Schools targeted as safe-sex message loses impact

HEALTH ministers are urgently discussing a revised strategy for Aids and HIV education for young people - because experts believe that the safe-sex message has lost all impact.

School governors and headteachers would be targeted in a new Health Education Authority campaign to get schools to toughen their approach. It is understood that recent newspaper coverage of Aids, which has played down the risk of infection among heterosexuals, has increased pressure on the HEA to devise a more effective campaign. A study released last week by Goldsmith's College, London, concluded that teenagers see HIV as a 'remote' danger.

In Amsterdam today, at the opening session of the eighth International Conference on Aids, more than 9,000 delegates from 120 countries will hear that the global epidemic is 'heading out of control', with a predicted 20 million people infected with HIV worldwide by 1995. The majority of these infections will have occurred heterosexually.

Although awareness of Aids and HIV among young people is high - HEA advertising campaigns regularly reach 80 per cent of the target group - studies show that their sexual behaviour has not changed since 1988. Teenagers are having sexual intercourse at a younger age but failing to use condoms regularly. The HEA has previously dealt with local education authorities, but with the growing autonomy of many schools, it feels this strategy is no longer practicable.

'Headteachers and governors are the new 'gatekeepers' in schools and we need to form new alliances with them,' an HEA source said.

The Government has said that Aids and HIV must be covered as part of the science core curriculum. However, experts say that this will lead to the same problems that have hampered general sex education. Teenagers learn basic facts in biology lessons which bear little relevance to their own lives. Health education, of which sex education is a part, is not mandatory but a cross-curriculum subject. In most schools, teachers do not have time to do anything effective about Aids/HIV in cross-curriculum teaching.

There is also a feeling that many teachers and governors are reluctant to have Aids-related issues, such as high- risk sexual behaviour, homosexuality, drug use or condoms, discussed in the classroom.

A recent survey in the London area showed that one in five schools had no policy on sex education and only 38 per cent of teachers had received training in HIV and Aids.

'Headteachers and governors have a responsibility to prepare children for adult life. Those who are worried about parents who don't wish their children to learn about it are mistaken,' the HEA source said.