THE RECENT STATEMENT by Baroness Blatch regarding the status of HIV and sex education in schools, (Catholic Herald, 25 June) far from settling the controversy is likely to fuel it further. Catholic Aids Link, in common with a number of other HIV organisations, has strenuously opposed the amendments to the Education Bill introduced by Lord Stallard. The reasons for so doing were more than adequately detailed in David Brown's response to James Le Fanu in The Catholic Herald, 7 May.
What we now have from the Government is a compromise which says more about political expediency than it does about educational values. It has become very clear in recent months that the Conservative Parry is doing all it can to maintain the support of moral majority-type groups. Much rhetoric is being employed in government draft circulars and guidelines about morality, family values, etc., thus encouraging these groups to believe they have won some kind of victory.
Many of us welcome the introduction of "compulsory" status for sex education, but not as a device to allow withdrawal of pupils from National Curriculum elements such as HIV education. When all the recent advice and guidelines around sex education and HIV education advise that they be taught in a cross-curricular fashion, I fail to see how schools are going to be able to organise their programmes to allow for withdrawal of pupils.
The parallel between sex education and religious education in terms of parental rights of withdrawal is incorrect. In the case of Teligious education, alternaut'e provision can be made by drawing in members of other faith communities to teach. I cannot see how this can operate in the areas of HIV and sex education. The assumption exists that children who are withdrawn from such education will be taught by their parents. Much available research suggests that we cannot place a great degree of confidence in parents' ability, sensitivity or willingness to inform their children about these matters.
Finally, for those who claim that information about sexual behaviour will lead to earlier sexual experimentation, quite the reverse seems to be true. The World Health Organisation reported at the recent International Aids Conference in Berlin that in 19 different studies world-wide, there was no evidence that young people who received sex education started sex at an earlier age. Martin Pendergast Convenor Catholic Aids Link