British Sex Education Should Increase Focus on STD Prevention, Relationships, Parental Involvement, Report Says
Sex education programs in British schools are "adequately" covering the "bare facts of life" but leaving out important information regarding HIV and STD prevention, relationships and parenthood, according to a report released yesterday by the Office for Standards in Education, the British government's education standards watchdog. The report -- which was based on 140 school inspections, discussions with 650 young people and health educators and a mailed survey of 1,000 schools -- comes in response to a government request for a survey of the country's sex and relationships education and a "good practice guide" for such instruction.
Little Concern About HIV/AIDS
According to the report, titled "Sex and Relationships," schools are giving HIV/AIDS education "less attention than in the past" and young people see the disease as "less of a concern," although it "remains a significant health problem" (OFSTED release, 4/30). One in four lessons regarding STD prevention was "poorly delivered," resulting in "far fewer" young people than 10 years ago who are concerned about HIV/AIDS, the report states. Almost 35% of 14- to 15-year-old girls and 28% of 14- to 15-year-old boys in 1993 reported being "worried about the danger" of HIV/AIDS, but only 12% of girls and 8% of boys indicated they had similar concerns in 2000. In addition, 50% of sexually active students under age 16 reported that they did not use a condom the first time they had sex (Garner, London Independent, 4/30). The report recommends that middle schools and high schools had "better cover the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS and chlamydia."
Parents Lacking Influence
The report also recommends that schools provide sex education "advice" to parents of students, especially fathers, to better enable them to discuss these topics with their children (OFSTED release, 4/30). From 1983 to 1998, the number of students who identified their parents as the "main source of information" about sexual relationships dropped from 55% to 30% among girls ages 14 and 15 and from 31% to 21% among boys ages 12 and 13 (London Independent, 4/30). However, 50% of students indicated that they thought parents should be their main source of this information. "Some parents -- more often fathers than mothers -- are reluctant to take a greater part in talking about sex and relationships with their children because they feel they lack the necessary knowledge and skills," the report says. As a result, teachers "increasing[ly]" feel "a degree of responsibility" to provide sex education to their students. The quality of such instruction, however, was found to be "variable," with some instructors covering sex education topics only "superficially" (Clare, Daily Telegraph, 4/30). According to the report, "specially trained" teachers delivered sex education lessons more effectively than those teachers trained in other fields (London Independent, 4/30).
'Broadening' Sex Education
Although teen pregnancy prevention is "important," it is "not the only purpose of these kinds of lessons," the report states (Smithers, Guardian, 4/30). The report recommends that sex education programs be "broaden[ed]" to include increased attention to relationships, values and personal skills. "Research shows that sex and relationships education is most effective when it is taught in the context of relationships and values," Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper said. The report suggests that magazines, which are "increasingly influential sources of information" for both males and females, could be used to prompt relationship discussions and "critical stud[ies]" of the information and messages within the article. "While many magazines now stress the importance of safe sex, the underlying, but inaccurate, message is sometimes seen to be that all young people are sexually active. Problems may arise if the messages received from reading this material clash with parental and other local cultural norms, or if unnecessary anxieties arise from reading about practices and risks that the readers are not ready for and are not able to discuss," the report states (BBC News, 4/29). If teachers used such magazine articles in their lessons, they could "challenge ... misleading messages about the extent of sexual activity among the young," the report states (OFSTED release, 4/30).