Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 860-879)



  860. You do not think particularly that it is necessary to have something around the schools as long as it is a youth clinic?
  (Ms Nicholls) We came up with the recommendation that people should be allowed to leave school without stigma to go to certain clinics, so if there was a clinic run for an hour on a morning for the emergency morning-after pill, we recommend that pupils should be allowed to leave school without any stigma whether it is just to be given a card with a number on to hand in to the teacher to say, "This is where I've been. I've definitely been there", without any stigma. We are not necessarily saying that the clinics should come to the schools, but we are saying that the schools should work in alliance with the clinics.

Mr Burns

  861. On that point, have you encountered any problems with parents about that sort of view or any overall view that parents in fact should be taking the decisions, not the pupils?
  (Mr Morris) I do not understand what you mean.

  862. Sarah was saying that she thought there should be a time during school hours when people could go to the clinic for whatever reason, as she outlined, and I was just wondering if there had been any feedback from parents about whether they felt that that was something that their children should be able to do without their permission or knowledge?
  (Ms Nicholls) We did not actually speak to the parents about it. We only spoke to young people.

  863. Presumably if your suggestions were to be adopted, parents would find out fairly quickly what their children were able to do in school hours.
  (Ms Nicholls) When we say this was our recommendation, we do not mean that they should be allowed to go to the sexual health clinic for any reason whatsoever. It was mainly for things like the morning-after pill. I know from a personal experience of a friend that she had had unprotected sex and she wanted the morning-after pill, but they would not let her out of school, so she was panicking because she could not get out of school. It is things like that, but I am not personally saying and I do not think the Peer Group is saying that you should be allowed out of school to access all sexual health services.

  864. Right, but if we just take the narrow example you have given, presumably there is a counter-argument that instead of this individual going to school and then panicking that the school will not allow them to go, the individual could say to their parent or parents at breakfast, though they will not, I suspect, for a number of reasons, but what I am saying is that if the school were automatically to allow pupils to go for the reason you have given, sooner or later the parents will find out, or presumably they will find out, that the school are allowing pupils to go during school hours. I was just wondering if parents have had any input with their views on that suggestion that schools should do it.
  (Ms Webley) I think that if that recommendation were to be adopted, then the school and the parents and the sexual services that are in question should all come together and discuss it so that everyone knows where everyone stands and what is actually happening so that no one is left in the dark.

  865. Would you anticipate though that parents would have strong views or do you think that it is only a relatively small section of parents who would have strong views?
  (Ms Nicholls) I think a lot of parents would have very strong views about it. Like I say, we cannot comment because we have only spoken to young people. If parents do, it then comes down to whether the parents would mind them missing half an hour of school or have the chance to sit there with a baby. Like Lorna says, it would come to a point when the parents, the teachers and some youths would have to sit down and would have to discuss it and draw certain outlines so that it cannot be taken advantage of. It might be that they are only allowed to go during the school break or times like that, but it would have to be discussed. It is something we feel people are not going to because they are getting stigma from it and they are getting hassle at school from it and that is one of the reasons which is stopping young people accessing services.
  (Mr Morris) I think it should be confidential to young people as well. If they want to tell their parents that they have been to the clinic, that is up to them.

  866. At what age should it be confidential?
  (Ms Nicholls) Every age.

  867. Most parents presumably would never accept that.
  (Ms Nicholls) It is not done for the parents at the end of the day. The confidentiality statement is there for a reason and one good reason that young people are not accessing services is because they are frightened that their parents will find out, so we are trying to reassure young people that their parents will never find out about anything. Therefore, if they are going to leave school and it has all been sorted out, the parents need never find out. No one should ever be told about anything because it is all confidential and the confidentiality statement should, therefore, keep it drummed into young people so they do know.


  868. I would just like to welcome Emma Buist who is a late arrival.
  (Ms Buist) Actually public transport is another issue for the Youth Parliament!

  869. The Transport Committee is down the corridor! We are very pleased to see you. I noticed that when Sarah and her colleagues were answering Simon's question, you were in agreement about the issue of parents. Do you want to say your own views on that? Your views concurred presumably with the Wakefield views.
  (Ms Buist) I have a question on that. I completely agree with what they were saying about confidentiality as it is one of the most important issues with sexual health, but a lot of questions are asked about whether the parents should be informed and at what age should they be informed. There is an assumption that they should be. I ask what is the real concern with letting parents know every issue and that always seems to come up, at what age should we tell the parents, but why is it so important to let the parents know because we feel that it is a very, very private issue if you are having sex even if you are under age?
  (Ms Henderson) If they feel that they are old enough to start having sex, even if they are not legally old enough, then they have a right to confidentiality.
  (Ms Buist) It is not a subject to be shared. The parents would not expect to share their sexual lives with their children, so why should the children be expected to share theirs with their parents?

Mr Burns

  870. Because up to a certain age, the parents are responsible for the actions of their children in other fields and if they have to, metaphorically, carry the can if their children or if young people commit certain breaches of the law that they may be responsible for, then logically, if you carry it across, if they have responsibilities in that area, then surely they have responsibilities in all areas of the upbringing of their children, hopefully through consent between the parent and the child or young person, and that would be the answer.
  (Ms Buist) That is a very good point, but you have to remember that having sex as a teenager, especially a young teenager, is a very, very delicate issue and there are unfortunately living environments where if it is the law to tell your parents and for the parents to be informed, that will create real problems at home. There are some environments which are abusive and where they will not hesitate to kick them out. It is unfortunate, but it is true. That is why we feel that it should be completely confidential and that is one of the reasons because it is such a delicate issue and there is such a stigma attached to it, and unfortunately we cannot really do all that much about the stigma, and it is unfortunately where we have to treat the symptoms and not the cause.
  (Ms Henderson) I think also you are talking about logic and law. There is definitely law and logic behind it, but if you try and tell someone who is under age having sex that there is logic behind what they are doing, even now there is not logic behind sex, people just do it, so if they feel in their minds that they are old enough to have sex, then they are going to have it. There is no logic behind it. Therefore, no law applies to them in their minds.


  871. You are saying that this issue of the parents being notified is one of the reasons why we have such big problems?
  (Ms Henderson) Yes.

  872. That is a very interesting point you are making.
  (Ms Buist) It is terrifying.
  (Ms Hall) My mum got a letter from the school. My brother is 14 now and it was a permission slip for my brother to watch a sex education video.

  873. So you feel that should not have happened?
  (Ms Hall) No. He is 14.

  Chairman: I have a 14-year-old actually. I am very sympathetic to what you are saying and I think it is very relevant and very important and I think we have gained some very key and important messages from your evidence, but, as a parent, if my 14-year-old came home, having seen a video that I knew nothing about and started asking questions, and I would like to think that she would do if there were issues she felt uneasy about on it, should I not have been aware of what was going on? Do you follow the point I am making? I think one of the problems we have got in this country compared to maybe Sweden and the Netherlands is that teenagers and parents do not talk about these issues. Other countries are different and I think one of the things we have got to address is why we are different. How do we ensure that parents are aware of the issues that are being looked at and the questions which might be asked? John, do you want to come in on that?

John Austin

  874. Just really to ask a question on that. Would you all agree that it would be useful if all parents knew what was in the sex education programme in the school or is Tara really saying that the parents should not have a right to exclude their child from that education?
  (Ms Hall) I do not think that the parents should, no.

  875. Because they could do with educating too?
  (Ms Hall) The parents should be aware of what is exactly in the programme, but they should not be able to say whether their child can watch it or not because it is up to that child to say, "I want to learn" because it is prevention again.
  (Ms Webley) What if one of the parents actually wrote and said that they are not allowed to watch the video? Then they would be excluded from the rest of the pupils and all of their friends are going to be talking about it anyway.


  876. So essentially what you are saying is that I could not object to it, but would you accept that it might be helpful if I knew what was in it in case my daughter or son asked questions about it?
  (Ms Buist) It is all about raising awareness, so that is the awareness of the parents as well, that is what is happening, so definitely, but they certainly should not have the right to turn around and say, "I want to deny my child sex education" because it is a right and it is a damaging one to remove.
  (Ms Nicholls) I would just say that the fact that it is the first letter he has had in school, and he is 14, asking if he can watch a sex education video, to me, is out of order. If sex education was in school how we think it should be and how we recommend it should be, the parents at the beginning, when their children start school, could even get a list of everything that is going to be covered over the five years within school. The fact that he is only just getting sex education when he has turned 14 and the school are asking for permission to watch a video, that raises another really big point that they are not getting it early enough.

Julia Drown

  877. If a parent for religious reasons, Catholic, Christian, Muslim or whatever, did not want their child to learn about sex in school, maybe they say, "I'll teach my child about this when I think the time is right and in a way which I think is right", should they have the ability to say, "I don't want my child to be taught sex education in school"?
  (Ms Henderson) I do not think so. If it is the religion of the parent, I think the child still has the right to choose. If they are of the parents' religion and they agree that they want their parents to teach them and not to see the video, then yes, but the parents still do not have the right to decide. It is the parents' religion, not necessarily the child's.
  (Ms Buist) A lot of religions dictate, "No sex before marriage", and that is fine, but I think they worry that sex education and teaching them about sex, teaching them what contraception is and how and where to get it will somehow encourage them to just run out, get contraception and start having sex. I find that illogical and ridiculous, but, on the other hand, if it is taught correctly by saying, "We are not encouraging you", if they explore the emotional side, then the parents really should not have anything to worry about. Even if they do, if the worst comes to the worst and they do think, "Hooray! I can get condoms. I know what to do, so I'll go out and have sex", at least they will be doing it with contraception. To be honest, I think it is a lack of clarity in their minds that it will encourage them and I think that is unfair.

Dr Naysmith

  878. Following up on Julia's question, there was something I wanted to ask about. I was going to ask it about the sex education system as you had experienced it, but I can probably predict that you are going to say that it is so useless that it does not matter anyway. What I was going to ask about was the fact that in Britain nowadays in many classes, with 30 being the top size of class, there will be lots of diverse backgrounds represented in that class in many parts of the country, different religions, as we have just been talking about, different rates of development and different sexual orientation and that kind of thing. What would you think a sex education programme should do about the fact that there is all this diversity? How can you do it in a way that stops individuals feeling excluded and not part of the group? Clearly Tara has been talking a bit about sex education, so what do you think about that to start with?
  (Ms Hall) As one of the people from the Youth Parliament said, it is the child's right to choose what education they want and with sex, yes, parents may have an input into it, but I think basically it is down to the young person.

  879. I am not so much talking about the parents' attitude now, but the fact that you need to teach different things to different youngsters.
  (Ms Webley) Each person should be taught about each issue, like being attracted to the same sex is never talked about in schools, so people do not understand it, whereas everything should be taught to everyone, so whichever way they are, everyone is okay with everything because they know all the ins and outs of everything that is being taught.

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