Pupils going to school in Britain today are growing up in one of the most diverse countries in theworld with plenty of opportunities and few guarantees. Many young people worry that while technology and opportunity have advanced, this doesn't necessarily make them feel more secure socially or economically.
As the leading national body for Personal, Social, Health and Economic education - or PSHE - we want this subject to be at the heart of an education system which prepares children for a changing world, so we are delighted that the Commons Education Committee has today called for the subject, including Sex and Relationships education, to be on the curriculum in schools across the country.
In the past, this might have been seen as a controversial recommendation but past years have seen a growing consensus in favour of the subject: our #PSHEpledge campaign for statutory status for PSHE has the support of 87% of parents, 88% of teachers, 85% of business leaders, four leading teaching unions, five royal medical colleges and two royal societies. Public Health England, the Children's Commissioner and the Equality and Human Rights Commission all also support statutory status.
Hundreds of thousands of young people have made 'a curriculum for life' a UK Youth Parliament priority two years in a row, while a series of inquiries into Child Sexual Exploitation have called for this learning to keep children safe. These calls have been backed by 14 All Party Parliamentary Group chairs writing in The Telegraph today.
The Telegraph has been one of a number of media outlets challenging the idea of PSHE being controversial by supporting statutory status for different elements of the subject: its Better Sex Education Campaign has focused particular on secondary schools, while the Mail on Sunday has focused on emergency life skills taught through the subject. The Guardian is campaigning for better mental health education in schools, Kris Hallenga of breast cancer awareness charity Coppafeel has written in the Sun about getting cancer education on the curriculum in the Sun, while Cosmopolitan has made getting PSHE taught in all schools one of its election priorities.
Leading parents organisations like Mumsnet have joined our campaign too, and with the Education Committee now joining the Chair of the Health Select Committee and the Home Affairs Select Committee in recommending statutory status, a consensus seems to be emerging.
While the support for the campaign is growing, it is important to listen to those who are still concerned. During the Education Committee's inquiry, anxieties were expressed in relation to the subject and its potential impact on parental responsibility and faith communities: these are voices which should be heard and concerns which we should try to address.
Today's Education Committee report has two important protections for parents: firstly, it requires schools to consult with parents, and secondly it maintains parents right to withdraw children from Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). These go a long way to alleviate concerns, and may even bolster support for the subject - we know that when parents have the opportunity to air their concerns with schools, they're more likely to come out in favour of the subject. While the right to withdraw children from SRE still divides opinion, we can see why parents might want it to remain in place, even if, once consulted, they decided not to use it.
A number of people who wrote into the inquiry were also concerned that PSHE education might be insensitive towards faith schools. We know that good practice in PSHE education means taking faith into account, and making sure that information presented in lessons is appropriate to their religious and cultural backgrounds and reflects a range of perspectives; our responsibility is to ensure this good practice is reflected in all schools.
Learning to listen to a range of perspectives, even in the context of wide and growing support behind a popular campaign, is a key life lesson we would hope would be covered in PSHE. Those of us trying to make our case at a national level must remember that even with seemingly overwhelming support for the subject there is rarely such a thing as complete consensus and ensure that protections are in place for those who may have concerns.
Many of the children starting school this September will live to see the 22nd century. In a changing world, an education system which equips children and young people for an uncertain future, is not a luxury, it is a necessity. But making progress in pursuit of that goal means not just celebrating the support we have, but also hearing the voices of those whose concerns remain. Behind the hashtag, that is how progress will ultimately be made.