A new, far-reaching Government strategy for young people’s sexual health will involve input from controversial charity Brook.
Anne Milton, Minister for Public Health, made the announcement earlier this month at Brook’s annual conference, where she confirmed that its national director, Simon Blake, would be a member of the discussion forum.
But Mr Blake confirmed at the conference his commitment to making sex education compulsory in schools.
The conference was told that the Government would be working with professionals in the sector, such as Mr Blake, “to come up with the new sexual health strategy.”
Mrs Milton said that new strategies are necessary because the previous Government’s work on sexual health did not go far enough.
Referring to statistics issued last month on teenage pregnancy rates, which showed a slight drop, she said that “those results have only got to be a springboard to more.”
Critics of the previous Government’s sexual health and education policies are anxious that the new strategy will introduce compulsory sex education in schools, backed by statute.
When pressed on this point, Mrs Milton said she believed that compulsion was an ineffective way of implementing policies on the ground.
But her views were not shared by Simon Blake, who insisted that statutory sex and relationship education (SRE) was the only viable option for ensuring that all young people had access to information on the subject.
“If there is another way of doing it then show me because I haven’t found it yet”, he said.
Mr Blake believed it was wrong of Mrs Milton to imply there had been no significant drop in teenage pregnancy rates under the last Government, claiming they had “fallen dramatically over the past ten years”.
However, while figures for girls under 16 issued last month were down 5.6 per cent on the previous year, between 1999 and 2009 the rate for this age group only fell by 9.6 per cent, less than one per cent per year.
And the real number of teenage conceptions may be masked by the easy availability of the morning-after pill.
Brook’s track record on sex education policy has not been one that would impress many concerned parents.
In 2008, the charity was among the groups calling for compulsory sex education for four-year-olds.
Later that year, it was involved in formulating an “alternative” sex education programme called KNTV Sex, shown by Channel 4 at 11am on weekdays, which received over 100 complaints.
And in July 2009, it called upon the Government to scrap parents’ right to withdraw their children from controversial sex education lessons.
Commenting at the time, Simon Blake said: “Our belief is you cannot reconcile children’s rights to high-quality sex and relationships education with the parental right of withdrawal. The right of withdrawal needs to be removed”.
Concern about sex education was expressed last week when The Christian Institute released a report showing that many Councils are approving explicit materials to be used with children as young as five.
The Christian Institute is calling for safeguards to be strengthened and for parents to be given more powers.
“We welcome the government’s announcement that sex education will not be mandatory on primary schools,” a spokesman said, “but we are keeping a close watch on the government review of its sex education guidance.”