Sex Lessons Outcry: Parents back school over sex classes row: Headteacher defends role of health educationalist

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The Independent Online
THE NURSE at the centre of a row over a sex education lesson for primary school children in Leeds in which oral sex was discussed with 9- and 10-year-olds, was yesterday said to be distraught and deeply upset by the furore over what was a routine self-development class.

Parents whose children were involved in the lesson where 'Mars bar parties', oral sex and the 'eternal triangle' were discussed, yesterday contacted Highfield Primary School, Moortown, to pledge their support for the nurse and ask for the lessons to continue.

The vast majority of parents said they were in favour of the self-development programme, did not want it changed and felt the criticism was unjustified.

The school, with about 300 children, has one of the best reputations for primary schools in Leeds, and made its own independent appointment of a health educationalist to run a series of five workshops on personal development, including sex education.

Following the row some parents sent flowers to the school, but others were unhappy with the controversy. Susan Murray, 37, who has a 10-year-old son at the school, said: 'Sex education is one thing, but that is completely different. The sort of role playing they are doing is a bit much and 10 is too young for that sort of thing . . . I don't want my child being taught like this.'

Carole Murphy, 43, whose 11-year-old daughter Janine is a pupil at the school, said: 'I was shocked to hear this was happening. I will be talking to my daughter and the headmistress before I decide what to do.'

Timothy Kirkhope, the Conservative MP for Leeds North East, whose constituency includes the school, said he had been contacted by worried parents. 'I am concerned that this level of sex education is going on at this age. If it is going on in schools generally then I would be very disturbed.'

But the vast majority of parents supported the nurse, Sue Brady, who is to continue with her job.

Sylvia Snowdon, the headteacher, said that the furore was caused after children had been invited to write down words they associated with growing up. The words written by the children, mostly aged between 9 and 10 in a class of about 30, included references to a 'Mars bar party' and a 'blow job'. Mrs Brady then responded to the children's questions.

'If there has been an error of judgement it is that these more sensitive deviant areas should have been explained individually to the children who asked about them and not to the whole group. As a headteacher, I can only say that I am sorry it has happened.

'I feel that a good school that has always had supportive parents has been dragged through the mud because of a momentary indiscretion,' Mrs Snowdon said.

Yesterday, Paul Berwin, one of the school governors, told the Independent that it was thought far better to have a professional adviser appointed to run a programme of self- development. 'We thought, with something as sensitive as this, we needed someone who was not a day- to-day teacher of children in the school. The lady who took these courses is very experienced in health education and has provided this course to other schools.

'She has traditional moral values herself and everything she has taught has been put over in a loving, family relationship. Anything of a salacious nature which has been mentioned was not introduced by her at all but by two children who asked her to explain the meaning of two phrases, and she answered in an honest way. It was not done by any prompting by her and the children wanted to know what it was about.'

The children were also asked to portray different situations to explain jealousy and some referred to 'mother, father and mother's lover'. Others talked about their friends having better trainers than they did. 'The school is being portrayed as odd and weird and that is untrue. It was all as innocent as that,' Mr Berwin said.

Jon Trickett, leader of Leeds City Council, said yesterday that it was wrong that the local authority no longer had a duty to determine the character of sex education and was in fact excluded as far as primary schools were concerned.

'We did offer a professional service but this was rejected by the governing body. I do not know exactly what happened in that classroom but we feel it would not have happened if the authority had had its original role. I think to exclude councils . . . is wrong.'

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