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Train staff for sex talk

Blushing teachers will not help to reduce sexual ignorance among teens, says commissioner. Nicola Porter reports.

Teachers who find talking about sex embarrassing should not have to take lessons in personal and social education, according to Children's Commissioner for Wales Peter Clarke.

Mr Clarke said blushing teachers would fail to help teenagers needing urgent advice on contraception and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs).

And he said they should be spared the ordeal of teaching sex education and facing personal questions of a sexual nature from pupils.

Instead, Mr Clarke called for all Welsh schools to have fully-trained counsellors, staff or otherwise, to deal with challenging sex issues. He also said every school should set aside a "discreet room" where pupils could get sexual advice and information.

The commissioner was a guest speaker at a conference dedicated to cutting teenage pregnancy levels and rising rates of STDs in Swansea. The Sex in the City conference brought together GPs, teachers, children's charities, consultants from local genito-urinary clinics, and teenagers.

Mr Clarke told delegates: "I know how difficult it is to talk to my two sons about sex. I can understand how some teachers may feel uneasy talking about sex and emotions in the classroom.

"These teachers should not have to give those lessons, and pupils will be much better off talking to someone they can relate to."

Mr Clarke praised Swansea for "leading the way forward" in tackling sex education initiatives - in and outside the classroom.

Rhys Williams, spokesperson for the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said teachers should be properly trained to deliver sex education and that every local education authority should appoint a PSE teacher-adviser.

"Form tutors should not have to deal with sex education and pastoral care issues. It should be left to fully-trained teachers who have a natural talent for counselling."

An Assembly government spokesperson said: "Schools need to satisfy themselves that teachers have sufficient skills and knowledge to deliver a subject. In many areas of Wales training is already given to teachers delivering sex education by local education authority advisers.

"It would be difficult to sustain a requirement for teachers delivering all elements of PSE to be trained counsellors. But there is certainly scope for trained counsellors being brought in to deliver certain subjects."

Swansea's rate of teen pregnancies has plummeted, from 206 (49 per 1,000) among girls aged 15-17 in 2001, to 157 (37 per 1,000) in 2003. Rates in Wales as a whole have risen slightly, from 45.5 to 45.7 per 1,000, but soared in some authorities, including Conwy, Wrexham, Neath Port Talbot and Blaenau Gwent.

Initiatives such as handing out free condoms from a city drop-in centre appear to have helped curb unplanned pregnancies in Swansea. But Mark Campion, the city council's PSE schools' adviser, said schools needed to co-operate more to tackle rising rates of STDs among young people. Teachers who feel comfortable talking about sex should be specially trained.

He said: "Schools and other agencies must work together more to combat a national rise in STDs among teenage girls.

"Primary schools in Swansea appear to be moving forward, but there is still reluctance among secondary heads to make sex education relevant for today's teenager."

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