Sex education

19th May 2000 at 01:00
YOUNG PEOPLE'S VIEWS ON SEX EDUCATION: Education, attitudes and behaviour. By Lynda Measor with Coralie Tiffin and Katrina Miller. Routledge Falmer, pound;16.99. SEX EDUCATION IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS. By Jennifer K Harrison. Open University Press pound;15.99. A SURVEY OF SEX EDUCATION: Provision in the secondary schools. By James Lawrence, Annabel Kanabus and David Regis. Avert, pound;12.

Young people receive too little sex education too late, and it's often irrelevant to their lives. This is the important message in these three books.

The first, based on research in five schools in south-east England, is interesting and lively. It outlines sexual health issues for young people such as teenage pregnancy and patterns of sexual behaviour and suggests policies must change to take account of shifts in behaviour.

The authors explore theories of sexuality, how young people learn about sex and power, the impact of gender, and some of the failings of school sex education. Students suggest that it fails to deal explicitly with issues of sex and sexuality, or address emotional issues.

The book closes with some recommendations to increase funding of sex education training and provide new programmes. The authors urge the Government to listen to what teenagers have to say, although the book would have benefited from more views of young people.

Furthermore, the authors appear to have taken no account of recent insights into sex education for boys - who say the focus on biology and contraception fails to meet their needs. This tends to give the impression that boys are a problem that must be tackled. More recent work suggests we need to understand the impact of masculinity on boys' behaviour and use this to inform our sex education work with them. This is not really reflected in the research.

Nevertheless, this is a useful and timely book that reminds us that young people hae clear and practical ideas for improving sex and relationships education, and we could all do well to listen to them.

Sex Education in Secondary Schools is well organised and should prove useful to new and experienced teachers alike. It cleverly weaves theory and practice with exercises and questions for teachers.

There have been so many policy changes over the past year that some parts of the book are already outdated. For example, the book refers to the European Network of Health Promoting Schools, which has been superseded by the National Healthy School Standard. And it refers to DfEE Circular 594, which is soon to be replaced by new sex and relationships education guidance.

Despite this, it has much to offer. The section on teaching and learning styles will be particularly helpful for those who are unfamiliar with using participatory methods. The author discusses education about puberty, reproduction, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and contraception, and provides some clear ideas and teaching strategies.

The book does in places maintain a biological and female focus. With young people repeatedly saying they want opportunities to talk about feelings and relationships as well as reproduction, it would have been useful to provide a section on this.

The Avert survey of teachers provides a snapshot of sex education provision in secondary schools. It identifies many of the issues that influence its organisation and delivery. Lack of training and inadequate time were two of the key factors highlighted by teachers.

The survey concludes with some recommendations, including better guidance for teachers and improvements in this area in initial teacher training - two areas being addressed as a result of the 1999 Teenage Pregnancy report by the Social Exclusion Unit.

Simon Blake is director of the Sex Education Forum

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