Yvette Cooper: The Government’s attitude to sex education is ‘horrifying and irresponsible’

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Speaking at the PinkNews Debate, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary has given an impassioned plea for all parties to back compulsory, inclusive Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) for all schools.

The PinkNews Debate, chaired by Evan Davis, took place at the Wellcome Collection in London on Thursday 19 March.

Ms Cooper, branded the Government’s attitude to compulsory SRE “horrifying”, while responding to a question from Virgin founder Richard Branson.

The entrepreneur asked: “Will the panel agree with me that the best way to tackle this is through early lessons in schools on Sex and Relationship Education?”

Yvette Cooper responded: “I am really appalled at the way the Government has dragged its feet on this because, when you see the levels of homophobic bullying in schools, the fact that you have some surveys showing almost half of young LGBT people self harming, when you have growing violence in teenage relationships, when you have teenagers exposed to on the internet all sorts of violent pornography and so on – the idea that we are not teaching all of our children respect in relationships, the idea that we are not making it compulsory in every school, I just think is so out of date, and I just think it is horrifying and irresponsible to be honest.

“We ought to be teaching about respect in relationships. We should be teaching about zero tolerance of violence in relationships. We should be teaching about respect in terms of same-sex relationships.

“And of course it’s got to be age appropriate, of course it’s got to be appropriate to the age of the children, but it should be responsible for every school – we should be doing it right across the country.

“But look, in primary schools they can be learning about respect for others, and respect and understanding relationships.That sort of thing you can learn at an early age. Of course it’s gotta be age appropriate but you can teach those values and attitudes.

“Every school should be doing it – there is some great stuff happening in some schools – but there is far too many schools who aren’t doing it at all – too many young people [are] saying ‘actually no we didn’t get any SRE’.”

Referring to a Labour proposal from before the 2010 election, as part of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which had various policies including compulsory PSHE, removed in order to allow it to pass, Ms Cooper blamed former Education Secretary, then shadow schools secretary, Michael Gove for blocking it.

Don Foster interjected to contest her claim the Lib Dems have voted against it, Cooper responds: “Yes you have [voted against it] Don. Actually the Lib Dems have voted against it several times when we put forward amendments in Parliament to push this through.

“I wish you would vote with us. I wish all the Lib Dems and all the Tories would vote with us would have a consensus across parties about this.

“Richard Branson’s right, the kids are right, the parents are right – everybody is right who is campaigning for this – we need compulsory Sex and Relationships Education in all of our schools.”

The passionate case for SRE in all schools was received with cheers from the audience and loud applause.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston responded to Ms Cooper to say: “Relationship education is a vital part of schooling everybody… Should be of the highest quality and set people up for life.”

Mentioning new initiatives to improve the quality of Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) in schools, announced by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Baroness Stowell was helped out by other panel members when asked by Evan Davis to define PSHE.

Referring to Richard Branson’s question, Baroness Stowell said this “has to be tackled early on”, and that it is a “very very serious issue”.

She also said it should be “for schools to decide what to they should do in the most appropriate fashion for their pupils”, “without there being a law”, and that a “vast majority of schools” provide “this kind of education” already.

She said: “We absolutely support relationship education in schools. We think it is vitally important and we want it to be of really high quality, which is why we are working to ensure that in those schools where it isn’t, the quality is improved, but we don’t believe the solution to everything is to pass a law.

“99% of schools are already doing this, what’s needed isn’t a new law. What is needed is to ensure that the quality is high and that is where we’re focusing our energies.”

Don Foster said the statistics about mental health problems in LGBT young people is “appalling”, bringing up bullying in schools.

“I want to be absolutely clear that I entirely agree with what Yvette has said. I think it is vitally important that we enable schools to find more time to make sure they can have proper PSHE time to look at issues like citizenship, financial literacy and also Sex and Relationship Education.

“I believe that should be of course age appropriate – I believe it should be compulsory, an that would include free schools and academies.”

Mr Foster said the Liberal Democrats would ensure teacher training, which would be mandatory for all teachers, would include SRE training.

“There are some quite difficult things one does in coalition. In truth there are sometimes when you want to get other things through you have to make concessions at this stage when you are in coalition. We could get into why did the Liberal Democrats renege on their promise in relation to tuition fees – it is a perfectly legitimate question for people to ask because it had a huge impact on damaging trust towards my party.”

Natalie Bennett said she “strongly agrees” with Yvette Cooper, and agreed with her “passion”. She noted that Caroline Lucas has a private members bill for PSHE.

She said the Green Party has been pushing on the issue strongly, and that the Green Party was the first party to campaign on this issue.

Peter Whittle, UKIP’s Culture Spokesman asked: “Why are families not actually making it clear what acceptable ways for kids to behave? Why are they not telling them about bullying? Why should it be left to the school? Surely these things should be taught in the family environment. That’s what seems to be missing from the whole discussion.”

He said he disagreed with sex and relationships education being taught in primary schools.

The debate is generously supported by KPMG.
Yvette Cooper: The Government’s attitude to sex education is ‘horrifying and irresponsible’

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