August 27, 2008

Teachers Warn Against Move for Sex Education of Four-Year-Olds

By Tomos Livingstone

TEACHERS' unions warned last night their members would feel "vulnerable and uncomfortable" if asked to teach sex education to children as young as four.

The call, made in Monday's Western Mail came from a group of Labour MPs headed by Rhondda's Chris Bryant.

They argue that as Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe radical action is needed, including compulsory sex education in all schools.

At present WAG guidelines state that primary schools are only required to "have a policy" on sex education, while secondaries are obliged to include it in their curriculum.

But schools inspectorate Estyn says the quality of lessons is patchy, and the MPs want to see compulsory lessons that deal with emotional as well as physical aspects of sex.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "In an already overcrowded and demanding curriculum, what would go to make space for this? Primary school teachers are already over stretched ensuring that they can meet the demands of the current curriculum. Even if appropriate training was provided, which experience shows is highly unlikely, most teachers would feel extremely vulnerable and uncomfortable if asked to take on this responsibility.

"This could only be delivered effectively in schools if health professionals from other public services and voluntary organisations could be commissioned to undertake the work in schools. This cannot just be viewed as the responsibility of schools.

"Consideration would also need to be given to the implications for parents.

If sex education was a formalised part of the curriculum could they still exercise their right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons?"

Kaye Wellings, professor of sexual and reproductive health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "The issue of what age you should start sex education is always controversial, but children ask questions at an early age and they need answers. There is evidence that some parents are uncomfortable in providing them, and prefer schools to take on the task."

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