New sex education programme for P1s
Although a detailed evaluation of a pilot version of the P1-S6 programme showed that parents, teachers and pupils were "very positive about the new approach" to sexual health and relationships education, it drew criticism.
Teachers, parents and pupils all took issue with the new programme for waiting until pupils were in S3 before being given lessons on unplanned pregnancy, contraception and sexually-transmitted infections.
The programme's designers said schools would be urged to teach this part of the course early in S3, between October and December, which they felt should be early enough. "Some parents might feel S2 is too early for their children," said a spokesperson.
But the evaluation report found most parents felt these key topics should be taught earlier; many S1 and S2 pupils also thought it "illogical" to leave lessons on contraception until S3, because they were aware of young people their age who were sexually active and ill-informed about sexual health issues.
The new approach to sex education has been introduced after consultations with parents and pupils in 2005 and 2006 suggested this area needed to be improved.
As well as teaching about sex and contraception, the programme gives considerable scope to look at emotions, friendships, relationships and values. One of its key aims is to persuade youngsters to delay sexual activity. "The delay message was there before, but we've made it more explicit," the spokesperson continued. "We talk about the pressures and the way in which people can try and manipulate you."
Increasing parental involvement in sex education was also considered vital. The evaluation reported that where parents were involved, "children are more likely to delay the onset of sexual activity and more likely to use protection".
Homework exercises for P6-S4s, to be completed by child and parent, have been incorporated. The schools in the pilot - the Lochend and Bannerman learning communities - wrote to parents and held parents' evenings to raise awareness of what was being taught.
The new approach also places a strong emphasis on teachers rather than school nurses or youth workers delivering the lessons in order to "normalise" conversations about sex and relationships in classrooms.
Initially, there was "considerable apprehension" and "in pockets, opposition" among teachers. This was particularly the case in primary schools where few had taught sex education before.
But after taking part in a two-day training course and teaching the first lesson, most were converts, according to the evaluation.
Similarly, some parents were initially concerned but were then "pleasantly surprised" when they became aware of the course content. Nevertheless, more work needed to be done to engage parents, said the research.
Parents' evenings were poorly attended and homework activities had a low rate of return at secondary, with around half of students failing to complete any.