I’d rather trust teachers in the sex education debate

What age (if at all) do you believe sex education should be taught in schools?

What age (if at all) do you believe sex education should be taught in schools?

As we stumble towards the general election, a few eye-catching policies are starting to trickle out from the main parties.

This includes the Liberal Democrats who this week ruffled a few feathers with the suggestion that sex education should be taught in schools to children as young as seven.

Yes, I know it’s only the Lib-Dems but there’s every chance that the smaller parties could hold the balance of power in Westminster come next May and such policies could therefore become key bargaining chips.

As a parent, my instinctive reaction to the sex education proposal is to recoil in horror at the thought of my youngest, who just happens to be seven, being exposed to this sort of knowledge at such a tender age.

Surely children should be allowed a childhood before they have the grim realities and responsibilities of relationships thrust upon them?

At the age of seven I was enjoying Scooby-Doo cartoons, playing with toy soldiers and cowboy guns, and hoping against hope that Santa Claus would bring me a Raleigh Grifter.

Girls were those other people in my class at school. The ones with the long hair who used skipping ropes at playtime and showed no interest in my half-full Panini sticker album.

They were just different to us boys. It didn’t matter why, they just were. It didn’t matter to me because I was seven.

Having been a governor in a primary school for several years I am only too aware of the fact that at the age of seven many children are still painfully shy and struggle to communicate and integrate with others.

Some don’t play well while others may not be able to read or write as well as many of their peers.

So how on earth would such children, or even their more confident and mature classmates, cope with sex or relationship education?

The truth is I’m not against the Lib-Dem proposal per se. For me, it’s more about how such knowledge is delivered and who it is given by.

When I was a shy, tubby 12-year-old at Holden Lane High I remember flushing red with embarrassment as the biology teacher asked the class to turn to the pages in our text book focusing on reproduction.

Cue much sniggering from the boys and girls in what was the top class in the year.

It seems to me there has always been a strange blurring of the lines in schools in England between where the duties and responsibilities of parents end and where those of teachers begin.

When I was growing up in the late Seventies and early Eighties, sex was not discussed in the playground or the PE changing rooms until the boys in my year hit 14 or 15.

Some may have known a while before how babies were made but, if they did, they kept it to themselves.

A few doubtless found out from their parents in a traditional ‘birds and bees’ type chat. However, I dare say the majority of us learned things from older siblings or friends.

Most of us didn’t have girlfriends or boyfriends until we were in our final year at high school, aged 16, or perhaps even later.

At no point did anyone sit us down and explain that what is more important than sex is how you treat the other person before, during and afterwards.

Nobody told us that during the course of adolescence we’d all have our hearts broken and our dreams crushed.

Nobody taught us the importance of respect and trust either.

I dare say my class and my year (1988) was no different to any other around that time.

Arguably, because of mobile phones, the internet, and social media, nowadays children grow up even more quickly and are exposed to the kind of chatter and images that would have sent teenage me running for cover.

But I would argue the same problems still remain. Unacceptably high rates of underage pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases, broken relationships and domestic violence.

I can’t help but think that if children were, as part of their general education, given some help and guidance in the perils, pitfalls and practicalities of relationships, it would perhaps better prepare them for life.

We’re not very good at honest debate in this country but sex (along with booze and drugs) is a subject which our young people need help with in order to understand and deal with it in a responsible fashion.

Perhaps seven is a bit young, but I’m damn sure that by the time most children reach high school these days they will be mixing with others of a similar age who know a lot more than they perhaps should and learnt it from a less reliable source than their friendly class teacher.

Classrooms the length and breadth of the country already teach personal and social education and promote respect.

Surely education in relationships is just the next step along that path.

Whether or not teaching staff in primary schools are qualified and feel comfortable talking to their pupils about such things, well I guess we’d have to ask them.

But I’d rather trust their judgement than a politician’s philosophising.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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