The Government is facing pressure from MPs and campaign groups to improve education in the wake of recent child sex abuse scandals.
Following the revelations that emerged on CSE in areas such as Rotherham and Oxfordshire, calls have intensified to increase the status of Personal Social Health & Economic (PSHE) education in schools.
The inquiry into Rotherham, known as the Jay Report, found that victims of sexual exploitation were “scathing” about the PSHE education that they had received.
Subsequently, the Education Committee recommended that the subject be made statutory in order to improve provision and described current policy as “weak”.
The report requires a Government response in the near future and the PSHE Association is urging the Government to begin the process.
Chief Executive of the PSHE Association Joe Hayman believes the opportunity should be seized before May’s general election.
“They could announce that they are starting work on it now and that would have a huge impact in schools across the country.
“It would mean that we wouldn’t lose months waiting for the other side of the election. This is an issue which has already been left for far too long,” he says.
Mr Hayman recognises the limits of PSHE education but stresses that it can be a vital part of improving child safety.
“We are not saying that this is the solution to CSE on its own by any stretch of the imagination but schools can play an important role in teaching children and young people about consent and healthy relationships, teaching them about how to keep themselves safe…”
“Clearly these children involved in sexual exploitation were not in healthy relationships and they weren’t able to give full consent as children who were clearly being manipulated and having their vulnerability taken advantage of…
“What we want is lessons on healthy relationships, consent, mental health, drugs and alcohol to be on the curriculum in all schools across the country. And not in response to a crisis but as a preventative measure,” he says.
The current status of PSHE means that in many schools it is taught by untrained teachers and is in danger of “being squeezed off the curriculum,” Mr Hayman adds.
This lack of formal recognition may have impacted on the standard of PSHE delivery, according to Ofsted.
In a recent report entitled ‘Not yet good enough’ the schools inspectorate concluded that a majority of schools needed to improve standards in this area.
Getting the subject onto the national curriculum is an objective which has received widespread support.
A survey by YouGov found that 90% of parents believe schools should teach children or young people about mental health and emotional wellbeing alongside traditional subjects like maths and science.
The campaign has also been backed by a number of influential children’s charities including the NSPCC and Barnardo’s as well as the Children’s Commissioner and six royal medical colleges.
Mr Hayman is encouraged by the level of interest and commitment to the subject, especially within parliament but is also keen to push for action at the highest levels of Government.
“We are seeing support across the Commons and across the Lords and I think a large number of MPs are recognising that issues like child sexual exploitation are happening across the country, and we need to work in every part of the country to keep children and young people safe.
“So, the only group of MPs that we are still waiting for is ministers. I think we have got support across parliament but it is ministers who now need to change their approach,” he says.
Mr Hayman also raises concerns about the consequences of inaction. “Not doing anything,” he says, means “children are going to be left at risk.”