Sex education must improve

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The Independent Online

It is a sadbut inescapable fact that the United Kingdom has one of worst records on sex education in Europe. We have the highest rate of teenage pregnancies and abortions of any country in the European Community and British girls have been suffering an epidemic of sexually transmitted infection. So, this week's thoughtful report from Ofsted on sex education is welcome.

Schools have to take some responsibility for the poor quality of sex education. OK, poverty and deprivation play their part but schools make a difference. And it is well known that sex education is not consistent around the country. In some areas it is good; in others it is poor. As the report shows, the sex education a pupil receives can mean the difference between life and death.

It is a shock therefore to find that teaching about HIV and Aids has been downgraded by schools in the past decade. This means that today's teenagers are less worried about the topic than they should be. The inspectors, quite rightly, call on schools to pay more attention to teaching it. This has happened, they point out, at a time when pupils have stopped turning to their parents for advice about sex and relationships, so the teachers role has, if anything, become more important.

How ironic that a subject as vital as sex education has such low status and is pushed to the margins of school life. Meanwhile young people are crying out for information about sex as part of relationships. All the surveys show that they want teachers to move away from the biological aspects – the birds and the bees – and to ponder real-life dilemmas. They want to talk about what it means to have sex with someone, when is the "right" time to do it, and if that's what they really want.

In short, we should be teaching children about their own sexuality. Too many schools duck the issue of homosexuality, says Ofsted. The reason may be Section 28, the law passed by the previous Conservative government forbidding local education authorities from doing anything to promote homosexuality. Section 28 should be repealed. We owe it to the next generation to be grown-up about sex and relationships and to stop treating sex as something smutty that goes on behind the bike sheds.

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