Put a sex clinic in every secondary ..

Children's charity says good quality on-site advice is needed for pregnancy and disease rates to drop

Adi Bloom

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Schools and colleges should all have sexual health clinics on site, offering contraception, pregnancy tests and screening for sexually transmitted diseases, according to a leading charity.

The National Children's Bureau also believes that sex and relationships education should be compulsory for sixth form pupils.

The charity conducted a survey into provision in schools and colleges and found that sixth form and FE colleges were much better-equipped to help pupils deal with the issues than secondaries.

Almost three-quarters of sixth forms and colleges already provide sexual health services for their pupils, compared with just over a quarter of secondaries. These services range from free contraception and pregnancy tests to more sophisticated facilities, such as screening for chlamydia and gonorrhoea and long-term contraception provision, such as the implant or injection.

Schools in London have the fewest facilities: only 11.4 per cent provide even basic sexual health services, such as free contraception. Services are most comprehensive in the North West, where 40.6 per cent of schools have on-site clinics.

Outside schools, things are significantly better. Even in the West Midlands, the worst-served area for sixth forms and colleges, 51 per cent of colleges have on-site sexual health clinics. And in the North East, 86.4 per cent have them.

At least 17 faith schools offer on-site sexual health services. These include Church of England and Roman Catholic secondaries. Such schools tend to offer tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but not contraception.

The bureau's report says: "Evidence shows that a combination of factors is necessary for teenage conception rates to drop, including access to young people-friendly confidential sexual health services."

Britain still has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed world. More than two-thirds of teenagers are sexually active by the age of 16, but they are the group least likely to seek advice on contraception or sexual health.

The report points out that pupils are often reluctant to attend out-of- school clinics. "Young people often feel uncomfortable accessing services in community settings because of fear about being judged and confidentiality being broken. A typical comment is: `We worry that the GP will phone our parents.'"

Tony Kerridge, of Marie Stopes International, a sexual-healthcare organisation, agrees. "Going to their family GP is an issue for young people," he said. "And it can be very daunting to go to a hospital.

"But we've got to do something in this country, because the rates of sexually transmitted infections are rocketing. We need to take some fairly drastic steps, so opening clinics in schools seems very logical."

The report recommends that local authorities work with health and education experts to ensure on-site clinics meet teenagers' needs.

And it suggests that sex education lessons should continue throughout post-16 education. A government report recently recommended that sex education should be compulsory, but this did not include post-16 education. The report says: "For teenage conception rates to drop, good quality personal, social and health education is needed, alongside better access to services. Without learning about the importance of looking after one's sexual health, on-site services are unlikely to be effective."

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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