Government advisers on sexual health denied this week that they have proposed sex lessons for five-year-olds.
A report in the Observer newspaper last weekend quoted a leaked document produced by prominent sexual-health specialists. The document, which recommended statutory personal, social and health education lessons throughout primary and secondary school, prompted a series of outraged articles.
"Children as young as five are to get compulsory sex lessons," reported the Sunday People. "Sex education actually targets under-age children," said Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail.
But Gill Frances, chair of the teenage-pregnancy advice group, says these reports are inaccurate and misleading. Five-year-olds, she says, will not be given lessons in sex. Instead, they will be taught appropriate material.
"Show me a five-year-old's classroom in the country where someone's mother isn't pregnant," she said. "We should answer questions. If someone asks, 'Why is Michelle's mother's tummy big?' we can say, she's growing a baby. It's only sex. It's a human thing, that human beings do. We entertain and titillate with sex. But we don't educate about it. We need to make it something ordinary."
Lessons for five-year-olds would examine the body's changes, such as height increase. And children would talk about how to resolve conflicts amicably, rather than resorting to violence.
Caroline Rowland, PSHE co-ordinator at Springmead primary, in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, teaches five-year-olds to make friends and cope with problems. She said: "We're not corrupting our children. We're not putting ideas in their heads. We just talk openly about things that are bothering them and fill in any gaps that need filling."
The report was produced by the Government's independent advisory groups on sexual health and teenage pregnancy. The 42 members of these groups include doctors, nurses and leading academics. They hope that their findings, to be published early next year, will have an impact on future government policy.
The groups recommend a compulsory PSHE curriculum running through primary and secondary school. At the moment, schools are only required to teach the biological basics of sex. Any additional information is provided in non-statutory lessons, given at the school's discretion. They suggest that older primary pupils are taught about puberty, with wider instruction on relationships, contraception and sexually- transmitted diseases following at secondary school.
Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association and a member of both advisory groups, said: "If they watch television, young people learn about relationships from a very early age. But the school curriculum gives a balanced view. Children have an entitlement to an education that prepares them for life."
The advisory groups also highlighted the importance of giving all teachers PSHE instruction as part of their initial teacher training.
Ms Frances said: "Most of us can add up. That doesn't mean we can teach mathematics. We should be preparing teachers to have a social and emotional relationship with the community."