Say yes to early sex education

9th February 2007 at 00:00
Intervention at primary level could help stem the rise in teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases

the majority of primary teachers feel uncomfortable discussing the nitty-gritty of sex in class, but many agree that they should be delivering sex and relationships education to their pupils, according to a survey in Tayside.

High-quality training delivered by Tayside Health Promotion to teachers in Angus, Dundee, and Perth and Kinross gave them greater confidence in delivering this part of the curriculum, but some remained unhappy about discussing homosexuality, contraception and oral sex with pupils.

Others "tippexed out" the term "clitoris" from resources because they believed primary school pupils did not need to know about a part of the body whose sole function was women's sexual pleasure.

An evaluation of the Sexuality and relationships training for primary teachers by Jason Annetts and Jan Law of Abertay University, on behalf of the Scottish Executive, recommends intervention before secondary school.

The report, published today, highlights Scotland's high rates of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancy, along with the fact that by P7 some children already engage in sexual activity.

The research found that despite the fact that the three authorities covered by Tayside Health Board had all recently rolled out a sex and relationships programme based around Living and Growing videos, there was nevertheless a wide variation in the age and stage at which the topics were covered.

Some topics were almost universally taught, such as "The Family and Other Special People that Care for Them" and "Dealing with a Bullying Situation", but the more sexually explicit the subject, the fewer schools taught it.

For example, the "Awareness of Sexually Transmitted Infections" was least covered, followed by "Parenting Roles" and "Contraception and Family Planning".

The questionnaire was returned by 118 out of 177 primary schools in the Tayside area, with only five Catholic schools responding - a 27.7 per cent response rate from the denominational sector.

The survey found that the vast majority of parents were comfortable with teachers teaching their children about sex and relationships, and most parents who had concerns were reassured through the school's consultation process. However, not all parents were placated and a significant minority of schools were forced to withdraw at least one child from sex and relationships education classes.

The report also found that the primary schoool pupils enjoyed SRE and, after initial giggles, handled the subject in a mature way.

Most teachers said they would be happy to answer questions about homosexuality but would say little more than that it was a same-sex couple that loved each other. One headteacher banned this topic in the mistaken belief that the controversial Section 2A clause was still in force in Scotland, banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

Some did not teach about contraception, thinking it was "simply unnecessary knowledge at this age", although they recognised that some children were already engaging in sexual activity by P7. One interviewee believed there should be more on contraception in the programme - but this was very much a minority view.


"Boys are fascinated when you bring sanitary towels out. They have never seen them, obviously are not supposed to. They are advertised on televsion and they think, 'What's that about?', and now they know what they are used for. We did demonstrations putting tampons in water and they could see how they work."

"I believe we set the scene. For instance, I don't like children sitting on the floor when we have that kind of questionanswer. There is something more grown-up about sitting on a chair in a circle than sitting on the floor... I also say to them that this is privileged information, this is not the kind of thing we want repeated in the playgrounds and told to young children who are not ready to receive it... and they rise to the occasion."

"I had one girl who could have taken the sex ed class. She almost knew more than I did. Because we have our strict policy and must stick to it, I had to watch how much I let them say, or her say."

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