HIV-positive teen asks Michael Gove for compulsory sexual health lessons in state schools

Senior Reporter

An HIV-positive teenager has written an open letter to Michael Gove asking him to make lessons about the virus a compulsory part of sexual education in schools, amid fears of growing ignorance about it among young people.

Luke Alexander, 19, who discovered that he had HIV a year ago, said he received “absolutely no information” on the subject when he was at school and that he may have avoided becoming infected if he had.

In his letter, published in the form of a petition to the Education Secretary on the website, Mr Alexander says the “vast majority of young people today have little or no common knowledge” about HIV.

“I myself strongly believe that if I (19 years of age) had learnt about HIV during my secondary education, I might have avoided being infected with HIV myself at just 18 years old,” he adds.

Mr Alexander, an employee of Selfridges from Oldbury in the West Midlands, told The Independent that men and women of his generation had never been exposed to the kind of Aids awareness campaigns such as those of the 1980s, so education was now the only way for the message to get through.

“I went around my [sixth form] college and asked a few people what they knew about HIV,” he said. “It was really quite shocking. Two people had never heard of it, and half thought you could transmit it through saliva – there were so many misconceptions.”

Although all schools in England are obliged to teach pupils about HIV and AIDS as part of the science curriculum when they learn about viruses, campaigners say the approach is “patchy” in practice. A survey carried out by the Sex Education Forum in 2011 found that one in four young people learnt nothing about HIV while at school.

Government guidelines state that schools should also cover the issue in Personal, Social, Health Education (PSHE) classes, but as the subject is not compulsory they can choose not to follow this advice.

Daisy Ellis, acting director of policy at the Terence Higgins Trust, said there was “too much variability” on how sex education was taught in schools and that children should not have to rely on a “random biology lesson” to be taught about HIV.

She added: “There really is no guarantee that young people are getting the right skills, the right knowledge and understanding that they need to have healthy adult relationships. We want to see sex and relationships education as part of the curriculum so it has that equal footing and isn’t just something that’s pushed to one side.”

She added that the rise of free schools – which Mr Gove has played a leading role in promoting – was also a concern as they are not obliged to follow the guidelines for sex education.

Plans to make sex education compulsory in state-funded primary and secondary schools were voted down by MPs last year, but Labour leader Ed Miliband has pledged to push the change through if his party wins the next general election in 2015.

In Wales, compulsory sex education was introduced in 2002, but in Scotland there is no statutory requirement for schools to teach it.

Susie Parsons, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust: said “There is a chronic lack of commitment and investment in sex and relationships education in the UK, in particular education about HIV… This hands-off and inconsistent approach is failing our young people and is reflected in low awareness and understanding of HIV in this age group.”   

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Pupils must learn about sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS as part of sex and relationship education.”

A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Morrissey pictured in 2013
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Supply Teachers Needed in Bungay

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Year 6 Teacher

£111 - £163 per day + £111 - £163 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: The posi...

Experienced Creche Assistant - Lambeth - September 2014

£64 - £69 per day + Competitive London rates of pay : Randstad Education Group...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star