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

Eighties children’s telly stands the test of the time

Being the father of two small children you can’t help but become something of an aficionado with regard to children’s television.
Mercifully, we’ve made it through the painful In The Night Garden and Dora The Explorer phases and the girls have finally given me permission to sling their Peppa Pig DVDs.
I long ago converted my four and six-year-olds to the delights of Scooby-Doo (which they still lap up).
It is a source of great pride to me that I also recently switched them on to The Avengers – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and they are now hooked to such an extent that both can now name every Marvel superhero from Iron Man through to The Punisher.
Even so, despite the plethora of kids TV channels available I reckon the youngsters of today are poorly served compared to children of the 80s like me.
Maybe it’s the rose-tinted glasses syndrome but I just can’t imagine my girls looking back, misty-eyed in 25 years’ time and reminiscing about Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom.
Contrast that then with my memories of arriving home from Holden Lane High at 20 to four and flopping on to the settee with a bag of Monster Munch.
Perhaps I recall my pre-teatime telly with such fondness because children’s TV was still something of a novelty in the early Eighties.
Or perhaps the absence of computer games, mobile telephones and social networking meant that we were all actually limited to viewing the same stuff on the goggle box.
I prefer to think that what was on offer to children of the Eighties was simply better – with characters and theme tunes which are imprinted on our brains.
For example, do you recall the cartoon which first aired in the UK in 1983 and began with the words: “I am Adam, Prince of Eternia, defender of the secrets of Castle Greyskull…”
It’s all coming back now, isn’t it? Yes, He-Man and the Masters of Universe burst on to our TV screens during my first year at high school.
There followed 130 episodes of Skeletor-bashing action, numerous toys and even a duff movie starring Dolph Lundgren.
Another cartoon favourite of mine was Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds with its annoyingly catchy music.
I am sure you remember: “One for all and all for one, Muskahounds are always ready…” Ahem.
Yes, this little gem which was created in 1981 followed the adventures of canine versions of the swashbucking heroes from Alexandre Dumas’ novel. Enough said.
Then there was Battle of The Planets – a Japanese cartoon series involving the G-Force team of young superheroes (overseen by their robot 7-Zark-7) who battled against the evil Zoltar. Suffice to say I have the DVD.
I also adored the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon – based loosely on the roleplaying game of the same name – which saw a bunch of children take a theme park ride into a world of magic and monsters.
In truth, I never left that world and yes I do have the DVD.
Away from cartoons, I dare say few of today’s children’s programmes could hold a candle to The Book Tower.
Personally, I preferred the show when it was hosted by Doctor Who’s Tom Baker. His rather eccentric style of presenting coupled with the spooky Andrew Lloyd Webber theme tune really did the job of hooking me into reading – which was, of course, the whole point of the show.
Then there was the slapstick genius of BBC show Rentaghost which ran until 1984 and followed the antics of a number of ghosts who worked for a firm called, unsurprisingly, Rentaghost.
But the daddy of all Eighties children’s TV shows has to be Phil Redmond’s Grange Hill which enjoyed its halcyon period while yours truly was at a similar age to most of the characters.
And what characters they were… ‘Tucker’ Jenkins, ‘Ziggy’ Greaves, Fay Lucas, Ronnie Birtles, Roland Browning, ‘Gripper’ Stebson, Gonch and Hollo. The list is endless.
Groundbreaking at the time, Grange Hill pushed the boundaries of children’s drama with storylines such as Zammo McGuire’s descent into addiction to heroin.
With it’s wacky theme tune and comic book title sequence involving a flying sausage skewered by a fork, Grange Hill is as instantly recognisable today to the children of the Eighties as it was when Mrs McClusky ruled the roost.
Tracy Beaker and Horrid Henry eat your heart out.