement legislation."

JH: "There are 22,000 young people voted in favour in wanted SRE in school. Wouldn’t it be a lovely world if we could resource parents but they will still say they feel out of my depth?"

SB: "We strongly advocate a holistic approach; they need to hear about the issues being talked about so they can feel they can come forward. All services that work with young people need to know these issues. A school is a place where a young person will spend most of their time."

AO: "Many parents feel the role of schools is to teach English maths and science. Parents have the sole responsibility for ensuring their children are safe and are raised with the right values according to them. It’s not something that should be filtered through the teacher and should not be determined through a lobby that the Department of Education wants to promote, that all sexuality is normal and fine. Many parents reject that and this area should be left out of schools. It’s not something that schools should take over. Schools are there to teach English maths and science, not issues that parents may be opposed to."

JH: "We haven’t had routine sex education in this country; it’s been hit- and-miss. If we broaden this in terms of communication and the need for a safe space, we can acknowledge the change in culture. Abuses are happening. How has that been allowed to happen? In the case of Jimmy Saville, it was allowed to happen because girls daren’t speak up. We’ve got the situation in Rotherham that has become an issue about racism and ethnicity. Nobody said about the Jimmy Saville abuse cases, ‘oh there’s Jimmy Saville and his white mates’, ethnicity wasn’t an issue and it’s become one. We’re piling all these different issues in this pot that we blame on SRE. I still don’t understand what the problem is; I don’t believe doing nothing can save it. That’s what we’ve been doing for far too long and that’s why we’ve got some of the situations we’ve got now."

SB: "Putting all the responsibly on the parents, what about when the parents are the abusers? If they can’t speak about this at school where do they get that help?"

AO: "Children are able to speak to their teachers, and other people in their cultural area, we don’t need a Bill of Parliament to make sure that’s the case. It’s the responsibility of teachers, governors and authorities to ensure children and safe guarded; I don’t think we need a bill to deal with that."

SB: "We’ve got a really good story case study with our Right to Know campaign a young women who had suffered HBV and she had the threat of FM over her and her young sister. She did try and talk to her school and they reacted by going to her father and step mother who were the perpetrators. If you don’t have the right training you put young people more at risk. We can’t let that happen."

AO: "This isn’t to do with the curriculum."

SB: "It’s to do with training, and making schools properly prepared, teachers are dealing with these issues and they want to have the training and understanding and I don’t think there’s any argument against making our young people safe."

AO: "In terms of how to deal with pupils presenting signs of being abused, certain common sense needs to be applied and that won’t be addressed by Parliament. It’s none of the schools business to impose an agenda. Parents do not want to have a bad relationship with schools. This is a very controversial issue."

SB: "Teachers are desperate to know more – I think it’s’ all about prevention. If somebody is at home and in danger we want them to speak to the school as soon as possible and for people not to go through years of abuse. Before that we want girls and boys, potential perpetrators on both sides to encourage healthy relationships, and that is absolutely key. At the moment you say it’s all down to parents, but we’re not having that prevention work. There is a very exciting movement at the moment, the Girl Summit looking at FGM and child marriage - we’ve got that far, let’s go with this. Let’s stop perpetrators in their tracks, let’s change behaviour, it is possible."

AO: "There are existing laws regarding schools and other authorities for safe guarding children. We should not be taking this onto a bill about sex education that many parents do oppose. That should be respected, let’s leave schools for maths and science."

JH: "I feel very privileged to live in a country that is very democratic and which has schools for everybody, including young girls and that we have education that goes beyond 10 or 11 years. We live in a democracy but it really saddens me that we can have one or two parents who can stop that education for a whole group of people.

"Nobody questions English literacy, no one questions maths literacy .Why do we question sexual literacy? All we’re trying to do is give young people the healthy futures to be independent and to live in an equal nation."

(VoR)