Streaming in sex classes under attack: Ministers split on guidelines for teachers

CHILDREN SHOULD be divided into groups for sex-education lessons according to their knowledge about sex, new government guidelines will say.

John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, has changed sex-education guidelines, to be published shortly, after a nurse in a Leeds primary school discussed oral sex and 'Mars bar parties' with 10 and 11-year-olds. The nurse said she was responding to children's questions, but a few parents protested.

Teachers yesterday condemned the change as 'barmy'. They said it would simply lead to the 'innocent' children asking the 'knowledgeable' ones what they had been taught after class.

The Department for Education said the guidelines would be general. It had no details on how teachers were to assess which children knew what. Schools would presumably have to separate naive sheep from sophisticated goats.

A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said: 'This has to be one of the daftest ideas the Government has yet come up with. It is simply encouraging some kids to find out what the others already know.

'You can't segregate children in the playground. Only someone who knows nothing at all about education could have made this suggestion,' she said.

There has been controversy over the draft sex education guidelines since they were issued last December. Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, and Mr Patten are split over the role of teachers in giving contraceptive advice to pupils under the age of 16. Mr Patten and Baroness Blatch, his Minister of State, see the guidelines as part of the Government's campaign to promote family values.

They believe that under the law teachers who are approached by pupils under 16 about contraception must refer them to a GP.

Mrs Bottomley also supports the campaign, but fears that such advice may undermine her department's drive to cut the number of teenage pregnancies.

According to the Department for Education, Mr Patten has won the battle. A spokesman for the department said: 'Our understanding is that teachers who give advice on contraception for under-16s are breaking the law. The law is the law. For us to change the guidelines, the law would have to change.'

Ann Taylor, Labour's education spokeswoman, yesterday accused Mr Patten of creating 'turmoil' in schools because he wanted to dictate everything that happened in the classroom. She spoke as the Liberal Democrats produced a document accusing the Government of creating 'obfuscation and confusion' by stealing local-authority powers.

A planned pilot training scheme for specialist teacher assistants - the so-called 'Mums' Army' - is to be blocked by the National Union of Teachers. The union's general secretary, Doug McAvoy, accused Mr Patten of subterfuge, saying that the intention was to bring in teaching staff without adequate qualifications.