Plan for parents to receive sex lessons in school for parents in pounds 7m education plans education lessons for parents planned

PARENTS ARE to be urged to abandon "traditional British embarrassment" about sex in a government campaign to reduce the record level of teenage pregnancies.

The pounds 7m campaign unveiled today will include plans to invite parents into schools to give them advice on how best to discuss sex with their children.

Under the scheme, which is based on a successful New York project, parents will be offered booklets, posters and videos to ensure sex education messages taught at school are first relayed at home.

It is part of a national drive to reduce sharply the 90,000 teenage pregnancies recorded in the UK every year. About 9,000 under-16s become pregnant each year, double the rate in Germany and France.

Ministers confirmed yesterday that Downing Street's Social Exclusion Unit will also propose that single mothers under 18 should be housed in supervised hostels instead of council flats. The controversial plan, which is sure to be opposed by some Labour backbenchers, aims to give the girls specialist help in parenting skills and in finding work.

However, preventing the pregnancies in the first place will form the core of the campaign and sex education in the home will be its central theme.

The plan to involve parents follows evidence given to the unit that teenagers were twice as likely to become pregnant if they did not discuss sex at home. Tessa Jowell, the health minister in charge of the campaign, writes in The Independent today that talking to one's children about sex was the "last area of British reserve over sex.

"Research shows that too many parents simply try to pretend sex does not exist when it comes to their own children. Our inability to talk sensibly to our kids about their bodies, sex and relationships is costing us all dear."

A senior Whitehall source added that parents should be "the first port of call" for sex education and the campaign would offer practical support.

"We are not preaching to parents, but this is acknowledging the simple fact that many of them need guidance on how to broach the subject," he said.

In an attempt to halve the number of teenage pregnancies by 2010, the Government will also introduce "relationship education" to primary schools.

Ms Jowell confirmed that the social exclusion unit will be announcing the hostel plan aimed at the 2,000 under-18s who live on their own with their babies. The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, attacked hostels as a return to the "workhouse" when the idea was put forward in 1996 by John Redwood, a Tory cabinet minister at the time.

The proposal to promote more hostels was welcomed yesterday by Aleta Wilson, an 18-year-old single mother who had lived in a mother and baby unit in Croydon, south London with her daughter, Kelsey.

"A lot of girls complain about the hostels but my one was quite good. The units are supposed to prepare you for living on your own and I think they do quite a good job," she said.

Although its strict rules meant it was often difficult for friends and family to visit and she didn't get on with some of the other mothers, it had helped her to become independent.

Tessa Jowell, Review, page 4