That’s Life! The government appoints charity to sexual health advisory group

The trouble with health education and dealing with issues like sex, drugs and alcohol is that many people have very fixed ideas about what children and young people should learn. Add to this the fact that teachers are often anxious and unsure of how and what to teach and parents are anxious about their children are learning and we have a very shaky situation. When the phone rings and someone offers to come and teach about sex or drugs to students, many head teachers and teachers breathe a sigh of relief and quickly book them in.

But how many schools take the time (or indeed have the time) to do a little research on these groups? A quick google is usually all it takes to find out what you need to know. There are some excellent groups out there teaching SRE and drug and alcohol education but there are an awful lot of charlatans too and my worry is that more and more of these charlatans will find their way into schools because local authority staff are not there to advise them.

I used to get regular phonecalls from schools asking me about groups that had contacted them. Part of my job was the check these people out. I’d observe lessons, check lesson plans and watch theatre groups in action to see if what they were offering was in line with good practice. I’d tell schools to ask for detailed lesson plans and references before booking. Anyone with good track record will be happy to offer these.

A good example of this is Narcanon. A quick search on the internet will tell you that they’re Scientologists and offer lessons based on L Ron Hubbard’s teachings. Now they don’t call up and say, ‘Hi! We’re the Scientologists and we’d like to give your students some spurious Science about drugs.’ If you’ve done your research and believe that they are a group who should be speaking to your pupils then, fine, invite them in. but make sure the parents know what their children are learning and from whom.

Another group who offer talks to schools are Life. This pro-life charity will come and talk to your children about how a baby grows (primary) and about abortion and assisted reproduction (secondary)and to be fair to Life, they offer clear, detailed lesson plans and are a hit with many schools, including faith schools. I advise schools again to do their research carefully and make an informed decision while informing parents of exactly who is talking to their children as part of a well-planned programme of SRE that addresses the needs of all children. The fact remains, however, that Life is a group with an agenda and a point to get across. 

It was interesting to see then that Life has been given membership of the government’s sexual health forum while the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been given its marching orders.

Abortion issues have always been a hot political potato in the US but in the UK we’ve usually taken the pro-choice stance. It seems now that the coalition government is looking west for all things sexual health. If I was an MP I’d be looking towards countries where teenage pregnancy, STIs and were lower than ours and find out what they were doing right. Our American cousins do many things well but sexual health? Not so much. What next? Looking to see how the US addresses childhood obesity and demanding that chips and turkey twizzlers are brought back into schools?

BD (before Dorries) I’d have been horrified by this latest move but now? I’m feeling jaded, fed up and more than a little depressed. Those of us who are passionate about children’s health are not all leftie lunatics; we do what we do because we believe that we can make things better.

Next time, Mr Cameron et al, just give us a call and we’ll be there to help. Agenda-free.

For more information on pro-choice check out Education for Choice.

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A year is a long time in politics

Happy anniversary Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg but forgive me if I don’t send you a card and a bunch of flowers. You’ve been busy in your first year of marriage.

'Get that morning breath sorted, Nick.'

Let’s go back to polling day, 6th May 2010.

It began with a bang. Literally.

I was driving to a school from the office when a bloke walking along the pavement decided, for no earthly reason, to start walking in the road. I had to do an emergency stop to avoid squishing him but the huge refrigerated van behind me didn’t make it and ploughed into the back of my car. I know it’s wrong but I love my car, it cost me a lot of money and because of having a job that involved a lot of driving, was my living. It was now sitting in the middle of the road steaming gently, its rear end caved in.

Long story short, the local police patrol stepped in and took over and the man in the road was sent off with a flea in his ear. I went home and went off to vote, still shaken and shocked.

Well the van’s insurance company insisted on giving me a fancy hire car while mine was in the garage so I ended up driving around South London in a Mercedes the size of a boat feeling like a drug dealer.

A few days later, we heard that you would be joining together in holy coalitionamony .

To Mr. Cameron, a boy, Nick.

But I wasn’t worried.

We knew that you would be cutting liberally (geddit) and comprehensively but never dreamed of how far you would go. ‘Don’t worry too much, ‘said my line manager at work, ‘you’re frontline staff, they’re getting rid of backroom staff not people working with children and teachers.’

Sadly, however, it was the backroom staff that ended up doing the cutting so they got rid of frontline staff first. Even my line manager got the chop. No one knew how to manage.

Over the last few months we’ve seen you cutting children’s centres, school sports funding and local authority staff who work with children, disabled people and the elderly. We’ve seen you put up tuition fees for university students and cut the EMA grant.

The people are revolting

But we’ve also seen protests and sit ins and the worm turning. The worm seems to have turned mostly against you, Cleggy but let’s not forget the Dark Lord of the Sith. No disrespect, Dave.

But nothing is your fault is it, Dave? You’re till peddling the ‘we inherited these problems from the previous government. ‘Or rather, ‘a big boy done it and ran away.’  No mention of the fact that you were probably rubbing your hands together in glee at being able to restructure local government, the NHS and schools with gay abandon.

As for me, my job is a distant memory and I’m working on building my business and being a private entrepreneur like you always wanted.

So happy anniversary, boys, and I hope you sleep well at night.

PS I’m listening to the radio as I write this. Grant Shapps is saying, ‘we inherited this deficit, it was the fault of the previous government.’ Sigh.

Nadine Dorries: Sex and Relationship Education expert

Until recently I hadn’t even heard of Tory MP Nadine Dorries (mid Bedfordshire) but her abstinence bill got Twitter all of a flutter yesterday. She introduced a ten minute rule bill that would require girls aged 13 to 16 to be taught about abstinence during their sex and relationship education (SRE) at schools. MPs worryingly voted 67 to 61, not enough to get the bill passed but enough to seriously worry SRE practitioners. I’ve written about the dichotomy of attidues to sex in the UKuntil I sound like a broken record but there is still such a huge misundertanding about SRE among parents, teachers and now it would appear, MPs.

NOT given to seven year olds!

Good SRE includes plenty of teaching about the emotional side of relationships and engages pupils in discussion. Discussion that includes the reasons that young people may feel pressurized and how to delay sex until they are older or in stable, loving relationship. It’s a given that we want children to be safe, healthy, protected and empowered.

Abstinence teaching is an American favourite (Sarah Palin is a fan. Her daughter got pregnant at sixteen) and is one way for young people, perhaps if they are religious or wish to make that choice. It doesn’t work for everyone, just look at America’s teenage pregnancy figures. They’re even worse than ours. I don’t understand why Ms Dorries hasn’t looked toward countries with exceptionally low TP rates to consider what they are doing right. America in this instance is really not a good example to be following. It’s like copying the kid who is bottom of the class rather than the A grade pupil.

To add insult to injury, Dorries appears very uninformed about SRE in schools herself:

‘The thrust was that girls as young as seven are taught about intercourse, safe sex, how to apply a condom on a banana, where to get condoms, how to detect an STI and that they don’t need to tell their parents anything,
’ she bleats on her blog. (Unfortunate use of the word Thrust Dorries’ own.)

I’ve been in many classrooms in primary schools and can say hand on heart than I have never seen or heard of seven year olds putting condoms on bananas. That would be just wrong. At seven, they’re still talking about healthy, happy relationships and how to keep safe and healthy. It’s exactly this sort of ill informed rubbish that has parents frightened to death about SRE. She also sadly says ‘sex education’ which sounds like it does just that, teach children about sex. We’ve used the title Sex and Relationship Education (or even Relationships and Sex Education) for years now, emphasising that relationships and sex go hand in hand.

‘In schools,’ she adds in her blog, ‘children are taught to base the decision whether or not to have sex on their feelings and wishes.’ All schools? Some schools? One or two schools? I do love a sweeping statement and I’d to know how many schools she’s visited to observe the SRE in action in order to make a statement like this. Urban schools? Rural schools? Faith schools?

I will be writing to my MP –who wasn’t even in parliament for the vote- to try and persuade him that legislation about high quality SRE that has support from the whole school community with the support of experts is what is needed in our schools and this not a pick ‘n’ mix approach by those with a flag to wave.

I was a public sector reject

Happy monthiversary to me! It’s almost five weeks since I was in gainful employment.

My final day at work was strange indeed. It began with me struggling to put a large pot plant in my car which was parked outside the training rooms of the professional development centre. As the wind slammed my car door shut for the third time I let out a loud expletive (rhymes with luck) only to realise that the window was open and an entire room of people was staring at me, mouths open. Bad enough but then I realised the room was full of the most senior leaders in the council receiving their CRaPP training. Oops.

I left at noon, arms full of pen pots, folders and spare jackets (the office was always icy in winter). A colleague and I left together for moral support and said goodbye cheerfully to everyone. I had a box of chocs for the dinner ladies so popped down to the canteen to say goodbye and….burst into tears in the middle of the canteen. I was folded into the not insubstantial bosom of the head dinner lady much to the bewilderment of the diners.

The dinner ladies: the ones who think liver pâté is vegetarian, who incinerate toasted sandwiches and whose baked potatoes taste like old army boots. I have no idea why I ended up clutched to a lady in a tabard, a box of crushed Quality Street melting between us.

Minutes after leaving the office, my pass card was deactivated. By 9am the day after, my e-mail account was deactivated so that out of office message disappeared and my P45 had arrived. Efficiency that I had never experienced in all my time with the council. I had been well and truly deleted like one of those Egyptian Pharaohs whose face is chipped off their statues when they die.

Fast forward a few weeks and schools are back and most of the bank holidays have passed. I’ve been meeting with colleagues and planning and drumming up business. Schools are quite rightly cautious at the moment because of their budget concerns but there is small, fine trickle of interest there.

It’s a brave new world out there and it’s time I stopped yearning after my job and started looking forward.

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