Tonight I am packing my bag to head off to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on the early train tomorrow, reflecting on the questions I want to ask, the people I want to speak to and the answers I want to get. This time last week I was doing the same in preparation for the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.
In Brighton I was pleased at the commitment from Ministers to securing PSHE as a statutory subject. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a desire to get this through the legislative process. I just hope this becomes a reality and will be looking for reassurance from the Conservative Party that they want to see PSHE being statutory and will support it in parliament. Children's personal development and their health and well being is not party political, and particularly in the run up to the general election we have to ensure that it does not become so. The absolute majority of people, parents, professionals and children want schools to deliver high quality Personal, Social and Health Education. Brook among others has been campaigning for a long time to make that happen.
I was particularly pleased to attend a few fringe meetings where young people were involved in a meaningful way, creating and offering solutions to move away from the demonising approach to young people. A young women speaking at The Children's Society fringe meeting about inter generational relations told sad tales of a society that has lost sight of the power and creativity of young people. I was particularly horrified that she had been told by a shop keeper she could not come in because she looked like a thief, and had to endure the sound of a mosquito alarm going off whilst eating Mcdonalds with friends. She was followed by Professor Tanya Byron who gave a compelling presentation and ended by saying she was ashamed of our fearful punitive approach to young people.
We still have a long way to go in ensuring that children and young people are effectively integrated into our policy thinking and discussions. I worry still that either we do not think hard enough in the planning of meetings and the support young people are offered so they cannot be fully involved, or we try so hard to include them that all conversations defer back to young people and they never ever get challenged. Neither approach is good enough and we all still have a long way to go to get youth involvement right.
The National Autistic Society held an excellent fringe on the education of children with autism, and I look forward to following up an early conversation with their CEO about how we can make sure that high quality education for children with autism extends to education about their bodies, relationships and sexual health as well.
I will be leaving Manchester to head back to London on Wednesday where in the evening I am speaking at a meeting about sex and relationships education set up by Dialogue with Islam in the East London Mosque at 6.45. You can find out more from their website www.dialoguewithislam.org