Staffroom Tales: Birds, bees, bunnies and cartoon couples

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The Independent Online

Recent tabloid headlines along the lines of "Condoms To Be Handed Out To 5 Year Olds!" must mean there has been some change in the government's sex education policy for schools. Reading the details a bit more closely, it becomes clear that the government is proposing such radical ideas as teaching 5-year-olds about relationships (I guess some of those children must have been wondering who the two adults were in their house who gave them with food and took them to school).

Don't panic, though, because "faith groups" will apparently be allowed "to produce supplementary guidance ...then deliver that programme of study in a way that's sympathetic to their moral beliefs". That's going to take some skilful differentiation techniques on the part of the teacher ("So, Year 6, to sum up, sex in a loving relationship is a natural expression of love. Except for you three children at the front: if you do it, you're going to hell!").

The government has obviously realised the need for urgent action, now that most secondary schools find themselves having to provide baby-changing facilities during their sex-education classes. I'm sure at the end of a lot of fuss the actual curriculum will be so wishy-washy that most of Britain's 11-year-olds will continue to get their sex education where they got it before: Eastenders and hip-hop videos. This means they expect their first sexual experience to be followed either by HIV and a fatal road accident or a ride in a diamond-studded helicopter while being showered in champagne.

At one of my former schools, a brave head teacher decided to take a stand and introduce some sex education from age nine. I had to pre-screen the video for parents one evening after school. After the laughter had subsided following my offer to lend the video to any fathers who had been unable to make it to the screening ("No thanks, Mr Walpole, my husband has his own supply of videos in his sock drawer"), we, ahem, got down to business.

Around 40 per cent of the video featured couples walking in the park and pointing at things. Being a modern video, there were two men seen walking together but it chickened out on the hand-holding so most children were probably left with the impression that they were professional tree pointers on a job. Twenty per cent of the video was slow motion shots of flowers growing and baby bunnies frolicking, while 35 per cent was taken up with an unlikely tokenistic family barbecue featuring every ethnic, marital and sexual combination eating burgers, while a voice over broodingly reported, "when adults are in love, they do a special thing to express their feelings". The final five per cent of the video consisted of nude cartoon people jumping on top of each other while hearts burst over their heads like fireworks.

Nearly all the parents were positive about the planned lessons but unfortunately a minority of two wrote angry letters to me, the head teacher, the governors, the local MP and, for, all I know, the Queen. I can still remember the slightly disturbing phrase, "in the video, a cartoon woman gets on top of a cartoon man. I do not want my children to know that there are any sexual positions other than the normal one."

The classes went ahead with those particular pupils withdrawn by their parents, which just meant they received a slightly warped account of the lessons from their friends in the playground ("Then Mr. Walpole had sex with the teaching assistant on his desk. There were exploding hearts everywhere!"). Ah well, I think they learned something.