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Sex, politics and religion

Glasgow City Council has been accused of ignoring Catholic concerns on sex education

THE LEADING figure in Catholic education in Scotland has accused a landmark survey on sex education of ignoring the concerns of denominational schools.

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, claims that Glasgow City Council and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde "refused to engage" with the church on the survey of 2,700 teenagers across the city.

He insisted that the church had wanted to take part, but it had "serious concerns" about the appropriateness of some of the questions, particularly for younger teenagers. It wanted some questions changed and others withdrawn.

Mr McGrath said that meetings had been sought with the council and the health authority, but that neither had responded. "Unlike some other health boards, Glasgow has taken a very negative view of being able to have a working relationship with us. They tend to view us as being against sex education, but that's not the case at all."

The church was piloting its own sex education project, Called to Love. It promotes the value of abstinence, he said, underlining the fact that the church had statutory responsibility for sex education in Catholic schools.

But the health board seemed "determined to ignore" that.

He said the church had given headteachers in Catholic schools freedom to decide whether to participate in the survey. Few appeared to have done so and none used the questionnaire in full, so results should be treated with caution.

A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "We have engaged the Catholic Church in a number of discussions on the work of our teenage pregnancy steering group. While there are disagreements and divergences in approach, we continue to seek a constructive dialogue. The city council is responsible for education in Catholic schools with the church having an advisory role."

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: "Headteachers from all Glasgow schools were asked to administer this voluntary survey within the context of their school and their knowledge of parental opinion. This is a very complex issue, but we are now putting in place a wide-ranging programme that we believe will make a lasting difference to the sexual health outcomes of our young people."

The study found that teenagers had more confidence in sex education delivered by personal and social education teachers or school nurses, but that denominational schools were more likely to leave this in the hands of religious education or science teachers.

The Young Persons' Sexual Health Steering Group, which Mr McGrath said did not include the Scottish Catholic Education Service, will attempt to establish consistency in sex education across schools, and in particular to address disparities between denominational and non-denominational schools.

Sex education, pages 8-9

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