Sexual health clinics offering pregnancy tests and the morning-after pill should be available in every secondary school, an influential group has told the Government.
This proposal from the Sex Education Forum (SEF) – which has alarmed family campaigners – comes despite its own admission that there is a “lack of research evidence” showing that school-based clinics are effective.
If the SEF’s suggestion was put into practice, it would allow children as young as eleven to access sexual health services at school, with no need for their parents to be informed.
Currently, almost one in three secondary schools offers on-site sexual health services. This means that up to a million girls already have access to the morning-after pill at school.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that more than 1,000 morning-after pills were given out by such clinics in Oxfordshire over the last six years.
Yet despite the existence of the clinics, teenage pregnancy rates in the county continued to rise over the same period.
David Paton, professor of economics at Nottingham University’s Business School, commented on the issue last year: “Pretty much all the research on school-based family planning clinics suggests they have little or no impact on teenage pregnancy rates.
“There is a possibility that such services change the behaviour of some young people and may increase risk-taking sexual behaviour.”
The Government announced in October that sex education will become mandatory from ages five to 16, a controversial measure that was heavily lobbied for by groups including the SEF.
The Government commissioned the SEF’s investigation of sexual health clinics, and children’s minister Beverley Hughes has indicated its support for on-site services in schools.
She said: “The Government supports the provision of on-site services where schools have identified a need and where the scope of the service has been agreed by the school’s governing body following consultation with parents.
“On-site services provide young people with swift and easy access to health advice that survey evidence suggests they are reluctant to access through GPs or clinics.”
But Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, said: “Sexual health clinics on school premises send out the message that it is normal for schoolchildren to engage in sexual activity.
“Confidential clinics in schools are part of a mix that is removing the restraints which previously limited underage sexual activity.
“There is no evidence that school clinics result in lower teenage conception rates. Instead, they encourage some teenagers to become sexually active when they would not otherwise have done so.
“The fact that these clinics keep parents in the dark is also a great concern. Confidentiality policies drive a wedge between parents and children and expose young people to the risk of abuse and disease.”