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Sex is a lot safer to teach

The forthcoming HMI report on implementing the McCabe recommendations on sex education will show schools making progress, The TES Scotland understands.

The inspectors' brief findings will strongly re-emphasise the importance of delivering sex education as part of general health education and the drive to make every school a health-promoting school by 2007. Schools are said to be complying with what is now a statutory requirement to consult parents on the sex education their children are due to receive.

Ministers will be hoping these and other measures will show there are no grounds for the fears expressed by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, in a controversial broadside at the Scottish Executive over the weekend.

The Cardinal feared the Executive's sexual health strategy, to which it is now putting the finishing touches, would encourage a "value-free" approach to sex education. He went so far as to suggest that this could lead to "graphic sexual instruction" being introduced into pre-school and primary classes, a move he described as tantamount to "state-sponsored sexual abuse of minors".

Cardinal O'Brien appeared to put himself at the head of a crusade for a moral approach to sex education in his article in the Scottish edition of the Sunday Times. He said that young people needed to be provided with "the skills to resist peer pressure and support to enhance their self-esteem".

Most schools would argue they are doing this already. And the committee chaired by Mike McCabe, director of education in South Ayrshire, insisted in its report that sex education must establish "an awareness of the importance of stable family life and relationships, including the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage".

A circular explaining the Ethical Standards in Public Life Act of 2000 was then issued, requiring local authorities to ensure that this definition was complied with.

The McCabe report emerged following controversies over the section 2A legislation on "promoting" homosexuality in schools. It was part of a package of measures introduced to assuage critics, which included a new power for ministers to oblige schools and education authorities to "have regard to" any national guidance on sex education.

Schools must now consult parents on their approach to sex education, provide an opportunity to view materials which will be used and allow them the option of withdrawing children from classes. A summary of curricular advice and materials was issued to schools four years ago.

The McCabe committee found that "no inappropriate teaching or use of inappropriate materials has occurred", a view likely to be confirmed by HMI. The report expressed confidence that teachers would continue to show "sensitivity and sound judgment".

It noted that sex education was not a separate subject, "focusing on the mechanics of reproduction", but was linked to wider education about relationships and healthy living.

The Executive has strongly refuted the charges and claims made by Cardinal O'Brien, who has also come under attack from the Church of Scotland and the STUC.

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