Examination of Witnesses (Questions 32-42)
KELLY POOL, SARAH FULLER, JONATHON MCCLUSKEY, JAMES DAVIS AND LIZ MORTIMER
WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002
32. We have already been furnished with the copies, which, unfortunately, we did not have before we started. Were you involved in it, Kelly?
(Miss Pool) No, this was the year before I joined, the people who did it, but we have been working on it. Quite basically, it is 1,500 people took part in it, from four different areas of Buckinghamshire, and there were different parts of it, this is just one of the parts, the sex education. It covers all the things like where to get certain contraception, the knowledge people already have about sex education in school, what they think of it, whether they think it is informative, repetitive, whether it is pointless, and there is a summary piece, right at the back, which gives you a quick overview of everything that is in it, but if you want to look at it more carefully, it gives you more precise information, about the morning-after pill and support agencies. And it is basically just a guide to show people what we need to home in on, on the education part of sex education; because people, in general, are not taking any notice of it. It is helping, but there are places that need to be improved, and that is what the survey is made for.
33. Fine; thanks. That is really useful, actually. So this was part of a wider survey of opinion in Buckinghamshire, this is one section?
(Miss Pool) Yes.
34. So can I just pursue this question, looking at the results of the survey here, 63 per cent, almost, do not know any local support agencies for sexual health information, nearly 50 per cent consider sex education lessons in schools need to be improved. So I suppose my question to our four witnesses on the front table is, is that typical, would you think, of friends and colleagues of yours, these sorts of figures, that half of young people think that sex education lessons need to be improved, almost two-thirds have no idea where to go for sexual health information?
(Mr McCluskey) I think the way it is taught, especially from the teachers' point of view, it is taught from when a teacher, I think it is not taught specifically from them, as a teacher, but them more probably as a parent, and them thinking, "Well, would I want my little girl, or little boy, to get up to such things, so I'm not going to mention some facts that I should mention," or "I'm going to mention more facts than I should, such as the risk of sexually-transmitted diseases and not the widely-available contraception that is available for young people."
35. So you think there is a holding back of information in the schools' sex education programme?
(Mr McCluskey) Definitely. From my area, especially, which is Brentwood, Essex, the schools around there, there are five schools, one of them is an Ursuline school, which is a Catholic school, and their sex education, from what I have heard, is a bare minimum, because of the beliefs that they hold there. Other schools, there is one other school, one is a private school, the sex education classes there are a bare minimum again, because of the fact they cannot be bothered; and I went there. And the rest of the schools, from what I have heard, and, in some cases, the teachers do not really seem to be enthusiastic enough. They are speaking from, as I said before, the point of view as a parent, or as a guardian of young people, of their own young people; so they are very much holding back on certain information which could be useful to young people.
36. Can I just come in on that, because I think it is a very important point. There is always a big debate, whenever anybody talks about providing more services and more accessible services, or more information, to young people, about, if you do that, are young people going to have more sex, basically, that is what it comes down to, and there is a view that if you provide all this information it is going to encourage young people, and if you provide access to contraceptives they are going to think, "Great, we'll go off and do it." Whereas, there is a lot of other evidence, from other countries, where more information is provided, that actually they have got lower rates of teenage pregnancy and actually young people tend to wait longer before they have their first sexual experience. What are your views on that, which do you think is right?
(Mr McCluskey) In Brentwood, we have a health clinic, where part of the service is to give away free contraception, this happens every Saturday; we have regulars who go in there now, every Saturday, we also have new people, there are about 50 young people going into the service. Outside, there are four old people protesting, with placards, saying "Condoms; tell young people the truth," shouting it out to drivers passing by; which is all really quite amusing. But the thing is that young people who access the service are going in there for advice, they are going in, they are looking at leaflets, they are speaking to a registered nurse about issues that are highly confidential, of course, and they are coming out, they are not necessarily taking contraception from the place; we still have a big bag of over 50,000 condoms, and we have given away about 50, in the time it has been open. Now the fact of the matter is that this advice is given and it does not encourage promiscuity in young people.
37. Can I ask what other people think, as well?
(Mr Davis) At my old school, we actually had this building, that we called Tic-Tac; within it, we had nurses, that came along regularly, they gave away free contraception, and actually at the school. We were very versed in sex education, because if we had any queries, any questions, we could go along there, it was completely confidential, and they would tell us and give us advice. And we actually found that the people who would go there would go there with problems which they could not go to a teacher with and ask them, and it was helping them with their sex life, because they were taking more precautions, because there were many more precautions available. So they would find it too embarrassing to go to a teacher that they would see every day, to say, "Excuse me, how do I use a condom?" or "What's the morning-after pill?" because they would have to see that teacher every day and they would just find that too embarrassing. But if they went to a nurse, that was available at the school, about three days a week, that they would only ever have to see that once, they did not mind doing it.
(Miss Fuller) I think, at my school, we do a very comprehensive sex education, it is called Health Conference, and we have one every year, from, I think, Year 8 to 11, and everyone comes in non-school uniform for that day, and some teachers get embarrassed talking about these things, so they specifically pick teachers who are more happy just to talk about things, they get in a drama group from outside, they get a police officer, a schools liaison police officer, and people from all over the place, really, to talk to young people. And every year it will go a bit further, and they will tell you about more, and I think lots of people feel that they do learn a lot in that day, and rather than every so often in a tutorial you will have someone, like the teacher, talk about it, but it is just not arranged as well, and I think people will listen more. The drama groups are very popular, everyone will actually listen, because the people are in their late teens, early twenties, doing this and it is just more interesting.
(Miss Mortimer) I think you need the education there, but perhaps the teachers can be there to provide the scare tactics of the statistics about all the different diseases you can get, and not just say you can get HIV and AIDS, you tell them all about the other things that you can get, and all about the stats, as to the rates of pregnancy. I think teachers should be there to do that, because that is not so embarrassing, I think, for them; and then have nurses, or something, come in, perhaps make it a bit more fun, I do not know if that is the correct word. But we had a nurse come into our school and had a demonstration model, and everybody found it quite interesting just to see everything, because some people would not have seen a condom before, or a femidom, you know, "Urrrgh" to it. So I think having the informality of somebody outside of school to talk about it is a good idea, but you need the scare tactics as well, to put some people off. And then, I think, talking about the drama groups, drama groups have been tried around our area about it, and I think that is also effective; and if you have perhaps ex-students or perhaps teenage mums come in and talk about it then I think that it is going to make people more aware, make them think of the idea that they should use contraception if they are going to do that, and so that the people are informed, and if they do go into that kind of area, that if anything goes wrong that they know there is somebody to go to, to talk to about it.
38. You have been a superb panel. Time has just about run out. Before we finally close it though, let us just go to each of you. Is there anything else you wish you could have said, or that you would have liked to ask, while you have been here? I am sorry the time has just evaporated.
(Miss Mortimer) Can I ask about activities. Our school has, on Wednesday afternoons, a thing called "Entitlement" for the sixth form, which sounds quite interesting; what they do is they do work experience, or they can do an activity, like ice-skating, bowling, something like that, something more fun. Is there anything, any Government legislation, or suchlike, that says that there should be a certain amount of perhaps leisure activities encouraged, because I suggest that it is a good idea, it is a good thing to do after a hectic week at school, or something?
39. There is certainly a percentage of the timetable which is flexible for the school itself, but, more recently, there has been an encouragement, and it is mainly in the Education Action Zone teams of schools. The Government is putting money into finance for those children largely whose parents would not be doing it off their own bat, or could not do it, to ensure that young people have an experience of the theatre, libraries, museums, ballet, a whole range of other, shared experiences, which many of you will have had as part of your family, but other youngsters will not. So there is a concern about it, but I think you make a very good point, in just the routine of the week, so what time of the week is there, that leisure element.
(Miss Mortimer) I have said about all the trips that I have been on; the sixth form organised a trip to see Fame, this was after school, it was not during school hours, it was like a trip round London, like a sight-seeing tour, and I mentioned this to somebody else that lives in Yorkshire, and they said that they hardly ever had any school trips, they were just boring educational things, and they never had any kind of leisure days, activity days, or anything like that. So I think perhaps if you encourage leisure activities that are not just like PE, or something, that it might actually develop a person, because it is a break in routine, something they can look forward to perhaps.
40. That is a very good point.
(Mr Davis) I would just like you to bring up again the cost of university, actually, how it is deterring people from going to it. At least three people that are good friends of mine, who said originally, at the end of Year 11, they were going to university, have now said, "No, I'm not going, I can't afford to go." Are your Select Committee, or the Government itself, actually trying to do things which are going to encourage people and actually reduce the cost of going to university?
41. We are in the middle of reassessing, yes, and we have had a lot of evidence, a lot of very eminent people have come, but they have no more valid opinions than yours; and so we will add the points that you have raised when we look at the paper. We have got a paper to come back, there is a draft paper coming back to us, and you are here, giving us evidence today and sharing your thoughts, which will now be part of it. This is all being recorded, we have got all this evidence from you today, and your concern about that has been registered with us. Thank you.
(Mr McCluskey) My point would be, going away from university, back a few years to schools. Lots of people have been coming up to me and saying that they would like to have more say in their own curriculum, what they are being taught, and how they would like to have more facilities available to them, such as music, for example, where they would like not only to learn about the great classical composers but maybe some rock artists, maybe some drummers and bass, maybe having some decks in the schools, maybe the chance to play a little bit of electric guitar and annoy all the teachers. They would like to have some say as to what style of music they would like to study, that would make them more aware as well of the modern age, as it were. Also more facilities regarding English, they would like to see more modern books, a lot more contemporary authors being included within the list.
42. That is another good point, which, again, I think it is part of hearing your voice and making sure that it is registered, and seriously responded to and not just listened to initially.
(Miss Fuller) I would like to bring in the point about the stress of the exams, because people understand that they are necessary, it is just it is all the way through, even from Year 9, it is just stress, stress, stress, pressure to do better, to do better than the year before, and always just going on, it does not stop for years. And also the social side of school, again, it is always academic things that teachers try to push on you, but things like having more fun in sports and clubs and things, that young people need to understand how important that is as well.
Valerie Davey: Well done. You have been a superb team; thank you all very, very much.