It’s parents who schools should be teaching about sex and social health – not just their children

When I was young discipline started at home, long before school

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The Independent Online

This week Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, announced she wants schoolchildren to be taught “a curriculum for life”. Behind the glib phrase, what does that entail?

Sex education is just one of the elements she wants to be compulsory – and children should also learn social skills, and how to deal with pressure from new technology, which has led to growing incidents of “revenge porn” and cyber-bullying.

Morgan’s department is drawing up new areas it wants covered in PSHE (personal, social health and economic education) lessons, including advice on how to say no to sex and to develop “emotional resilience”. From September, pupils are to be taught first aid, financial literacy and budgeting, volunteering and advice about leaving home and going to university.

Controversially, Morgan believes that schools are the place to teach character, personal and social skills. The burden she seeks to place on teachers seems pretty heavy. Back in my day, discipline started at home, long before school. There were endless rules about eating, shouting, staying out late, length of hemlines and amount of make-up.

Any transgressions were punished with draconian efficiency – removal of pocket money, enforced nights in. There was the constant threat of corporal punishment – a whack with a hairbrush up to the age of 10.

This worked until I was 14. Then the rot set in and my lying started. I began to live a parallel life, hiding my clothes and changing en route to clubs and dance halls. I had sex at 15 and had a non-consummated relationship with a (much older) black jazz musician a year later.

Today’s teenagers are less adventurous than I was, spending far more time at home. Much of their day is spent online or on the phone. They rarely drink or take drugs. And yet many parents say they can’t control their children, and frequently call the police over domestic bust-ups, according to a new report published by her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Banning smacking has resulted in parents “talking through” issues with kids – what a disaster that has been. Treating teenagers as pals is something my sister and many of my friends did, and it caused all sorts of problems. Young people deserve privacy, boundaries and rules. It’s great to have something to rebel against.

Morgan has highlighted the need for children to be better equipped for life, but that task cannot be left entirely to teachers. Why not make parents spend time at school studying PSHE in the evenings? They’re the people who need lessons in discipline and setting boundaries.


Disney finally acknowledges gay and lesbian reality

With Star Wars fans eagerly awaiting The Force Awakens, which will be ready for release at the end of this year, Disney has just announced two new films – Rogue One, and Star Wars Episode VIII – to be released in 2016 and 2017 respectively. There’s been much excitement about the news that (at last) a lesbian character has arrived in the official galaxy, making her debut in the new Star Wars novel Lords of the Sith by Paul S Kemp, published at the end of April.

Moff Delian Mors (who dreams up these names?) is described as a “strong, capable” governor, who “just happens” to be gay. I wonder if Disney, who bought Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise in 2012, have any plans to make their other female characters a little more reflective of the real world? Little girls everywhere are delighted that there is to be a Frozen 2. By the time that yucky saga reaches it’s third or fourth outing, can we expect a gay Princess?


Diebenkorn is getting due recognition – at long last

On the other side of the Atlantic, Richard Diebenkorn is recognised as one of the most important 20th-century American artists, and yet he’s so unfashionable here that not a single public gallery owns any of his work. Maybe it’s because he was too honest in facing challenges in his work, too seductive in his use of colour and too accessible. He didn’t do jokes, intellectual games or statements about the world.

Diebenkorn was a painter who spent his life immersed in the task of capturing light and space. It was a journey that took his work from abstraction to figurative and back again, and he spent the last 25 years of his life painting the same streetscape in a suburb of Los Angeles, over and over again.

I applaud the Royal Academy for staging an important retrospective (which opens today) – maybe they’ll do the same for another unfashionable American abstract expressionist, Helen Frankenthaler, who has only seven paintings in British museums. It’s so enjoyable to go to an exhibition where the art of painting sings out.


What Margate needs is investment, not a royal visit

The Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate showed a small group of works by Helen Frankenthaler last year, contrasting it with paintings by JMW Turner. Last week, the gallery received a visit from the Duchess of Cambridge, and I spied Gavin Turk cosying up for a chat, which (he told reporters) was about his luxuriant beard and not his gorgeous bright-red suit or his work, which features a life-size statue of himself as Elvis, as well as a fake blue plaque commemorating his life.

Turk is an entertaining and subversive chap. I own a print of a black plastic bin bag – so I was disappointed to see the presence of senior royalty weave its usual numbing magic, reducing him to an abject fan.

As well as visiting Margate last week, this week the Duchess toured the set of Downton Abbey – I am not sure which experience was the more useful. Downton earns a lot of money in international sales and is a world-famous brand which, monarchists claim, is a benefit  that comes from having a royal family. But did Margate need a royal visit?

The Gallery is a huge success and the old town is packed with interesting shops, but the town remains a work in progress. What Margate needs is investment, the restoration of the beautiful seafront towards the east of the gallery, and the re-opening of the outdoor sea-water swimming pool. It’s crying out for a draconian attack on litter-droppers, dog-foulers and general vandalism. It needs more community police officers and it needs the half-finished building projects littering the town to be completed. What Margate doesn’t need is a pregnant duchess bestowing largesse.


Walking is heaven , but sharing a tent is pure hell

I’ve said it so many times, and now the message is finally getting through to deepest Silicon Valley: there’s no better way to spend your time, no better way to get healthy, think creatively and enjoy life, than walking! The chief financial officer at Google  has seen the light. Patrick Pichette earned an estimated $5m (£3.4m) a year, but has experienced what he calls “a perfectly fine mid-life crisis full of bliss and beauty”. The result? He’s ditching his job to go backpacking.

The 52-year-old has been married for 25 years and jokes that his kids reckon he’s spent so little time with his wife that it’s too early to say if they actually get on. Hiking is great, but sharing a small tent with another person and a lot of smelly kit will test any relationship to the limit, so Mr and Mrs Pichette would do well to adopt separate quarters for their life-enhancing treks.