EVERY school should introduce a policy on sex and relationships education, including sensitive subjects such as abortion and homosexuality, says a new report.
Getting Real - improving teenage sexual health, from leading left-wing think-tank the Fabian Society, warns that urgent action is needed to safeguard young people's sexual health and well-being.
Author Alison Hadley says that lack of curriculum time, inadequate teacher training, poor links between schools and local services and over-cautious policies can only be overcome with legislation. "This is the only way of ensuring the entitlement of all young people to the information and support they need to manage their sexual health," she says.
The report says that anxiety and embarrassment are major obstacles to effective sex education in schools. Ms Hadley, national policy officer of the Brook Advisory Centres, says it is not fair to blame teachers for their lack of sex education skills because they receive virtually no training in personal, social and health education.
The report recommends that the Government issue a guide to schools to promote confidence among staff and governors about sex and relationships education and reassure teachers that they can, and should, refer pupils to local sex advice services. It also says that schools should draw up clear confidentiality policies.
School inspections should consider the provision of sex and relationships education and it should become part of the mandatory core curriculum at both primary and secondary level.
Ms Hadley criticises the lack of guidance for lesbian and gay teenagers. She called for reform of Section 28 of the Local Government Act which some schools mistakenly believe bars them from discussing homosexual issues.
The report says that immediate action is needed to reverse the upward trend in conception rates and sexually-transmitted infections - British teenagers are seven times more likely to become pregnant than their Dutch counterparts (the risk is 10-fold for under-16s).
Ms Hadley says: "The Government should not be distracted by a tiny but very vociferous minority I this opportunity must not be missed."
"Getting Real - improving teenage sexual health", Fabian SocietyDiscussion Paper 43, Pounds 15, 0171 222 8877
* THE CROSSED FINGERS METHOD
THE sexual health of Britain's youth is being jeopardised by a combination of poor sex education at school and at home, poor access to confidential advice and a lack of openness and honesty about sexual issues. The Getting Real report illustrates the consequences of this situation: "Jane was 15 when she became pregnant. She had relied on her friends for sex education and believed the myth that she couldn't conceive the first time she had sex. Her boyfriend didn't know where to get free condoms, so he said he'd be careful. Thinking she wouldn't be able to get contraception without her parents being informed, she kept her fingers crossed.
"After missing three periods she plucked up the courage to visit a youth advisory clinic and found she was pregnant. Jane asked for an abortion referral but was told the health authority would not fund abortions after 12 weeks. Although she had no money and felt unable to tell her parents, her only option was to pay Pounds 350 for a private abortion."