Promoting sexual abstinence can put children at risk, Ofsted warns

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The Independent Online

Schools that preach abstinence may be putting pupils at greater risk of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, inspectors claim.

A new report from Ofsted, the education watchdog, concludes: "There is no evidence that abstinence-only programmes as the only education reduce teenage pregnancies or improve sexual health.

"Research suggests that education that promotes abstinence but withholds information about contraception can place young people at higher risk."

The report, stemming from a survey of personal, social and health education lessons in 350 schools, praises nurses who hand out "emergency hormonal contraception" - the morning-after pill - and other contraceptives for the part they play in combating unwanted pregnancies among girls aged 11 to 16. There is also no evidence to support claims that teaching about contraception leads to increased sexual activity," it adds.

The findings angered morality campaigners. Norman Wells, of Family and Youth Concern, said: "In putting this faith in sex education and contraception to deal with high teenage pregnancy rates, and a rise in sexual health problems among young people, Ofsted is plainly following the dogma at the heart of the Government's tackling pregnancy strategy.

"True sexual responsibility is a matter of saving sex for marriage and keeping it there once married."

But pregnancy advisory staff welcomed the report. They are worried that the growth in the number of faith schools and privately sponsored academies back-ed by faith groups will lead to more schools adopting the abstinence approach.

The report praises Camden Council in north London, where a clear message is given about teenagers' rights and responsibilities as well as advice about contraception. As a result, teenage pregnancy rates have fallen.

It says "many parents and teachers are not very good" at discussing sensitive issues with children such as sex. There is often the "absence of a moral code" at home, forcing schools totake more responsibility.

Pupils in the survey identified tobacco and alcohol as the substances that pose the greatest threats to their welfare. The report notes: "Since the 1990s there has been a decline in smoking - particularly among boys." But increasing numbers of girls are taking up smoking, giving "cause for concern".

Figures show 34 per cent of 16-year-old girls and 28 per cent of boys admit to getting drunk once a week. "Those who do [drink], drink significantly more than in the past," says the report.

Ofsted says there is evidence that more pupils in secondary schools are saying no to drugs but that primary schools have to improve their drug policies.