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Saturday, 14 April 2007

OFSTED - turning the screw

As I have said before, OFSTED is the enforcement agency for Government policy, especially in the area of social engineering. For non-Brits, the acronym stands for "Office for Standards in Education". Introduced under John Major, following the educational reforms of Margaret Thatcher, the original idea was to provide an objective measure of school standards that was publicly available to parents and other interested parties.

The fatal flaw in the system is that OFSTED is not independent of Government. It acts to implement the policy of the DfES (Department for Education and Science). A policy that is introduced can be made part of the focus of a school inspection. The results of the inspection are published on the internet and therefore routinely blown up in the local newspapers. Therefore if a school decides to go against the policy of the DfES, it risks being classed as "requires significant improvement" or "requires special measures". These are the worst judgements that can be made but a school can still suffer greatly even if areas of its provision are judged to be "adequate" rather than "good". A good OFSTED report is essential if a school is to recruit pupils actively. Areas judged to be "inadequate" or merely "adequate" can be highlighted by anyone with an axe to grind.

In a disturbing but entirely predictable development, OFSTED has now begun to turn the screw on the provision of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). A recent report entitled Time for change? Personal, social and health education has some disturbing indications amid the soporific language of bureaucratic policy.

We find a determined opposition to any deviation from the "informed choices" (=values clarification) and "safe sex" (=wear a condom) message:
Just as with drugs, young people need to be equipped to make informed choices about relationships and to be able to resist pressures to have sex, but a minority response to Ofsted’s last report on SRE was a call to consider introducing ‘abstinence-only’ programmes as the only option for unmarried people of any age. There is no evidence, however, that ‘abstinence only’ education reduces teenage pregnancy or improves sexual health. There is also no evidence to support claims that teaching about contraception leads to increased sexual activity. Research suggests that education and strategies that promote abstinence but withhold information about contraception can place young people at a higher risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). (n.14)
Were OFSTED to put this on Wikipedia, the "research suggests" phrase would be flagged up immediately as an unsupported assertion. A quick search on the internet would show anyone who was interested that there is considerable debate on the findings of various research projects into abstinence education and condom promotion. To use OFSTED-speak, the "outcomes" of sex education in Britain have not exactly been encouraging. We have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe and a the incidence of STIs is spiralling out of control. (See England stats on STIs)

As for there being "no evidence" that abstinence education works, try this from Georgia, or this from the US Department of Health and Human Services or this from the UK Family Education Trust. For a discussion of the statistics, see Stats.org from the George Mason University - or indeed, have a browse around and see for yourself how breathtakingly partisan the purportedly independent OFSTED is.

The school nurse is an important figure in implementing OFSTED's concern for the "sexual health" of the nation's children:
Along with the PSHE coordinator, school nurses can arrange visits from their colleagues in the community and work with them to promote health and improve young people’s access to health services.(n.19)
We are left in no doubt about what is considered as promoting "health":
School nurses can also provide a valuable service, particularly in terms of providing emergency hormonal contraception and advising on other forms of contraception. Progress towards establishing such centres has been modest, but many extended schools are now providing a good range of services.
Notice how they are careful to avoid mentioning abortion. In fact, part of the overall provision of "sexual health" in this situation is to make sure that young girls can have an abortion secretly without their parents being informed.

But then, parents are stupid. We know that, because "Young people report that many parents and teachers are not very good at talking to them about sensitive issues, such as sexuality." Never fear: help is at hand... from teenage magazines:
...the ‘problem pages’ in magazines remain a very positive source of advice and reassurance for many young people
... always provided you can keep the stupid parents out of the way:
As well as failing to provide the information themselves, some parents express concern about the suitability of information that young people receive from other sources, such as magazines, even when these could be useful. For example, the increase in the number of magazines aimed at young men, while at times reinforcing sexist attitudes, has helped to redress the balance of advice available to young people. (n.21)
The Daily Telegraph (Ofsted praises teen mags for teaching sex) has a useful summary of some of the magazines OFSTED is talking about.

The sort of thing about which the stupid parents might express their concern would perhaps be the Cosmo Girl's "step by step guide to getting a condom on your boyfriend's penis."

Notice how OFSTED is rather torn between the sex-ed imperative and political correctness when it comes to the lad mags. Perhaps they are thinking of the "Nuts" magazine offer of "real girls stripping to their undies" or Zoo magazine's "sexiest new girls this nation has to offer".

It is good that the Telegraph has headlined the most outrageous recommendation of this Government enforcement agency but I believe that the underlying message is more sinister. The paper is entitled "Time for change?" The message is clear: schools will have to put this kind of sex education in place if they are to get good marks for their response to the "Every Child Matters" agenda. Having defined what "sexual health" is, schools are open to public shame if they fail to comply in providing it. Nobody will put this in terms of the school's failing to teach children how to put on a condom, or slacking on the provision of secret abortions for teeenage girls: it will just be said that the school has failed to help its pupils stay "healthy" and "safe."
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