The shocking truth about sex in Britain's primary schools

The sexual behaviour of children under 10 is starting to mirror that of teenagers. Linda Jones and Richard Garner report
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The Independent Online

Children as young as seven are indulging in the sort of sexual behaviour once associated with 16-year-olds, according to parents and teachers.

Children as young as seven are indulging in the sort of sexual behaviour once associated with 16-year-olds, according to parents and teachers.

With ministers admitting they are unable to control the spread of underage sex in Britain and teenage conceptions at a record high, even primary schools are complaining of playground sex games and persistently obscene language.

Until now, the debate has concentrated on the behaviour of British teenagers, the most promiscuous in Western Europe. But an investigation by The Independent on Sunday shows how the obsession with sex now affects even the youngest pupils. The problem is thrown into sharp relief by one mother's revelation of how a children's tea party ended in disgrace when her seven-year-old son asked a family guest for sex.

"I could have died of shame," said Katie Love from Hednesford in Staffordshire. "Alex came home last year and propositioned a girl we had round for tea. I was shocked, I couldn't understand where on earth he would be learning to talk like that - it's definitely not at home.

"Alex then tried to explain to this poor girl how 'sex' was done - all in very childish terms - stuff he had obviously picked up at school."

Last week it was reported that three sisters in Derby had become pregnant at the ages of 12, 14 and 16. While the mother blamed the lack of sex education at school, others have described it as part of a chaotic social culture undermining the education system - along with rising levels of disruption and violence.

It has also become a big issue for education ministers, who have urged parents to encourage a responsible attitude towards sexuality and relationships, admitting schools can do little more to help.

Monica Galt, a senior figure in the National Association of Head Teachers and the head at King's Road Primary school in Manchester told the IoS that many of her pupils are frighteningly aware, discussing things she herself had no knowledge of in her twenties.

The drive to reduce underage conceptions is stalling, with figures showing that more than 8,000 girls under 16 became pregnant in England and Wales in 2003, an increase of 2.5 per cent. Sexually transmitted diseases are at record levels among the young.

Jacqui Smith, the new schools standards minister, has praised the IoS for its Inside Britain's Schools Campaign, highlighting social and disciplinary problems in the classroom. In an exclusive interview she revealed that, in future, the parents of violent or disruptive pupils will be ordered to sign formal guarantees of good behaviour, and that failure to keep to the agreement will see the student expelled. She also wants better training for teachers in classroom control techniques.

The Government has established a new task force on school discipline, part of Tony Blair's drive to reintroduce a "culture of respect" into the classroom. As Katie Love has discovered, though, he has an enormous job on his hands.

"As parents, we have always answered any questions about sex. But since he has been at school we have had to talk to Alex about lots of subjects we didn't think we would be broaching at this young age," said Mrs Love, an office manager. "You can't control what he hears from other children."

Alex is now aged 8 and, one year on, she laughs about his attempted seduction. But, at the time, she says, it was horrifying. "I didn't want my son to be talking like that. Children are being exposed to stuff I never dreamed possible. I wonder about how Alex will think about girls and women as he gets older, when they have a T-shirt on which says 'Babe' in big letters, at the age of eight.

"It's a no-win situation for schools. How can they stop the children talking about what they see every day? Computer games, DVDs, pop music, fashion, children's magazines, advertising and television programmes are all so obviously influenced by sex. They are being bombarded with images. You try explaining to an eight-year-old why everyone has FCUK on their T-shirts."

Additional reporting by Andrew Johnson


'IoS' readers are still responding to our special reports on the violence and indiscipline faced by schools. Here is a selection of your letters and emails:

Daniel in the lion's den

I became a supply teacher in the early 1990s after ceasing to be head of modern languages at an independent boys' school. The change of scene was terrifying! A boy kicked my car as I left school, and a group of boys stood in a circle round a girl in an English lesson pretending to have a "blow job". I was once given a German class of three pupils from year 11. Each had their own social worker and the mother of one used foul language in all her conversations with the school. I never refused the chance to go to a school, but I felt like Daniel going into the den of lions.

Christine Williams, Hereford

Thugs in training

Present-day discipline problems are not exclusive to the secondary sector. Many pupils transfer at 11 having perfected disruptive behaviour in primary and infant schools. Younger children can be equally effective in disrupting a classroom and creating mayhem. The nine-year-old who knows his rights might well be a knife-carrier within five years.

Michael Emery, Canvey Island, Essex

Fuel to fire

Tristan Moss's experience in a Leeds comprehensive sounded unpleasant both for himself and his pupils ("Class warfare... I could do nothing", 22 May). What sort of arrogance makes a person think they can become a teacher when they have not been trained to do the job? His description of the school suggests it had significant problems, but putting himself forward as a supply teacher, a post in which excellent skills are needed, makes him culpable in worsening the situation.

Judith Lynch, High Wycombe, Bucks

Have you or your children been affected? Are your classes being disrupted? The 'IoS' would like to hear from parents, pupils and teachers by email at or by post at Inside Britain's Schools, Home News Desk, The IoS, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS