Why tell children about sex and drugs before they need to know?

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The Independent Online

According to The Sun, the government is introducing "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month" to primary schools. As part of the proceedings, children "as young as seven will be asked to chalk swearwords on the blackboard". This, it is hoped, will "engineer discussions on name-calling".

According to The Sun, the government is introducing "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month" to primary schools. As part of the proceedings, children "as young as seven will be asked to chalk swearwords on the blackboard". This, it is hoped, will "engineer discussions on name-calling".

Closer examination, however, reveals that the Government has merely given a grant of £16,000 to Amnesty International and the gay and lesbian teachers' support group School's Out to develop resources that can be offered to schools that wish to take part. The Sun's clarion call, that we must write to our children's schools and "insist that he or she is withdrawn from these misguided and disgraceful lessons" is, frankly, a bit previous. Or it ought to be.

It would be sensible to have such lessons in a primary school only if a problem with homophobic bullying had been identified there, or if some other event - such as a homophobic attack - had been brought to the attention of the children.

The trouble is, however, that when The Sun raves about "political correctness gone mad" and "a blatant exercise in social and sexual engineering", the blusterings carry a germ of truth. Increasingly, it seems, state schools are being used to disseminate political or ideological messages, with parents being treated like the recalcitrant pupils that the Blair government clearly believes us to be.

Just before Christmas, for example, I was sent forms to fill in with details of the history of my children's immunisation programmes. I was asked to give permission for my children to be injected at school - unless I'd made alternative arrangements - and asked to give my reasons if I did not intend to co-operate.

I threw the forms in the bin, not because I don't support the MMR programme - I do - but because the forms were intrusive, imperious and bossy. It's one thing to offer parents a service, but quite another to demand they give their reasons for turning it down. I don't agree with people who don't want their children immunised. But I don't think they should be hassled into giving their reasons to the authorities.

This week, even more outrageously, my three-year-old and my seven-year-old were sent home from school with a form asking their parents to answer questions about the kind of drug education we felt it was appropriate for them to receive, and also questions about how much we knew about drugs ourselves.

Again, this might be pertinent if there was drug dealing in the playground, or if the school was awash with speculation after a couple of E-dropping eight-year-olds had been rushed from classroom to hospital.

But it is entirely out of the blue. My sons, if the education authority had its way, would be taught what is meant by "drugs" before they can even begin to learn anything more about their mysteries, and at a much younger age than they need to.

My own family has had more than its fair share of problems with drug and alcohol abuse, and my husband and I feel strongly the need to be honest with our children about such issues. But not when they are three. Or even seven. And an education authority which believes that's appropriate, is not worthy of the name.

¿ I dare say the education authorities argue that children need to be taught about drugs because there may be drug abuse going on among their own families. I'd argue that small children should not be expected to take responsibility for the dangerous and criminal activities of their parents.

The way to help a child in such circumstances is not to teach the entire school about drugs and hope she takes the initiative. In fact, moralistic, simplistic and uncontextualised teaching could instead increase a child's sense of shame and confusion about her family member's behaviour, and further constrain the child from seeking a trusted adult's help.

Family fallout

My picture shows the depressed brunette single mother, Kerry Katona, who just a year ago was the bubbly blonde champion of the nuclear family, Kerry McFadden. She made the mistake last year of appearing on the television programme I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! and charming the nation with her tearful declarations of love for her husband and children.

Her emotionalism caused her to win the competition. But alas, the husband, pop star Brian McFadden, thanked his wife by dumping her.

Each of them appears to be in the habit of calling journalists and regaling them with details of every telephone conversation they have had since their break-up.

The latest shows Brian claiming the moral high ground because he told Kerry the truth when she asked him on Christmas eve if he'd "snogged" anyone else. He had. Now Kerry is banned from attending the Brits music awards because Brian and Delta - his new belle - intend to make their first "official public appearance" there.

Now, where was I. Oh yes. No article about either party is complete without a repetition of the former couple's declaration that their two daughters come first and that everything they do is for the sake of their girls. What lucky children they are.

Labour's gravy train is rolling over the excluded

One of the policies that most helped to institutionalise social exclusion was surely the right-to-buy, which ensured that the availability and quality of affordable housing was severely limited, with council estates becoming places where only the most desperate would live.

One would hope, upon seeing how intractable these pockets of intense poverty and suffering have become, that a progressive government might learn something from past mistakes.

Now it is revealed that, far from limiting the right to buy - as promised recently by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott - Labour harbours ambitions to extend it. Alan Milburn, in charge of the Labour election effort, hopes to guarantee 700,000 votes by promising housing association tenants that they too can have the right to buy their homes. This would further ghetto-ise those with limited options.

A decent social democrat government would have been working hard for the past seven years on extending the amount of housing association stock. Instead, Labour has presided over a regime of property price inflation, and is now casting around seeking a way to create new first-time buyers and keep the gravy train rolling. Mr Prescott is unyielding in his opposition to the proposal. Whether that means anything remains to be seen.

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