UK

PSHE Lessons In Schools Could Help Protect Children From Sexual Abuse, Says Green MP Caroline Lucas

15/07/2015 12:08 BST | Updated 15/07/2015 15:59 BST

The UK's only Green Party MP says children must be taught to fight the threat of sexual abuse from figures like Jimmy Savile through compulsory Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) lessons at school.

Caroline Lucas is aiming to make PSHE a statutory requirement in schools in England and Wales by presenting a cross-party bill in Parliament.

The lessons - which cover topics like sex education, alcohol, smoking, drugs, bullying, personal health and family - would teach kids how to resist and deal with sexual abuse, Lucas claims, in the wake of scandals involving celebrities and politicians.

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PSHE would give kids "tools to be able to withstand" sexual abuse, Lucas claims

PSHE is present in the England and Wales school curriculum, but not compulsory. Lucas says it is a "crucial" part of education and it's "not rocket science" that it can benefit young people personally and academically.

Speaking to PoliticsHome, Brighton MP Lucas said the lessons could clearly help children to address abuse like that perpetrated by the entertainer Jimmy Savile who allegedly abused more than 450 people, many of them children.

“Nobody would suggest at all that simply the provision of PSHE would have prevented some of those scandals from happening, but at least it would have equipped kids with more tools to be able to withstand it,” Lucas said.

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Lucas says PSHE is "crucial"

“Perhaps it might also have given them more understanding on what is ‘normal,’ in a sense, although that is quite a strange word to use; what is quite right to say ‘no’ to.

“For some young people depending on what their home lives are like they might not have had, what many of would think of as, a very basic sense of your right to say ‘no’. Sometimes that just hasn’t been taught. So, to have a space where that can be explored is made even more important in the context of the child sex scandals.”

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But PSHE has stalwart critics, some of whom believe that parents should be responsible for teaching children about issues like sex and drugs, while others think that PSHE exposes young children to sexual ideas too young.

Gay rights campaigners recently slammed the Daily Mail for reporting that Labour's policy to tackle homophobic bullying in schools would lead to "sex lessons" for 5-year-olds.

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This Daily Mail front page drew criticism in February

Lucas said she was keen to dispel the 'myths' that surround the subject.

"I know that some people fear that PSHE can expose children to sexualisation but the exact opposite is true. A PSHE lesson for younger children wouldn’t be exposing them to anything graphic or upsetting.

"It would work to improve children's grasp of what it means to give and receive consent generally. The idea is that this gives them the solid building blocks they need as they encounter more complicated situations as they get older. Good quality PSHE, which is what this is all about would always be age appropriate and that’s why teachers need the training statutory status would give.”

This is the second time Lucas has tried to make PSHE compulsory - she also tabled a bill in July 2014.

Momentum has been building around the issue, and in February the Education Select Committee recommended that PSHE and sex education be given statutory status. The chairman said there was “overwhelming demand for statutory sex and relationships education - from teachers, parents and young people themselves.”

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, is also calling on the government to make the subject mandatory.

“It is high time for Ministers to provide schools with the space and the resources to give all pupils the high quality PSHE they need including sufficient funding for training and specialist staff being made available to schools," she said on Wednesday.

But the Secretary of State recently delayed the Government’s response to that recommendation.

Over 100 organisations have joined the campaign for statutory PSHE, run by the PSHE Association, including Mumsnet, Stonewall, Girlguiding, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the National Union of Teachers.

As well as protecting children, Lucas said, PSHE has "huge potential" to improve their academic and career prospects. "PSHE teaches young people the skills they need to make good choices and to think things through. It’s not rocket science that these skills have benefits well beyond the classroom,” she said.