Suicide Prevention and the National Curriculum Debate

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Department: Department for Education

Suicide Prevention and the National Curriculum

Graham Stringer Excerpts
Monday 13th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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I thank the hon. Member for her intervention and I offer my condolences to Peter’s family. As she said, this greater awareness is something that we want across the entire UK.

As I was saying, suicide is the single biggest killer of young people in Britain. The figures are very difficult to swallow. The latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that between April 2020 and March 2021 157 young boys and 72 young girls between the ages of 10 and 19 took their own life. That cannot be right, can it?

At least until my time in this place began, I was one of the many people who thought that talking about self-harm and suicide was not a good idea; I thought that putting thoughts into young people’s minds by discussing the issue openly would only make things worse. However, the many professionals and charities I have spoken to disagree, and a literature review conducted by Cambridge University showed that there is no research to prove that that idea about putting thoughts into young people’s minds about suicide was true. Children are exposed to so much on their phones that they need the tools to help them to deal with the subject. An appropriate curriculum, taught well, could do just that. However, we also need to think and act maturely and responsibly on this issue. If we find that, by discussing this issue, an unintended consequence is that suicide rates among young people increase, we must be prepared to think again.

The professionals who I have spoken to are all agreed that this subject should be included in the curriculum. They also agreed that year 7 and upwards was the best time to start. Furthermore, they agreed that it should not be discussed just in one year of secondary school, which I believe some schools already do, but should form part of each academic year for 11 to 12-year-olds upwards. For those children who are younger, this subject should not necessarily be broached. However, the message to them should be that they have the right to be, and to feel, safe. There should be no secrets and nothing should be kept from parents, on this matter or any other.

The professionals said that ideally this subject should be taught by external providers who are specialists in it and that after each session there should be a follow-up session to talk to any children who are concerned. They also said that both parents and teachers should be trained in how to deal with children who were struggling; in how to better spot any signs that something might be wrong; and in being proactive in starting conversations. We cannot place the responsibility on the shoulders of our young boys and girls to come forward and talk. It is our responsibility—in fact, our duty—to keep our eyes and ears open at all times. Mental health first aid training might be one way of achieving that.

I have concerns about bringing external providers into schools, as I have seen some highly inappropriate content on other subjects within RSHE, and parents are kept in the dark about what is being taught. If we are to use such providers, the content must be shared with parents. If a parent has concerns, their voice should be respected. I am sure the Government will take that on board.

Last week, I was delighted to receive a letter for the 3 Dads and I from the Secretary of State for Education. It said that the Government will include suicide prevention as a key priority area in their forthcoming review of RSHE. I greatly welcome that move; it is a real step forward. I am hopeful of a good debate today where we all have one aim: stopping our children and young people taking their own lives. Their lives are so precious. As a dad, my children are my life and my greatest joy; I cannot think of anything worse than losing them. I ask the Minister to do what we can to stop this. The Government are good, and they can—and do—do good things. Let this be the next good thing they do.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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I ask hon. Members to stand if you want to speak, even if you have written in. If you have not written in, please stand. It will give you and me an idea of how to proportion the time during the debate.