Some of the agencies that have been approached for information suspect the officials are expected to prove a link between sex education and early sexual activity, despite evidence that there is no such connection. Mr Patten's moral line has caused a row with the Department of Health. He has issued draft guidelines which say teachers could commit a criminal offence by giving contraceptive advice to under-16s.
Under pressure to change this stance when he publishes his final advice in a few weeks' time, he now seems likely drop the threat of legal action. Instead, he could make it a disciplinary offence to help under- 16s without telling their parents. This would mean teachers could be sacked for giving pupils the address of the nearest family-planning clinic.
Department of Health officials have said there is nothing in law to forbid teachers giving birth-control advice, and they would not be willing to legislate to make it illegal.
If Mr Patten's officials want to prove that a thorough sex education can lead to early sexual activity, they are likely to be disappointed. A World Health Organisation study of 19 countries suggested that, if anything, better-informed youngsters were likely to wait longer before they started to have sexual relations. In the Netherlands, where pupils receive full and frank information about sex, the average age at which young people have their first sexual experience is slightly older than in Britain. The only recent study in the UK to look at the issue was carried out at London University. Kaye Wellings, one of the authors, said: 'We found that people who said schools were their main source of information about sex had a later age of first intercourse than those who did not.'
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