'Gender equality' lessons plan for five-year-olds

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The Independent Online

Children as young as five could be taught about "gender equality" as part of a Government campaign to tackle domestic violence, it was announced today.

Lessons on equality and domestic violence will be included in personal, social and health education, which from 2011 will be a compulsory part of the curriculum.

Before they can qualify, trainee teachers will have to learn about gender awareness and domestic violence.

Officials will produce new rules for teachers on tackling "sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying" in the classroom and schools will be marked by inspectors on how well they are teaching children about preventing violence aimed at women.

Schools minister Vernon Coaker said the lessons would be appropriate to the age group being taught.

"The appropriateness of what you do with someone who is five years old is totally different in terms of content and how you will be taught to someone who is 15 or 16, he said"

"You can teach (younger children) about not bullying people and how names can hurt people."

But campaigners said using school time for the lessons would distract from children's progress in academic subjects.

Margaret Morrissey, of the Parents Outloud campaign group said: "The Government should stop interfering with parents bringing up their children and focus on teaching children to read, write and all those things they need to get a career.

"This political correctness is turning our children into confused mini adults from the age of five to nine.

"This has nothing at all to do with academic learning."

The strategy also includes a new campaign to tackle violence in teenagers' relationships, which will launch next year.

Two telephone hotlines - one for stalking and harassment and a 24-hour sexual violence helpline - will be set up.

An online directory of services will help victims get access to services, the report said.

Campaigners against domestic violence accused ministers of not providing enough money for the initiatives.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: "Whilst we welcome the Government's new strategy, which addresses all forms of violence against women and girls, Refuge is disappointed that it is not underpinned by sufficient funding to make a real difference to abused women and girls.

"Many refuges and other women's services are at risk of closure ... and a third of local authorities provide no domestic violence services whatsoever.

"We are pleased that the strategy focuses on preventing violence against women and girls through education. As part of the End Violence Against Women coalition we have been lobbying the Government hard to address this issue. But to create a seismic change in social attitudes the Government needs to commit significant funding every year, not just on an ad hoc basis."

Ministers are also looking at laws that would ban adverts for prostitutes.

They are concerned about advertisements for massage parlours and escort services that are in reality adverts for brothels.

Solicitor General Vera Baird said: "In Ireland it's apparently unlawful to advertise brothels or individuals and we'd like to know how that's been achieved because clearly many of these ventures present as businesses - massage parlours or escort agencies or whatever.

"It becomes hard for local newspaper advertising takers to be sure what they are dealing with."