We can't do all the moral teaching

1st February 2008 at 00:00
Just how far a school or a teacher should go in ensuring the sexual, emotional and physical health of their pupils appears to be at the heart of several big education stories this week.

First, we have the calls of MP Chris Bryant for a new law making sex and relationship education compulsory in primary schools (page 1). Second, we have the comments by Hilary Anthony, director of learning at Bridgend county borough council, that schools should be committed to encouraging the emotional health of pupils. She was speaking as she helps put together a suicide-prevention strategy for the county, which is coming to terms with the alleged connected deaths of seven people in one year (page 3).

But how far should a school or teacher be expected to go in sex education, counselling or telling a child - or in some cases parents - how to eat healthily? This is where the camp divides. However, there was a general consensus by the teaching profession this week that calls to make sex and relationship education a legal requirement in primary schools was a step too far.

Mr Bryant claims that sexual experiences are taking place earlier, and often illegally, due to "media pressure". David Evans, secretary of the NUT Cymru, might agree with his sentiments, but he would say that the responsibility for tackling this societal problem rests with parents.

Ann Davies, head of Ysgol Y Dderi in Lampeter, believes that primary schools should be teaching only older pupils about puberty. She says: "To what degree can 10 to 11-year-olds deal with the emotional issues surrounding sex anyway?"

It is in our interests that fewer children fall pregnant, are mentally unstable or obese. Schools have a part to play in achieving these goals which will benefit the whole community. But a line must be drawn. Schools and teachers can't, and shouldn't, be expected to cure all of society's ills.

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