Blunkett accused of blocking sex advice

Pregnancy advisers have urged the Education Secretary to play a more positive role in promoting sexual education. Chris Bunting reports

DAVID Blunkett, the Education Secretary, is helping to drive sex education underground, says a leading health organisation, leaving vulnerable children at risk of pregnancy and sexual disease.

The TES has learnt that several schools are already issuing contraceptive advice in on-site clinics - and even free condoms. But they are doing so in secret, fearing public condemnation.

Last week Hookergate comprehensive in Gateshead was pilloried in the national media for considering setting up such a clinic.

The Family Planning Association has accused Mr Blunkett of maintaining a deafening silence on the issue.

"Every time somebody says something positive about anything to do with sex in schools, the education department manages to come out with something negative. (Mr Blunkett) certainly does not seem comfortable with this issue," said Anne Wayman, the association's chief executive.

And this week the Sex Education Forum called on Mr Blunkett to publicly back the Government's teenage pregnancy action plan, which includes specific training for teachers in sex and relationship education. The Office for Standards in Education will be required to inspect the lessons.

Gill Frances, director of the forum said: "We value the hard work that the Government has done on the issue. But we very much need some leadership from the education department to carry it through."

Both organisations have confirmed there are a number of schemes in schools where youngsters can obtain confidential advice on sexual health and how to obtain contraceptives. But the climate of fear makes schools reluctant to discuss the work.

Last week it was revealed that a 12-year-old girl had given birth and another 12-year-old was pregnant. In the ensuing media storm, ministers variously pledged that they would pursue teenage fathers through the Child Support Agency, teach the value of traditional two-parent families throughout the school curriculum and keep unruly children off the street with curfews.

In June, Mr Blunkett was reported to have vetoed a suggestion from the Government's Social Exclusion Unit that school nurses should be given powers to prescribe contraceptives, telling colleagues it would happen "over my dead body".

While France, a predominantly Catholic country, has installed condom machines in every state secondary school, British schools that have dabbled with the issue have found themselves pilloried in the national press.

In January, John Bartholo-mew, headteacher of Hayesfield school in Bath, was battered by the tabloids for "handing out the morning-after pills like sweets". His school nurse had in fact been providing basic family planning advice and, if necessary, referring pupils to local doctors.

In a similar attack last week, Dane Roberts of Hookergate comprehensive read headlines that his school was handing out condoms to children in the playground. It had actually only discussed the idea with pupils, after they asked for better health, financial and careers advice in a survey.

"It would be nice to talk about our experiences openly, but schools are having to go it alone," he said. He believes a number of schools are already making condoms available but, "I would never talk about them because of the experience we have had".

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