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The point is that this is not all about sex education. Much of the argument is about the fact that parents should be, above all else, responsible for the moral upbringing of their children. That cannot be farmed out to the state. It is a parental responsibility. As a parent, I do not want my children to go to school to have the moral compass and values of the teacher instilled in them. That is my job and my responsibility. I want my children to go to school to learn about the things that I cannot teach them, not about the things that are my direct responsibility.
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way as he is being interesting and, some might argue, provocative. In the context of what he has just said, does he think that schools should have an ethos and values? If he thinks that an ethos is valuable in a school, and that religious foundations are useful in a school, should there be any moral background to that ethos?
Philip Davies: I agree that schools should be given more freedom to set their own ethos, but within that freedom there should, therefore, be freedom to say, In our school, we dont believe that sex education is desirable. We think that it should be left to parents. Then parents would, perhaps, be able to choose to send their children to a school with such an ethos. If the Minister is arguing that we should leave it to schools to set their own ethos I would be happy with that, but with it must come the freedom for schools to say that they do not want to teach sex education.
It is not just me who thinks that sex education is not particularly desirable. I have been inundated with comments from parents and teachers alike, who are nervous about the way things are going. I shall quote a couple of parents, if I may. A mother of two e-mailed me, saying:
Failing to consult parents takes away our choice as to how we raise our children.
Education is the primary responsibility of parents, not of schools and not of governments. Parents entrust to schools those aspects of education that they can do more effectively, but PCHE and especially sex education are very delicate matters which parents have every right to give in their own way at home.
Primary school teachers are already overstretched ensuring that they can meet the demands of the current curriculum. Even if appropriate training was provided, which experience shows is highly unlikely, most teachers would feel extremely vulnerable and uncomfortable if asked to take on this responsibility.
There is no universal desire from parents or teachers for even more sex education. Many people feel that the more sex education we have had, the more teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies we have had. The answer to that problem is not even more sex education, but less. We have been trying this for 20 or 30 years. We might think that somebody would have said, at some point, Hold on a minute, this is not working.
I declare an interest as a member of the NASUWTat least, I think I am still a memberalthough I am not sure that I agree with my unions line on this matter. The hon. Gentleman will have read in the House of Commons Library debate pack a survey undertaken by The Times Educational Supplement that shows that 60 per cent. of primary teachers want more training and want sex education to be taught in schools. So there is a mixed message, not quite the consistent message that the hon. Gentleman suggests is being given.
Philip Davies: I apologise if I gave the impression that every teacher agrees with me. I was trying to make the opposite point, which is that not every teacher agrees with the idea that sex education is a good thing. The position that is often portrayed is that all parents and teachers think that this is a universally good thing. My point is that some people disagree. I take it from the hon. Gentlemans intervention that he acknowledges that people disagree on the issue. There is not just one view.
I forgive the hon. Gentleman for missing the first minute or so of my speech; he did not miss anything of great noteworthiness. I also forgive him for disagreeing with his own union, because I often find myself in the unfortunate position of disagreeing with my party from time to time. I think we can forgive him on all counts.
I might set aside my philosophical objections to sex education in schools if I could be persuaded that there was an overwhelming case for it and that it was a roaring triumph, but the opposite seems to be the case and, at best, that indicates that sex education makes no positive difference to the things it was set up to tackle. For example, the earliest figures I have show that in 1994 there were 7,795 teenage pregnancies among girls under 16. In 2006, the last year for which I have figures, there were 7,800 teenage pregnancies in that age group, which is almost exactly the same numberit has not reduced in the slightestand it has been even higher in the intervening years.
The number of pregnancies among under-19s was 85,000 in 1994 and in 2004, the last year for which I have information, it was 101,000. The problem is getting worse. In England and Wales, the number of abortions for under-16s in 1994 was 3,900, and in 2006 it was 4,700; for under-19s in 1994 it was 29,600 and in 2006 it was 40,500. Surely, if sex education was such a great success, the situation would have improved as there was more and more of it.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Has he studied the statistics in detail? I understand that a recent survey by the UK Youth Parliament showed that as many as 40 per cent. of young people said that they had received no sex or relationship education at school. Could it be that they are not being taught in sufficient detail, and that they are not being given the right education, rather than being given too much information?
That could be the case, but I suggest that it is not. The hon. Ladys intervention was typical of a politician. I am being distracted, but it is a worthwhile distraction. When politicians are faced with a problem, their solution usually encompasses two ingredients. First, they must be seen to be doing something. The bane of
politicians is that they must be seen to be doing something whenever a problem arrives on their desk. I long for the day when a Minister says, This is nothing to do with us. It is for other people to sort out, or for the people concerned to sort out. I am sure that the Minister will not indulge me with that response today. The second ingredient is that their proposals should not offend anyone. The hon. Lady has fallen into the typical politicians trap of wanting to do something and not wanting to offend anyone. Sex education is a perfect example, because it looks as if we are doing something, and it does not offend anyone to suggest that we should have more of it.
My contention is that sex education is not working. For 20 or 30 years, there has been more and more; I am sure that even the hon. Lady will concede that there is more sex education in schools now than in 1994, but that the problems have got worse. Clearly, it is not helping. It may not be as universal as she would like, but given that there is more sex education now, one would expect the figures to show an improvement.
Kerry McCarthy: I accept that there has been an increase in sex education in schools, although the figure I cited shows that it is still not as prevalent as some of us would like, but is not the issue what children are taught? If facts about reproduction are taught in isolation and not in the context of relationship education, they may fall on deaf ears and not be translated into childrens own lives. I understand that the Government want to roll out more relationship education rather than just the bare facts of reproduction.
Philip Davies: I understand that, and the hon. Ladys desire, which all politicians have, to offer painless panaceas to improve everything without anyone having to go through pain to get there. Unfortunately, things do not work like that, and I shall come to what happens in other countries to illustrate for the hon. Lady why I believe that she is wrong.
Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Referring to the hon. Ladys previous intervention, the Youth Parliaments research shows that for too many people sex education has not been in the context of relationships. That was the main point of the report. Does my hon. Friend agree that if a school chooses to talk to its students about sex education, it should always be in the context of relationships so that it can be properly considered and taken in by young people?
Philip Davies: I certainly take my hon. Friends point, but my contention is that for 20 or 30 years, since we embarked on the path of sex education, we have been told that the only problem is that it is not being taught properlythat it is good in itself, but that it is not taught very well. We keep tinkering with it and changing it, but the situation keeps getting worse. Everyone must have their own line in the sand for concluding that it is not working. I would like to know where every hon. Members line in the sand is, and how long they will wait, while the problem is getting worse, before they come to the inevitable conclusion that sex education is not working and that perhaps we should try something else.
Things have not only got worse with teenage pregnancies and abortions; they are even worse with sexually transmitted diseases. Since 1997, the incidence of chlamydia has risen from 72 cases per 100,000 of population to 166 cases per 100,000 in 2004. During the same period, the incidence of gonorrhoea has risen from 22 to 37 cases per 100,000 of population, and for syphilis it has risen from 0.27 to 3.81 per 100,000 of population. The incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in the UK is getting worse, although the figure for syphilis is better than in Holland, which is always held up as a paragon of virtue by those who are obsessed with sex education. I shall talk about Holland shortly.
The incidence of HIV/AIDS has also risen massively over the past 10 years. In the UK in 2006, young people aged 16 to 24, who have been filled with sex education from the word go, made up 11 per cent. of new HIV diagnoses, 65 per cent. of all chlamydia diagnoses, 55 per cent. of all genital warts diagnoses, and 48 per cent. of gonorrhoea diagnoses in clinics. The people who have had the most sex education are suffering most from sexually transmitted diseases, which strikes me as hardly a great triumph for sex education in schools.
Kerry McCarthy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He is being very generous with his time. Will he refer to the evidence that shows a direct correlation between the increase in sex education in schools and the increase in the statistics that he gave? It seems to me that many other factors could be equally or more to blame, particularly the increased sexualisation of our popular culture and what we see on television. Is there any evidence that sex education is the problem, rather than a solution?
Philip Davies: The hon. Lady makes a fair point; she is right to say that other factors are important, but my contention is that sex education is making no impression, so perhaps other factors should be brought into play. During the first 20 minutes of this debate, we seem to have gone from saying that sex education is good and will help the situation to saying that things might be even worse if we did not have sex education, which is rather startling backtracking in such a short period. I am pleased that I seem to be making progress with my argument that sex education is not good and only prevents things from becoming even worse. That is a novel position for the governing party to take.
In the teenage birth league, the UK is second of 28 nations, and only one place behind the USA, but Italy at 23rd and Holland at 25th are the fourth and sixth lowest for teenage pregnancies, and I shall refer to them in more detail shortly. In this country, the average age at which people first have sex has fallen, which indicates that sex education is not a great triumph. Of all the OECD nations, we have the second highest number of young people living in single parent families, whereas the Netherlands is 14th and Italy is the lowest.
Of all OECD nations, the UK has much the highest percentage of 15-year-olds who report having had sexual intercourse. The percentage of 15-year-olds who used a condom during their last sexual intercourse is much lower in the UK than in virtually every other OECD nation. I have no idea what people are being taught in sex education, but on every possible indicator of what they may be taught this country is failing badly, not just by itself, but in comparison with every other country.
On teenage births and teenage mothers, the estimated percentage of 20-year-olds who had a child in their teens is 3 per cent. in Italy and Holland, but 13 per cent. in the UK, which is higher than any country except New Zealand. That is hardly a great advert for sex education in the UK, and things seem to be getting worse. I concede that even at that point we could say that sex education is failing only in the UK, but that it is a good thing, although we do it badly, and that other countries do it far better.
Holland is always held up as the great shining example of sex education being a triumph, because the argument is that Holland has lots of sex education at a very young age, and the level of teenage pregnancies is very low. That is absolutely true. However, the proponents of sex education never mention that Italy has almost no sex education in its schools yet it has low levels of teenage and unwanted pregnancies. Rather than just cherry-picking the figures that we want to sustain our arguments, it would be more useful to consider what Italy and Holland are doing because both countries clearly do things right in a way that we do not. Sex education is not a triumph in relation to Italy and Holland because although one country has lots of it, the other has hardly any.
I have tried to consider some of the things that Italy and Holland have in common, and it strikes me that other things in the argument are more important. For example, family structure is much tighter and divorce rates are much lower in Holland and Italy than in the UK. Dutch children are five times less likely to live in a family headed by a lone parent than in this country. The OECD looked at the percentage of families that share a meal together several times a week and the percentage of children who benefit from just talking to their parents several times a week. The percentage of 15-year-olds who eat at least one meal a day with their parents is only 65 in the United Kingdom, but the figures are 90 per cent. in Holland and 94 per cent. in Italy. The UNICEF report on the well-being of children ranks the Netherlands as the best place for children to grow up. Italy comes seventh in that report, after all the other Scandinavian countries. The UK ranks as the worst place to grow up. Other factors, such as the things Italy and Holland have in common, seem to be far more important than sex education.
Something that Italy and Holland have in common but that we do not share with them is their benefit structure and the amount of money they pay single parents. It may not surprise people to hear that we are far more generous than Italy or Holland in our support for single parents. If we really want to tackle the issue of teenage and unwanted pregnancies it would be far betteralthough it may be tougher and more uncomfortable, which is why politicians shy away from the matterto consider the implications of our tax and benefit system. Too often that system rewards people for living on their own and puts teenage mothers at the top of housing allocation lists. It strikes me as perverse that through the housing allocation and benefits that we pay, we reward behaviour that we are trying to discourage. Surely, the tax and benefit system ought to reflect the fact that we try to discourage certain behaviour.
I wonder how many 16-year-old girls, in a misguided way, choose wrongly perhaps because they have problems in their relationship with their parents and do not like living at home. They think that pregnancy is the solution
to their problems and that they should leave home because they will get priority housing. In effect, they are probably lining themselves up for a lifetime of misery and poverty, but the tax and benefit system does not indicate that that will be the case.
I ask all hon. Members to read an enlightening article by Alice Thomson called Sex Education: Why the British are Going Dutch, in The Times on 24 November. The article is about sex education in Holland and why Holland has low rates of teenage pregnancy. I shall highlight a few aspects of that important article. Alice Thomson refers to Laura Watts,
a British mother who has lived in the Netherlands for the past ten years,
thinks that the lower rate of teenage pregnancy there may have more to do with family structure than with sex education. Dutch children are five times less likely to be living in a family headed by a lone parent, divorce rates are far lower and fewer mothers are in full-time employment.
It is the family that makes the difference. Parents leave the office by 5pm in Holland and eat dinner with their children at 6pm.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on producing such compelling evidence on the subject. The point he made about teenage pregnancies in New Zealand concerned me because my teenage daughter is there at the moment. Has he considered the lack of male role models in the education systemparticularly in primary schools? Not long ago, I visited a primary school in my constituency and of 50 teaching staff, only one was male. Will the Governments proposals to increase sex education in primary schools not be counter-productive if there are no male teachers in schools?
Philip Davies: As ever, my hon. Friend makes a valid and telling point. As he knows, I do not agree with the idea of giving people jobs based on their gender. I want the best people to be recruited to the teaching profession irrespective of whether they are male or femaleas should be the case in any other profession. It is certainly of interest that although the Government are obsessed with having equal numbers of men and women in every single profession, they are not bothered that there are far more women primary school teachers.
Mrs. Miller: My hon. Friend mentioned the importance people in Holland put on having mum and dad at home for dinner time and he said that was a vital part of building a stable family life. Does he share my concern about recent comments made by the noble Lord Mandelson in the other place that the Government are considering walking away from their commitments to flexible working? That is the sort of policy that would help families achieve the balance that my hon. Friend is talking about.
I understand my hon. Friends enthusiasm and if it were just a matter of sex education, I would have much sympathy with her point. However, I am conscious that many businesses are struggling in the current economic climate. I am not a big fan of adding huge amounts of red tape to a businesss bottom line when it is struggling. It is understandable that businesses
might want to shy away from such measures at the moment, but I accept the point that if we were simply looking at sex education, flexible working would certainly help.
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