SEX education should be delivered by specialist teachers, a leading spokeswoman for children's interests told a conference in Edinburgh last week.
Gill Frances, manager of the National Children's Bureau, was speaking at "Going Dutch", which compared British and Dutch approaches. She said: "I would not dream of going into a school and teaching maths. Similarly a maths teacher should not be left to teach sex education."
There should be integration in a structured personal and social education curriculum. "Kids do not have sex, drugs and self-
esteem in different boxes, so neither should we."
Dismissing the UK strategy of promoting virginity as a virtue, Jany Rademakers, senior lecturer at the Netherlands Institute of Social Sexological Research, said: "Sexual experimenting is considered to be an inevitable and normal step in adolescent deveopment. Trying to scare teenagers away from sex or teaching them to say no would be unthinkable for Dutch parents, educators and counsellors."
Instead the Dutch approach "has always been to help teenagers behave responsibly. One way is to reduce barriers to safe sex and to stress the need for making your own choices."
Roger Ingham, senior lecturer in sexual health research at Southampton University, said there was no evidence that starting sex education early encouraged children to have sex earlier.
He points to significant differences in attitudes between the Netherlands and the UK, where pregnancy rates are much higher. "In the Netherlands, the males are more attached to the females and are therefore more likely to take precautions because they care about them. In the UK early sex is more about experimentation and peer pressure."