Bestworst lesson

29th June 2007 at 01:00
Best We didn't have a pound;1,000 virtual infant simulator and no TV channel filmed our attempts to explain the joys and sorrows of having children to Year 11, but we were proud of our efforts. Miss B, head of year, and I, deputy head of our North Yorkshire comprehensive, were on a mission to reduce the pregnancy rate. Our challenge was to show them what parenthood was really like. It helped that twice over the years I was a new father with answers to their questions hot from the front line of nappies and sleeplessness.

The course was technically called health education, but some of them put "Sex with Miss B and Mr H" on the Thursday afternoon slot of their personal planners. The centrepiece of our course was the video Jenny is Born and we showed it every four weeks to a fresh tutor group in the aptly-named circus of PSHE, giving Jenny the shortest gestation period of any known mammal.

That video was our lifeline - 40 minutes of graphic images and sounds of labour, with the final triumphant look on the mother's face as Jenny wailed for the first time. There was then just enough time for some of the best discussions I've ever had with 16-year-olds. Even after the film had been shown for four years, it still had the power to reduce teenagers to silent wonder and amazement at the miracle of birth.

Worst There was a knock on the door. It was a sixth form deputation bored with private study. "Sir, instead of all this citizenship stuff, can we do what you do with Miss B on Thursday afternoons?"

This could be tricky. Then one of them said: "You know sir, watch the Jenny is Born film". All became clear. So I consulted Miss B. Should we move our mission up to the sophisticated levels of Year 12? She, being a PE specialist, had seen pupils' reaction to carnage on the hockey and rugby fields. Surely they would cope with the blood and obvious agonies of childbirth.

It was a disaster. At first, the dodgy colour control on the TV reduced the image to a discreet grey and they began to relax. But when the colour started to turn pink, they all went ominously silent. The first boy fainted even before the baby's head was engaged. We were so busy dragging him out of the room that we didn't notice the screen lurching into a vivid red.

By the time the second stage of labour had started, half the surviving boys were hiding behind their bags of A-level text books and most of the girls had decided to become nuns. "A bit late," was Miss B's knowing comment.

The citizenship teacher reported that, after our little experiment, Year 12 seemed much more willing to listen to him droning on about the importance of taking an active part in politics

John Haden is a former headteacher and is now an external adviser to schools in the Midlands

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