TES poll tells pro-life Ruth Kelly that teachers want frank, liberal approach to sex education
More than two-thirds of secondary school teachers believe that pupils should learn how to obtain an abortion in sex education lessons.
In an exclusive poll of 700 teachers for The TES, 69 per cent of staff who teach 11 to 18-year-olds said pupils should be told how to terminate an unplanned pregnancy.
The survey, which also reveals that teachers take a strongly liberal line on pupils learning about contraception and discussing homosexuality, sends a clear message to Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, who is a devout Roman Catholic and understood to oppose birth control and abortion.
In an interview last month, Ms Kelly said she stood by the Cabinet's collective decision to promote contraception. Sex education campaigners are concerned that her religious views should not lead to changes in government guidance to schools. Overall, 59 per cent of all teachers supported practical advice on abortion being included in sex education.
Support was higher among headteachers and deputies, and more men (65 per cent) than women (56 per cent) were in favour. Teachers in Wales were less likely to agree that pupils should be given information about terminations, with only 47 per cent in favour.
Guidance from the Department for Education and Skills says covering abortion is optional and schools should respect the religious sensitivities of pupils and parents.
It emphasises reducing pregnancy through contraception or abstinence and does not recommend telling pupils how to obtain an abortion.
A spokeswoman for the Family Planning Association, which advocates a "national curriculum" of compulsory topics for sex education, welcomed teachers' support for abortion information. "People of all ages find it very difficult to know where to go in these circumstances. They don't know what to do, where to go, who to get help from," she said.
In 2002, there were 41,951 teen pregnancies, 45 per cent of which led to abortions.
Teachers were almost unanimous in their backing for education about contraception, supported by 98 per cent, while 84 per cent also said pupils should be told about the "morning after" pill.
Gill Jackson, a sex education teacher at Monkseaton community high, north Tyneside, said: "I am pro-life but think pupils considering abortions have to be given information so they can make an informed choice. But I'm concerned about girls having abortions without their parents' consent."
Most teachers also said they would be happy to tell a pupils that it was all right to be lesbian or gay, with 74 per cent in favour, rising to 82 per cent among young teachers.
Gay rights group Stonewall welcomed the "encouraging" response to what is believed to be the first research on teachers' attitudes to homosexuality.
The charity, which estimates 450,000 pupils in British schools are gay, is also campaigning for a tougher line on homophobic bullying.
A DfES spokeswoman said schools were able to cover abortion issues as part of sex and relationship education.
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