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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'