Daily Mail misrepresents sex education, how shocking

Damn, I wish I hadn’t wasted the headline “Sexing up” yesterday.

School children face GCSE sex test… at the age of 11“, according to yesterday’s Mail, while its stablemate Metro tells us “Schools to teach ‘sex GCSE’“. If you just went by the headlines, you might assume that this means 11 year old children are doing an intensive GCSE-level course on the details of sexuality – you don’t have to be especially cynical to suspect that might be a load of rubbish.

In fact, both stories revolve around the Level 1 Award in Sexual Heath Awareness offered by the Northern Council for Further Education. According to the NCFE, the course takes all of 9 hours to teach, and is aimed at “pre-16” children. Now, “pre-16” could mean an 11 year old, but it could equally mean a 14 or 15 year old and, sure enough, the Mail admits deeper in its article:

The Department for Education has also agreed to give schools public funding to teach the qualification to 14-year-olds, but it could in theory be offered to pupils as young as 11.

So any schools that do provide it to children that young do so outside the DfE, and it seems unlikely that headteachers would choose to burden 11 year olds, fresh out of primary school, with extra exams anyway.

The GCSE part is equally misleading. Being a 9 hour course, of course you don’t get a GCSE at the end of it. In fact what you get is a tiny bit of credit – a solitary 1 point of credit, in fact – which, if taken together with several other courses, gives you a certificate equal to a GCSE grade D to G. In what could charitably be described as “bending the truth”, the Mail warns:

The exam could also help schools boost the proportion of pupils gaining basic GCSE passes in national exam league tables under a controversial system of GCSE ‘equivalences’ introduced by the previous government.

at the top of the article, before admitting at the bottom:

Officials said the sexual health course would have little or no effect on schools’ league table positions since secondaries were chiefly ranked on the proportion of pupils gaining A* to C passes, whereas the qualification is at the level of grades D to G.

As it is, there’s nothing on the course that’s particularly different to the standard sex education syllabus; students are taught the anatomical basics, a bit about contraception, a bit about sexually transmitted infection and a bit about the role of sex in relationships. Pretty standard stuff, which makes it all the more bizarre that the Daily Mail gets someone from a group called the “Family Education Trust” to explain why this course in particular is nothing more than the end of the world.

Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, said: ‘In spite of its name, this new qualification is more about promoting sexual experimentation and the use of contraception by children than it is about promoting sexual health.

‘The focus is on telling pupils how to use contraceptives and how they can access them behind their parents’ backs.’

He claimed that the course makes ‘no mention of marriage or of commitment and faithfulness’.

‘This course is sending out all the wrong messages,’ he said. ‘Airy-fairy lessons on “close relationships” and the use of contraceptives in short-lived sexual liaisons will do nothing to help prepare young people for a stable and satisfying family life.’

I fail to see how teaching someone to use contraception isn’t promoting sexual health, and I’m not sure what a close relationship is if not an example of commitment and faithfulness.

Incidentally, the Family Education Trust also claims that condoms don’t have any effect on the transmission of chlamydia, herpes or HPV, based mostly on a single NIH report (now apparently removed from the internet) which, according to the World Health Organisation, didn’t find that condoms didn’t work, but instead failed to come to a conclusion either way due to insufficient evidence (and its own authors warned that it should not be used to show that condoms are ineffective); since then, better studies have shown a reduction in transmission rates of chlamydia and herpes, and better rates of HPV regression, with condom use.

The Family Education Trust are perhaps not the people to consult if you want a proper, scientific, evidence-based sex education policy.


  1. #1 by Press Not Sorry on Sunday, 19th September 2010 - 12:16 GMT+0100

    Yet again, The Fail misrepresents something and then contradicts itself in the same article. It must be something about knowing some readers don’t read to the very end which prompts them to put the truth at the bottom of their stories.

  2. #2 by wickedday on Sunday, 19th September 2010 - 14:13 GMT+0100

    It’s a signal indication of how far right the Daily Mail is that even this gratuitously inoffensive and basic course – which is still centred on heterosexual monogamy and starts far too late – is met with hysterical flailing.

    I truly do not know how they’d respond were any school in the country actually giving a sex ed course that included information on the rarer forms of birth control, abortion, how to practice safe oral and anal sex, queer sexualities, gender variance, relationship models outside of long-term monogamy, a proper emphasis on affirmative consent, and which started at or before the time kids start getting hormonal, rather than long after they’ve started investigating for themselves.

    Every time a tabloid scare story comes up about how OUR CHILDREN ARE LEARNING ABOUT SEX!!1!, I perk up in the hope that someone, somewhere in the D of E, has finally got a half-decent sex and relationships curriculum together. And then I find out that the Daily Mail are still shocked by anything more racy than ankles, and go back to fearing for the fate of humanity.

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