As the Government prepares to unveil its citizenship education proposals, a report explores the depths of teenage ignorance. Chris Magowan reports
MORE than a quarter of secondary school children believe taking the Pill will protect them from sexually-transmitted diseases, according to Health Education Authority research.
The survey, which will be published later this week, reveals an alarming lack of sexual knowledge among Britain's children.
One in six 15-year-old boys claim they have heard of a non-existent sexually-transmitted disease called "gonaditis" (made up by the researchers), more than have heard of chlamydia, a devastating sexually-transmitted disease which can make women infertile.
The statistics are expected to heighten concern about the quality of sex education in Britain's schools. Gill Frances, of the Sexual Education Forum, said sex education in schools was "very, very varied".
The latest comprehensive research of young people's lifestyles, questioned almost 10,500 children aged 11-16 on their attitudes to school and family life, smoking, drinking, drug-taking, and sexual health.
It found that while three out of four children say they like school, one in five say they have been bullied: 16 per cent had been mocked because of their race or religion and 48 per cent because of the way they looked or talked.
Many of the children wanted to alter their appearance. Almost a third of girls and 22 per cent of boys wanted to lose weight and one in 10 aren't happy with their faces.
Alcopops are increasingly a favoured tipple, with 18 per cent drinking them at least once a week. But overall consumption of alcohol has not increased in the past three years, with one in five abstaining and three-fifths admiting they drank only a little - 5 per cent of 11-year-olds drink, compared to 26 per cent of 15 to 16-year-olds.
Girls are more likely to smoke - 22 per cent compared to 16 per cent of boys. A third of 15 to 16-year-olds had tried cannabis, while 11 per cent of those surveyed claimed to have tried glue and solvents, and a similar number had experimented with amphetamines. However, 4 per cent also said they had used "nadropax", a drug dreamed up by the researchers.
The figures show drug taking has not significantly increased since 1995.
While awareness of HIVAIDS is running high, at 92 per cent, knowledge of other diseases is patchy. Only 33 per cent of young people have heard of syphilis, 39 per cent of gonorrhoea, 51 per cent of herpes and 14 per cent of chlamydia.
A BBC Panorama documentary this week revealed that reports of gonorrhoea among 16 to 19-year-olds rose 46 per cent between 1995 and 1997. Cases of chlamydia rose 56 per cent.
Kathy Elliott, Health Education Authority director, said the Government was committed to addressing the issue. The sex education curriculum was being reviewed and projects such as the Healthy Schools Initiative would promote better practice.
She said it was important not just to look at schools, but to improve the quality of information from the other places young people went for advice, such as their parents, out-of-school clubs, and the media.
The Health Education Authority survey, which is based on fieldwork carried out in 1997, is part of a rolling study by the World Health Organisation of attitudes towards health among young people in 29 countries.