I have had a bit of a wake up call over recent months and weeks about the role of external visitors supporting schools in their Personal, Social and Health Education curriculum and it is an area we need to turn some attention to, to ensure that children and young people are not being subjected to lies, misinformation and poor quality teaching.
Firstly, I was in Cornwall recently and observed the Brook team deliver a brilliant Bitesize programme in partnership with the Alcohol Health Promotion worker, and the Youth Service in a school. The programme was high energy, interesting, challenging for all students and most of all it was fun. The students will remember it and pretty much everyone will have gotten some takeaways including, importantly, knowing where their local Brook service is. It was also clear the school knew where the half day session fitted into students' wider learning. This is clear evidence that when using outside visitors works, it really works and can be a brilliant experience for all.
The flip side of this is it can too easily go wrong. This was shown in a recent report by one of Brook's projects Education for Choice. The report revealed a range of young people's experiences of outside visitors teaching about abortion. The findings make horrifying reading at times - a melting pot of lies, misinformation and scaremongering about the impact of abortion on future fertility, on risk of breast cancer, about the size and stage of foetal development and what happens when a woman has an abortion.
But it's not just the facts about abortion that are inaccurate - the teaching is often deeply moralistic and presents a particular world view. This approach extends way beyond abortion. Take for example the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Children (SPUC). SPUC recently published a leaflet about same-sex marriage. In it they warn that if marriage is available for any combination, then gender becomes irrelevant and marriage will be reduced to gratifying your own personal desires. The human cost of legalising same-sex marriage will be that motherless and fatherless families will be institutionalised, they claim.
Talking in response to recent reporting about outside visitors in drug education, the PSHE Association has urged schools to take a cautious approach when inviting external visitors into schools. I support that call. At a meeting on Monday Minister for PSHE, Liz Truss was clear they also want good quality outside visitors and told the meeting that the PSHE Association will be doing some work on this issue, which is to be welcomed. Brook will be discussing this with the Association to see how we can input in our area of expertise.
In the meantime, all of us - organisations, teachers and school leaders - must be explicit about what is and is not good practice when working with outside visitors, and raise the profile of the potentially damaging impact of allowing organisations into the classroom whose aim is to push a single world view and whose approach frightens and worries children and young people. That is not good teaching or good learning. It would not be welcomed by most people teaching other subjects and it is unacceptable in PSHE.