Abusive callers start getting the message;Interview;Annie Hargreaves

1st May 1998 at 01:00
Nicolas Barnard meets a teacher and teenage girls who have won awards for designing sex education lessons

ANNIE Hargreaves is used to abusive phone calls. People call her a pervert and tell her she is twisting young minds - but they rarely take their kids out of her sex education lessons any more.

"Masturbation always sets people off, which cracks me up because that's what you do to yourself," she says in her cramped office in Evelyns Community School in west London.

"But as the programme has grown and gained more credibility, we get parents taking their kids out less and less. They know the kids don't want to be out of the lessons - they want to be there."

She was presented with the Pamela Sheridan sex education award from the Family Planning Association last week. Her pupils wolf-whistled and cheered as she received the award on their behalf.

She was given carte-blanche four years ago to write her own personal social and health education curriculum.

The result was a document heavy with buzz-words which disguise the in-your-face reality of the lessons. Year 7 kids spend early lessons on puberty, getting the giggles out of their system by thinking of rude words and euphemisms for bodily bits. They draw pictures of condoms and role-play buying them in Boots.

"It has to be warts-and-all because that's what life is all about," she says. "There's nothing we shy away from."

PSHE has four strands - sex and sexuality, health education, self-esteem and equal opportunities, but but sex education predominates. Talking about sex is a way of bringing in so many other issues, from relationships to assertiveness.

Evelyns serves a tough, working-class estate on the outskirts of London. Many children come from Traveller backgrounds, a third get free school meals, similar numbers have special needs and many have poor literacy. The school is regularly at the bottom of Hillingdon's GCSE table.

Accessible sex education is essential. That means an emphasis on discussion and role-play within rules set by the students. All agree that anything said in the lesson is not repeated outside.

The FPA was impressed by the time given to PSHE - 5 per cent of the timetable - its four-strong team of specialist teachers and the way the course is constantly adapted to the needs of pupils.

Pupils enjoy the respect their views are given in the lessons - one boy says: "The good thing about PSHE is whatever your choice you can stick by it. You don't have to change your view to suit the teacher."

Girls tend to be more vocal than boys at first but there have been some ferocious debates - on bullying, racism, sexuality.

Ms Hargreaves admits the self-esteem they build up in class is easily knocked out in the "real world". But the school no longer has teenage girls dropping out because they are pregnant. "They take into the real world more than they realise," she said.

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