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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

"All schools, including faith schools"

The Government has just accepted all the recommendations of last year's Annual Report of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group (TPIAG). I suppose it is not too surprising that the Government accepts the report since it is actually produced by the Government's Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) on behalf of the TPIAG and is hosted at the Government's "Every Child Matters" website.

First of all, let me give you a general flavour of the report. The TPIAG is predictably delighted that the Government has earmarked £26.8 million of our money to for "contraceptive services". They want condoms to be promoted on TV before the 9pm watershed and because of concerns about pornography, they want an official government portal on the internet where young people can access "approved sites on sex and relationships." How reassuring is that for all you mums and dads out there?

The report gives a whistlestop tour of current Government Agency jargon and euphemism. We know about the "Every Child Matters Agenda" - the TPIAG has a few more for us: contraception and sexual health services should meet the Department of Health's "You're Welcome" standards; the SRE pupil audit tool should be part of the Healthy Schools Programme; the Children’s Workforce Network should develop a multi-agency work-based learning package on sex and relationships; a national programme should be "rolled out" so that parents can benefit from the Family Planning Association's "Speakeasy" programme. Well Being is obviously a new euphemism that is rising in popularity: SRE must be "embedded" into the "statutory entitlement of the promotion of well-being", and included in the Government’s Well-Being Indicators - just to make sure, there should be a specialist PSHE teacher in every school to deliver the Well-Being duty.

More on that "Speakeasy" programme in a minute, but first a couple of points that link in neatly to the Government's latest proposals for sex-education which I mentioned a few days ago. There was some confusion because the CES said that Governing bodies retain the right to determine what is taught, in line with the ethos of the school. On the other hand, Mr Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (the title indicates something of a wider claim than "Minister of Education") said that faith schools would not be allowed to refuse to teach about contraception. The confusion now seems to be cleared up by the Government's acceptance of the TPIAG recommendation that it should:
State clearly that all schools including faith schools must teach all aspects of SRE within the context of relationships in an anti-discriminatory way; contraception, abortion and homosexuality are all legal in this country and therefore all children and young people should be able to learn the correct facts.
Ah yes, the "correct facts". Not those nasty politically incorrect facts that Catholic bloggers insist on repeating with their pedantic references to peer-reviewed studies. I am reminded of Thomas Gradgrind at the beginning of Charles Dickens' "Hard Times" (surely one of the best opening paragraphs of a novel):
'NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!'
The Government has also accepted the recommendation that it should,
Make explicit links to young people's advisory services and provision of contraception and sexual health services and demonstrate this by teaching young people how to access services"
Perhaps the most jaw-dropping comment is in the section where the TPIAG wants to get all the materials to parents because
Many parents and carers lack awareness about sex and relationships issues ...
Well, after all, they've only had children and nurtured them: they don't have specialist training in delivering the "Well Being Duty".

You can get an idea of the sort of education promoted by the TPIAG from the resource that they recommend for parents from the Family Planning Association: "Speakeasy". On page 19 of the parents' book, we have this quote from "Mother of two daughters, aged 11 and nine":
I was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and have always believed that life started at the point of conception. I think it’s a real tragedy that there are so many abortions although I know that sometimes it’s the only realistic choice a woman or girl has. I’m still not quite sure what I think about this – but doing the Speakeasy course gave me the confidence to present information about contraception to my children and when it comes to it – it will be their choice what they decide to do.
A sneaky undermining of Catholic teaching on the consistent pro-life ethic there.

Even more disturbing is the advice given to parents if they find a condom in their 15 year old child's bedroom. There's some stuff about not jumping to conclusions, being available to talk etc. Then:
If your son or daughter is having sex, you should acknowledge their responsible behaviour in using condoms. This is also a good opportunity to find out if they know how to use a condom and fill in any gaps in their knowledge. It is important that they protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections so you need to make sure they know how to use condoms effectively. Tell them they can get confidential advice about contraception and sexually transmitted infections from young people’s services. [Brook, Sexwise, FPA...]
Now I thought that the age of consent was 16. If a 15 year old is sexually active, does it not occur to the TPIAG that their "partner" might be some years older? The Child Safeguarding courses that I have attended emphasise the duty to call the Police if you have a reasonable suspicion that a child is in danger of being the victim of a criminal offence . Parents whose confidence is already undermined by the professionalisation of child care and the arrogation of many of their rights by the State are now to be intimidated into colluding with underage sexual activity, patting their child on the head for using a condom, sending them off to outside agencies, and generally abdicating their responsibility for their own child's safety. But don't despair! They can tick a box on the "Well Being Indicator" chart.

(H/T John Smeaton: Government's teen pregnancy strategy undermines parents and betrays children
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