PRIMARY pupils should be taught about lesbian and gay relationships while older students need to learn about transsexuality and bisexuality as part of the new national curriculum for 2000, according to Britain's largest teaching union.
The National Union of Teachers has asked ministers to include explicit references to different family patterns and lifestyles in the new personal, social and health education framework for five to 16-year-olds, as part of its official response to Government curriculum proposals.
More female and black historical figures and authors should be included in the secondary curriculum, argues the union. Meanwhile, primary study remains too Eurocentric in its approach, says the union officials' response to ministers.
Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said: "Children in primary schools often know about lesbian and gay sexuality from other pupils and from the media "Homophobic jokes and insults are widely used and individual children are sometimes bullied if other children suspect that they are lesbian or gay.
"It is far better that children learn accurate information in the classroom than inaccurate information in the playground.
"It is important to encourage understanding and respect for a wide range of different family patterns and lifestyles so that children themselves can make responsible and informed judgments. They may have lesbian or gay parents, relatives or siblings and may grow up to have lesbian or gay children, colleagues or friends."
The union opposes the compulsory introduction of citizenship lessons as a separate subject for secondary pupils from 2002. It argues that legislation already in place requires schools to teach citizenship and democracy. This requirement should be backed up by non-statutory guidance, it argues.
The new primary curriculum is still overloaded, too prescriptive and would be unmanageable in the classroom, Mr McAvoy added.
The union says a new primary curriculum group should be established to stop literacy and numeracy dominating the timetable. Its remit could ensure there was a "balanced and broadly-based curriculum" and that the primary curriculum is not a "mirror image of the secondary curriculum but recognises children's developmental needs".
Plans to encourage more primary schools to teach a modern foreign language to juniors will fail without extra funds and a supply of specially-trained teachers, says the union.
It also criticises a new access statement for English introduced at the insistence of Education Secretary David Blunkett which emphasises the need to boost boys' achievement.
Mr McAvoy said: "The emphasis on improving boys' achievement for English must be matched by access statements which outline other aims, such as the importance of improving the achievement of girls in science and the importance of meeting the needs of other groups of pupils, including those from minority ethnic groups or children whose first language is not English."