Patten softens approach on sex education

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Indy Politics
(First Edition)

Teachers are to be told to tailor sex education to the 'age and understanding of the pupil' under guidance issued by John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education.

The guidance will be regarded as a softening of approach by Mr Patten, who has been engaged in a protracted behind-the-scenes argument with Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, about the advice to teachers in dealing with children under 16.

Draft guidelines contained a warning that teachers would risk committing a criminal offence if they gave contraceptive advice to children under the age of consent.

The guidance to be issued today will be welcomed by Mrs Bottomley as a contribution to the targets for reducing unwanted pregnancies among young people that were set in the Health of the Nation White Paper.

Mr Patten has strongly denied that his department's guidance means pupils will be streamed before being given sex education, according to their sexual precocity. However, it allows teachers to be selective with pupils in the provision of sex education.

GPs have the right, established in case law, to provide under-age children with contraceptives without necessarily informing their parents. Teachers are expected to complain that the guidance remains unclear and uncertain.

Ministers have been split on the extent to which teachers should give explicit advice to children. Mrs Bottomley is keen to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancy, one of the highest in Europe, but Mr Patten has insisted that sex education should be given within the moral context of family life.