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Having imposed highly controversial sexual orientation regulations upon the people of Northern Ireland from 1 January without proper parliamentary scrutiny and debate, the government is pressing ahead with plans to introduce similar regulations in the rest of the United Kingdom, to take effect from 6 April.
The regulations pose a serious threat to the freedom of individuals and organisations which believe homosexual practice is morally wrong, to speak and act in a manner consistent with that view. There is also a risk that schools could be forced to present homosexual relationships on a par with marriage across the curriculum.
The government has hitherto consistently failed to recognise any distinction between same-sex attraction on the one hand and homosexual activity on the other, and appears determined to create a society where homosexual relationships are universally approved of and even celebrated.
Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has undertaken to publish the regulations for England, Scotland and Wales in good time to allow for a debate in both Houses of Parliament before the Easter recess commences on 29 March. It is anticipated that the government's analysis of responses to last year's public consultation will be published at around the same time.
Threat to freedom of conscience
In response to a parliamentary question in October 2006, Ruth Kelly insisted that it was necessary to take time to consider the consultation responses, which amounted to a number in excess of 3,000. She stated: ‘ It is only right that we take the time to consider properly such a complex issue, so that we provide protection against discrimination in a way that is effective and appropriate and which gets the balance right so that people are able to hold religious views and beliefs' (HC Hansard, 19.10.06 col 1014).
Family Education Trust has put it to the Secretary of State that it is not only important for people to be able to ‘hold' religious beliefs, but also to have the freedom to speak and act in a manner consistent with those beliefs. The Trust has also pointed out that it is not only people who subscribe to a religious faith who are concerned about the implications of the proposed regulations for freedom of speech and conduct, and made the observation that:
We are currently awaiting a response to our request for an assurance that the government will not only ensure that people are able to ‘hold' the belief that homosexual acts are morally wrong, but also remain free to speak and conduct their lives and businesses in a manner consistent with those beliefs.
The situation in Northern Ireland
Sexual orientation regulations for Northern Ireland were quietly published in November and passed into law without parliamentary debate on 1 January 2007. The Northern Ireland regulations have gone beyond the scope of the original consultation document by outlawing ‘harassment' on the grounds of sexual orientation. In practice this means that people with a homosexual orientation can sue if they feel their dignity has been violated, or if they perceive a ‘humiliating or offensive environment
The Crossbench peer, Lord Morrow, secured a debate in the House of Lords on 9 January in order to air concerns both about the substance of the regulations and the manner in which they had been imposed on the people of Northern Ireland, and to call for their annulment. Labour and Liberal Democrat peers were subject to a party whip with the result that Lord Morrow's motion was defeated by 199 votes to 68. While the peers debated the regulations, an estimated 3,000 concerned members of the public attended a rally outside the Palace of Westminster organised by the Lawyers Christian Fellowship to express disquiet about the regulations.
The Northern Ireland regulations will now be the subject of a judicial review, due to be held in March. The High Court in Belfast has approved an application from the Christian Institute to examine whether the public consultation for the regulations was faulty and whether the regulations themselves comply with the freedom of religion provisions under the Human Rights Act.
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The Independent Schools Council (ISC) has added its voice to the mounting unrest about the proposed information sharing index for children's services. In its response to the draft regulations governing the operation of the index, the ISC has expressed three major concerns about the project: security; interference with family life and privacy; and child protection and well-being.
The Council, which represents 1,285 schools providing education for 500,000 children in the UK and overseas, is calling on the government to publish an independent expert assessment of whether the system as currently specified can be secured to internationally accepted standards for such a vast, accessible and sensitive database.
The ISC states, ‘There is no logical or principled case for a database containing details of the majority of children not at risk' and questions whether the government's proposals comply with the right to privacy and family life guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights (EHCR). The Council also expresses concern that, far from improving the wellbeing of children, the database could jeopardise their safety and welfare as a result of inaccurate information being stored, wrong interpretations being drawn, and inappropriate use being made of the data.1
The ISC's comments were made little more than three weeks after the publication of a devastating 192-page report produced for the Information Commissioner by the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR). The report describes in detail the policy background and the systems that are being built, before subjecting the project to critical scrutiny and assessing its legality under UK and European law.2
Further concerns about the security of children's data were aroused by a research undertaken by RM School Management which showed that more than half of England's primary schools are failing to protect personal information about their pupils, such as their home addresses and medical details. The study of 505 primary schools found that only a third (34 per cent) stored back-ups of electronic data in a safe overnight. Staff at nearly 38 per cent of schools take a copy of the data home on a computer disk or USB stick, 11 per cent leave it in a locked draw, and 4 per cent leave it open in the office.3
1. Independent Schools Council press release, 14 December 2006.
2. Foundation for Information Policy Research, Children's Databases – Security and Privacy: A Report for the Information Commissioner, November 2006. http://www.ico.gov.uk/
3. Guardian, 18 December 2006.
See: The children's list that will do more harm than good below.
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‘We're waking up in a surveillance society, And when you start to see how many well-intentioned, apparently beneficial schemes are in place to monitor people's activities and movements, I think that does raise concerns... You can manipulate data in a way now which builds up a very full picture, which may be an inaccurate picture… I'm not persuaded that it's necessary to set up an index of every child in the country where the rationale is to do with ensuring the social, educational, general health, wellbeing and thriving of all children.'
Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner, (The Times, 28 October 2006)
‘There has been a substantial growth in the information held about children and this is something we need to look at carefully. Just because technology means that things can be done with personal information, it does not always follow that they should be done. Public trust and confidence will be lost if there is excessive unwarranted intrusion into family life or if some of the issues that have been identified actually materialise.'
Jonathan Bamford, Assistant Commissioner, press release, 22 November 2006
‘There is no reason at all for an insecure universal database containing personal details of every child. The proposals will undoubtedly benefit some children, but they will put far more children at risk… An unnecessary and insecure system, which this is likely to be, will fail expensively, will fail publicly, and, most importantly, will fail the children it was designed to protect.'
Jonathan Shephard, ISC General Secretary, press release, 14 December 2006
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Norman Wells comments on government plans to establish an information sharing index covering every child in England.
Parents cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of their children and must be treated with suspicion. That is the message being sent out loud and clear by the government as it persists with its plan to introduce a database containing personal information on every child in England.
No longer is the state content to focus its attention and efforts on children who suffer abuse or neglect. Rather, every child is now the object of its attention. In the words of the government document, Every Child Matters: Next Steps, ‘ We need to shift away from associating parent support with crisis interventions to a more consistent offer of parenting support throughout a child and young person's life.'
‘Support' is one thing; compulsion is another, and no parent will have any choice over the inclusion of his or her child's details on the new database. Notwithstanding the fact that the overwhelming majority of children receive adequate care from their parents and stand at no risk of abuse whatsoever, every child must be there, because ‘you never know, do you?'
It is the sinister presumption that children ‘matter' more to the government than they do to their parents that is driving this relentless move towards the state assuming ever greater control over children's lives.
Blurring the distinctions
In announcing the publication of the Foundation for Information Policy Research report on Children's Databases – Safety and Privacy, the Assistant Commissioner underlined the importance of emphasising that there is ‘a sharp distinction between child protection and child welfare'. But that is precisely the distinction that the database will blur – and intentionally so. In the government's view, information sharing is ‘the key to successful collaborative working and early intervention to help children and young people at risk of poor outcomes'. Not at risk of abuse, you will notice, but of ‘poor outcomes', as defined by the government of the day.
No one disputes the need for efficient child protection policies and procedures, and no one disputes the need for professionals to share information about children who are suffering abuse or neglect. But that can already be done, without the creation of an expensive and unwieldy system that embraces every child in the country, the vast majority of whom will never be the subject of a child protection investigation.
As has frequently been pointed out, it was not a lack of information that prevented the authorities from intervening to protect Victoria Climbié from her horrific murder, but a failure to act on the information that was staring them in the face. The creation of a new information sharing mechanism can never be a substitute for effective action on the front line.
Overlooking the most needy
And herein lies one of the dangers of the children's index. There is the very real risk that professionals who have child protection concerns about a child will think they have done their job simply by registering their disquiet against the child's record on the database. But merely noting a concern provides no guarantee that anything will be done about it. Indeed, given the immense volume of data to be stored on the index, it is all too possible that children suffering significant harm will be overlooked. In expressing his own concerns about a universal database, the Information Commissioner has commented, ‘If you are looking for a needle in a haystack I am not sure it is wise to make the haystack even bigger.'
There is also the opposite danger that flags of concern on the database may trigger investigations of children who are not at any risk of harm at all, involving an unnecessary intrusion into well-functioning families, not to mention a waste of child protection resources. The government has so far refused to define what constitutes a sufficient cause for concern to merit being ‘flagged' on the database, preferring to leave such decisions to ‘professional judgment'. This leaves parents vulnerable to concerns being registered about their children behind their backs, on the basis of an arbitrary, subjective, and possibly entirely false, judgment made by a teacher, doctor, nurse, health visitor, social worker, or any one of the plethora of professionals with whom their children may come into contact.
Poor track record
Let's face it, government databases don't have an impressive track record. There have been major problems of efficiency, accuracy and confidentiality in connection with information systems operated by the Inland Revenue, the Child Support Agency and the National Health Service, to name but three.
With between 300,000 and 400,000 authorised users of a system containing personal details on 11 million children, there is a considerable risk that individuals with legitimate access might accidentally or deliberately disclose confidential information. That's quite apart from the possibility that hackers might succeed in breaking into the system with malicious intent.
The greater the number of people who have access to the data, the greater the risk to security, and the greater the scope for abuse of the system. The risks associated with such a project far outweigh any potential benefit. The fact that the government is proposing to conceal the details of children ‘where there is a threat of domestic violence or where the child has a celebrity status' shows just how uncertain the security of the system really is. Is information about your child or my child worthy of any less security than information about a Leo Blair or a Brooklyn Beckham?
The irony is that a scheme intended to provide additional protection to children at risk may inadvertently expose many more children to risk of harm, while the most needy children of all are lost in a large and cumbersome system.
It is not too late to stop the juggernaut. The Children Act does not place the Education Secretary under any obligation to go ahead with the database. It states that he ‘may' introduce the index; not that he ‘must'. Alan Johnson needs the courage and humility to call a halt to the whole scheme now, before yet more public money is wasted and more children are placed at risk.
This article first appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 23 November 2006 and is reproduced by permission.
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The television channel, Teachers TV, recently agreed at the eleventh hour to remove a controversial three-part series on sex education from its schedule in response to concerns expressed by Family Education Trust. The series, presented by Davina McColl, entitled Let's Talk Sex, was due to be broadcast on the station on 8-10 January, having been previously broadcast on Channel 4 during March 2006. It was withdrawn after discussions between lawyers at Teachers TV and Channel 4 following the Trust's intervention.
In his correspondence with Teachers TV, Family Education Trust director Norman Wells, argued that the series contained a ‘lack of due accuracy' and gave ‘undue prominence to views and opinions at variance with the facts', in contravention of the broadcasting code. The series was based on the false premise that sex education in the Netherlands is of a quite different character from that in the UK and that this accounted for the difference between the teenage pregnancy rates in the two countries.
Drawing on evidence contained in the Trust's report, Deconstructing the Dutch Utopia, Mr Wells pointed out that there is no uniform or standardised approach to sex education provision in Dutch schools, and there is a very wide variation of approaches adopted throughout the country - just as there is in the UK. In putting together the series, the presenter and production team chose to focus on the explicit end of a very broad spectrum, and leant heavily on the favoured ‘hands-on' approach of a solitary ‘Dutch sex education expert'.
The series attributed the Dutch ‘success' entirely to ‘comprehensive, consistent and early' sex education, without considering any other factors that could account for the disparity between teenage conception rates in the Netherlands and the UK. Despite the fact that copies of Deconstructing the Dutch Utopia and its related factsheet, Lessons in Dutch Mythology were made available to the producers in the course of production, no account was taken of them in the resulting series.
The fact that Channel 4 are currently working on an edited version of the series before making it available to Teachers TV is a tacit admission that the series as originally broadcast did not comply with the broadcasting code. Given that the whole argument of the series hinges on a false premise, it is difficult to imagine how it can be edited in such a way as to make it compliant.
Copies of the factsheet, Lessons in Dutch Mythology: Why teenage pregnancy rates in the Netherlands are so much lower than in the UK, are available from the Trust upon request, or may be downloaded from our website at: http://www.famyouth.org.uk/pdfs/LDM.pdf
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A rigorous evaluation of an ‘enhanced' sex education programme has concluded that it is no more effective than more conventional approaches to sex education. According to one of the first studies in the world to use objective data to measure the effectiveness of a sex education intervention, the SHARE (sexual health and relationships) programme made no appreciable difference to reported sexual experience or use of contraception when compared with standard sex education.
SHARE was developed and piloted in Scotland over a three year period, in consultation with teachers, sex education specialists, and education and health promotion departments. The teaching pack contains material for 20 sessions (10 in Year 9, and 10 in Year 10) which aim, ‘to reduce unwanted pregnancies, reduce unsafe sex, and improve the quality of sexual relationships'. The total cost of the five-day training schedule for teachers preparing to deliver the programme amounts to around £900, including a copy of the package.
The programme combines small group work and games with information leaflets on sexual health, and sets out to develop skills to negotiate sexual encounters, handle condoms and access services, primarily through the use of interactive video, but also role play. In short, it has all the characteristics that it is widely believed are required for an effective programme.
The limits of sex education
However, when researchers from the Medical Research Council compared the outcomes for pupils who had been taught using the SHARE programme with children taught by teachers with less expensive and less intensive training, using programmes that majored more on the provision of information and discussion rather than on role play and contraceptive demonstrations, they found very little difference between the two groups.
Four and a half years on, SHARE pupils had slightly higher rates of conceptions and terminations than the control pupils, but the differences were not statistically significant. The researchers concluded that: ‘This specially designed sex education programme did not reduce conceptions or terminations by age 20 compared with conventional provision. The lack of effect was not due to quality of delivery. Enhancing teacher led school sex education beyond conventional provision in eastern Scotland is unlikely to reduce terminations in teenagers.'
The lead researcher, Dr Marion Henderson commented, ‘It may be that we have already seen the limits of what sex education can achieve and we need to look wider at parenting and the culture in which children grow up.'
M Henderson, D Wight, G M Raab, C Abraham, A Parkes, S Scott, G Hart, ‘Impact of a theoretically based sex education programme (SHARE) delivered by teachers on NHS registered conceptions and terminations: final results of cluster randomised trial', British Medical Journal, 21 November 2006.
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Friendship, Puberty, Love and Marriage from a Christian perspective
This resource offers six Powerpoint lessons for school children in Years 6 and 7. It is refreshing for its pro-marriage and pro-chastity stance, and for its emphasis on gender differences - all presented in an attractive, positive and modest way. Produced from a Christian perspective, in church schools it is an ideal resource for PSHE lessons, while in non-faith schools it could make a useful contribution to the RE syllabus. Further details at www.lovewise.org.uk
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A recent systematic review of data on the effects of increased access to emergency hormonal birth control concluded that there is no evidence to show that increased access has reduced unintended pregnancy rates or abortion rates. The review of 23 studies from 10 countries found that while there were differences in study design, the primary findings consistently showed no significant differences in unintended pregnancy or abortion rates between women with increased access to the emergency pill and control groups.
The North Carolina researchers, who are supportive of emergency birth control pill provision in pharmacies, conclude that, ‘previous expectations that improved access could produce a direct, substantial impact on a population level may have been overly optimistic'. The review, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, also questions whether the efficacy of the drug may have been substantially over-stated. Referring to a recent analysis of the effectiveness of the emergency pill, they suggest that, ‘we can be 95 per cent confident that it reduces pregnancy risk by more than 23 per cent', but believe that figures suggesting an average rate of effectiveness around 80 per cent ‘may overstate actual efficacy, possibly quite substantially.1
This report follows a UK study reported in the British Medical Journal in September 2006, showing that increased use of the morning-after pill has failed to reduce abortion rates.2
Flying in the face of the evidence
Notwithstanding the mounting evidence, health authorities and contraceptive lobby groups in the UK are persisting with initiatives to make access to the drug ever easier. For example, from December 2006, North Tyneside Primary Care Trust has made the morning-after pill available free of charge from pharmacies to girls as young as 13 in an attempt to address the high teenage pregnancy rate in the region. Meanwhile the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) launched a ‘Just in case' campaign, aimed at encouraging women to obtain the drug in advance. BPAS Chief Executive, Ann Furedi, claimed: ‘It makes sense to keep it in the bathroom cabinet, along with your plasters and paracetamol. You don't wait until you have a headache before buying aspirin, and it makes no sense to wait until you have unprotected sex before you get emergency contraception.'3
The BPAS leaflet cheerfully advises readers that, ‘Repeat use poses no risk'. In reality, however, t he health risks for those who may take the morning-after pill repeatedly over a period of time are uncertain. It is simply not known whether there is a maximum safe daily, monthly, or yearly dose.
Prior to December 2006, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) discouraged advance supply of the morning-after pill, but in response to the BPAS campaign, and a similar initiative by Marie Stopes International, the RPSGB issued a statement declaring that it was no longer against the advance supply of emergency birth control in principle and that it should be left to pharmacists to exercise their professional judgment.4 The statement did not refer to any scientific research basis for the change in the Society's guidance.
1. Raymond E G, Trussell, J, Polis C B, ‘Population Effect of Increased Access to Emergency Contraceptive Pill, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol 109, No 1, January 2007.
2. BMJ, Vol 333, 16 September 2006.
3. BPAS press release, 14 December 2006.
4. Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain Statement, ‘Updated Advice on EHC', 18 December 2006.
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Dr Aric Sigman, Vermilion 2005, 356pp, ISBN 0-0919-0260-6, £9.99
Remotely Controlled is a comp-rehensive and readable examination of the effects of television on a wide range of areas, including brain development, behaviour and thinking, physical and mental health, and social control. Aric Sigman draws together an impressive and well-documented array of research evidence to advance his argument that television is having such a serious impact on our children's health that it should be regarded in a similar way to a substance addiction.
While parenting is now often regarded as a fine science and matters such as infant feeding, sun screening and discipline are thought to require professional advice, television is rarely mentioned by health professionals as an important health and development issue. Aric Sigman quotes the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that children under the age of two should watch no television or screen entertainment at all and that children of all ages should not have a television in their bedrooms because of its negative effect on brain development.
Dr Sigman goes on to highlight how advertising techniques are not only being used in commercial breaks to sell products but also in documentaries and news items to change the way viewers think and feel about issues. What used to go by the name of propaganda is now referred to as ‘raising public awareness'. He suggests that television is a cultural force which is equalled in history only by religion and that it is subtly homogenising culture on a global scale.
Parents are often told they can limit the negative influences of television by watching and discussing it with their children, but Aric Sigman maintains that the problem lies more with the medium itself than the content. He cites evidence that the emotional response produced by powerful TV images cannot be rationalised away by parental explanation and reassurance: ‘Trying to use conscious means to deal with it after the event is a very poor alternative to not seeing it in the first place'.
It is not only children who are adversely affected. Watching television detracts from the interaction that could take place between adults as well. Parents may find they have more eye contact with characters on a TV screen than with each other. In addition the content of programmes often undermines marriage and family relationships. Discord makes for more compelling TV. The image of a woman whose success is defined by being a wonderful mother is conspicuous by its absence. Like the contented couple, the full-time mother who derives an enduring satisfaction and deep contentment from her role lacks televisual excitement, since contentment is hard to capture on camera.
The book concludes with some heartwarming suggestions of ways to spend time instead of watching television, such as the simple pleasures of talking and reading with children, enjoying music, games and puzzles, and the greenery outside. All these activities have scientifically proven benefits which watching television cannot deliver. As a parting shot, Dr Sigman poses the question: If you were on your deathbed and someone could give you back those missing twelve and a half years (the average amount of time a 75 year-old will have spent watching television) to be with people you loved and maybe do things differently, would you take their offer? Or would you say, ‘No thanks, I'm glad I spent that time watching TV'?
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The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) ensured that young people received prominent coverage in the press and media during the autumn when it released its report Freedom's Orphans: Raising youth in a changing world . With reference to findings from two large surveys that followed young people born in 1958 and 1970, the report offers a wide-ranging response to the ongoing debate about ‘the problems of youth'
Two issues highlighted in the report attracted particular press interest:
Freedom's Orphans notes that an ‘increasing disconnection' between children and adults is contributing to an increase in alcohol and drug abuse, violence and promiscuity among young people and points to research suggesting that changes to families, such as more parents working, and rising rates of divorce and single parenthood, have undermined the ability of families to effectively socialise young people. It shows, for example, that children in the UK spend less time with their parents than in other European countries and that family mealtimes are in decline.
Given the report's analysis of the problem, it is surprising to find one of its proposed solutions seeking to force young people to spend even less time with their parents:
A similar dichotomy between an identified problem and proposed solution occurs in relation to family structure. The report observes that, ‘ Much of the US research reports a consistent overarching finding that children who grow up in an “intact, two-parent family” with both biological parents do better on a wide range of outcomes than children who grow up in a single-parent family'. It goes on to state that, ‘ While this research may be instinctively difficult for those on the Left to accept, the British evidence seems to support it'. Therefore ‘lone parenthood does matter', and cohabitation is ‘fundamentally less secure' than marriage.
Yet the report's authors cannot disguise their distaste for the institution that provides children with their much-needed stability. The promotion of marriage is dismissed as ‘an unachievable and unpalatable' aim. In their somewhat defeatist and fatalistic view, high levels of divorce, cohabitation and single-parenthood are with us to stay, therefore trying to try to bring them down is ‘simply not realistic'; it would also be ‘unnecessarily morally prescriptive'.
‘More of the same' proposals
So what do they propose? The ‘ traditional routes'(!) of better childcare, more flexible working arrangements, increased investment in parenting education, relationship education and support.
Useful as it is for its analysis of many of the pressures and problems encountered by young people, the IPPR report appears to have been prevented by an ingrained political ideology from proposing solutions that will address the real needs of children and young people.
Freedom's Orphans: Raising youth in a changing world is by Julia Margo and Mike Dixon with Nick Pearce and Howard Reed, IPPR, 2006, 197pp, ISBN 1-86030-303-X £12.95.
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In December, the Social Policy Justice Group published a report which brought together a wealth of evidence on the current state of the family in the UK.
The report examines at some length the consequences of family breakdown across a broad range of areas, looking at its impact on individuals and families, and on mental health, crime and youth delinquency, poverty at household level, educational outcomes, housing and homelessness, community cohesion and care for the elderly. It estimates the cost of family breakdown to the public purse at well over £20 billion per annum.
In his foreword, Iain Duncan Smith comments: ‘This study…shows more clearly than ever the destructive effects of family breakdown upon millions of children, as well as the links between family breakdown and addictions, educational failure and serious personal debt.'
The report recognises the greater level of stability associated with marriage and cites robust evidence that the dissolution of cohabiting partnerships is the main driver behind lone parent family formation in the UK. It states: ‘At first sight the aim of policy to support all kinds of families appears laudable but it ignores the fact that some family types, on average, result in better outcomes for children and adults than others. We reject the comfortable mantra that policy can or should be wholly morally neutral.'
Concern is expressed that the government's ‘child-centred' policies, such as encouraging the highest possible labour market participation for mothers may be having a damaging effect on families: ‘The vital role of parenting cannot be outsourced to external providers or squeezed into ever tighter time slots.' It is suggested that a shift in the direction of ‘family-centred' policies is required.
A further report to be published in June 2007 will propose policy solutions to the identified problems and provide the basis for recommendations to the Conservative Party on family policy.
In welcoming the report, Conservative Leader David Cameron said: ‘If marriage rates went up, if divorce rates came down - if more couples stayed together for longer, would our society by better off? My answer is yes' (Guardian, 11.12.06).
The State of the Nation Report: Fractured Families, Social Policy Justice Group, December 2006.
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Most parents unaware if their son or daughter is sexually active.1 It may make a good headline, but is it true? According to Teachers' TV, it is. During September, the government-funded television company commissioned ICM to conduct a survey of parental attitudes to sex education which found that ‘nearly three quarters of parents with children at secondary school (74 per cent) admitted they did not know if their child was sexually active'.2
Teachers TV describes the findings as ‘shocking', but I find them incredible – in the literal meaning of the word: I simply don't believe they reflect reality.
First of all, the question parents were asked was not as straightforward as the headlines and the Teachers TV press release suggest. If the question asked had been, ‘Is your child sexually active?' with the options of ‘Yes', ‘No' and ‘Don't know', the answers would have been clear enough.
As it was, however, the question asked was ‘Do you know if your child is sexually active?' and parents were asked to select from four options. ‘Don't know' was not presented as an option at all. The four options were: (a) No, but we have spoken about this in depth; (b) No, and we have not spoken about it in depth; (c) Yes, and we have spoken about this in depth; and (d) Yes, although I have not discussed this in any depth with my child.
A cardinal rule
In asking a question intended to ascertain not only whether or not parents knew if their child was sexually active, but also whether they had spoken to their child about sex in any depth, the poll was breaking a cardinal rule of market research. According to the Market Research Society guidelines, ‘ Only one question should be asked at a time - questions containing multiple concepts (e.g. What do you think about the colour and taste of the product? ) rarely give sensible data.'3 Quite so. And the data gathered as a result of this question is far from sensible.
Common sense tells us that a far smaller proportion of 11 year-olds is going to be sexually active than 16 year-olds, and where there is any uncertainty among parents as to whether or not their secondary-aged child is sexually active, it is far more likely to occur in relation to a 16 year-old than an 11 year-old.
Yet, according to the findings of the Teachers TV survey, the proportion of parents who said they did not know whether or not their child was sexually active was higher among parents with 11 year-old children (75 per cent) than among parents with 16 year-old children (69 per cent).
But let's stay with that figure for 11 year-olds for a minute. Is it really credible that three-quarters of parents with children in the first year of secondary school do not know whether their child is sexually active? Hardly. So why did so many parents tell ICM researchers that they didn't know something that they really knew all along?
Put yourself in the position of one of those parents. You are asked the question: ‘Do you know if your child is sexually active?' Yes, you do know: your child is emphatically NOT sexually active. So the answer is ‘yes', isn't it? ‘Yes, my child is not sexually active.'
But hold on a moment, there's another part to the answer. Do I answer, ‘Yes, and I have spoken about this in depth' or ‘Yes, although I have not discussed this in any depth with my child'? Spoken to my child in depth about what? About a non-existent sexual relationship? Perhaps my answer should be ‘No' then, as in, ‘No, my child is not sexually active.' It is thought processes such as these which will have led a large proportion of parents to say ‘No' when they really meant to say ‘Yes'.
Doubtless many parents could and should be far more vigilant than they are, and exercise more control over their children's behaviour than they do, but they should certainly be credited with a lot more knowledge than the findings of this flawed poll suggest.
Do you know if your child is sexually active?
Source: ICM Research
1. Daily Mail, 27.11.06.
2. Teachers TV press release, 27.11.06.
3. Market Research Society, Questionnaire design guidelines, May 2006.
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In a letter to the Daily Mail (27 October 2006), 14-year-old Josie Parkinson from Chorleywood, Herts, described the sex education she has been receiving at her local secondary school.
With such an amoral and irresponsible approach becoming ever more common in our schools, it is vital that parents are vigilant.
Valerie Riches' book, Sex Education or Indoctrination? has never been more necessary reading for parents. (Available from the FYC office at £5.00 inc p&p.)
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As part of its review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act, the government has decided that the presence and involvement of a father is irrelevant to a consideration of the welfare of the child. Current legislation states that a woman shall not be given fertility treatment: ‘unless account has been taken of the welfare of the child who may be born as a result of the treatment (including the need of that child for a father)'.1
However, in its White Paper, issued in December 2006, the government decided ‘on balance' to propose that the reference to the need for a father, in consideration of the welfare of the child, should be removed from the Act. In so doing, the government has chosen to go against the majority of individual responses to its consultation from members of the public, who generally favoured retention of a reference to the child's need for a father.
The government's position received the support of Dr Evan Harris, a member of the House of Commons Science and Technology select committee, who stated the existing law was ‘unjustifiable, discriminatory and vindictive'. He also held that it was ‘unsustainable in human rights and equality terms. The evidence suggests children do very well brought up by lesbian couples and solo parents, so good riddance.'2
Despite the government's insistence that same-sex civil partnerships are not to be equated with marriage, the White Paper refers to an ‘existing policy to create parity between civil partners and married couples'. This is cited in support of a government proposal to:
1. Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, s13(5).
2. Guardian, 14 December 2006.
Department of Health, Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: Proposals for revised legislation (including establishment of the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos), December 2006.
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A study of regional data in England published in a recent edition of the journal, Sex Education, found consistent evidence that access to family planning services is not associated with reductions in teenage pregnancy rates. The research, undertaken by Professor David Paton of Nottingham University Business School, also found that the promotion of emergency birth control in family planning clinics was associated with higher levels of sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses, as was free access to the emergency pill in pharmacies.
While Professor Paton surrounds his findings in relation to STIs with several caveats, he urges policy makers to consider the possibility that the introduction of a measure aimed at a specific outcome might carry with it unintended consequences that negate its effectiveness and do more harm than good.
Professor Paton writes: ‘In the case in question, there is at least some evidence that some measures aimed at reducing adolescent pregnancy rates induced changes in teenage behaviour that were large enough not only to negate the intended impact on pregnancy rates, but also to have a possible adverse impact on another important area of adolescent sexual health – STIs.'
Paton D, ‘Random behaviour or rational choice? Family planning, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, Sex Education, Vol 6, No 3, August 2006.
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The 2007 AGM and Conference of the Family Education Trust will be held on Saturday 2 June 2007 at the Royal Air Force Club, 128 Piccadilly, London W1.
We are delighted that Professor Brenda Almond and Judge John Curran have agreed to address us during the afternoon session. Professor Almond is Emeritus Professor of Moral and Social Philosophy at the University of Hull and author of The Fragmenting Family, a new title published by Oxford University Press. She will examine conflicting ideologies of the family and consider whether the family is just a social construct.
Judge Curran became a Circuit Judge in 1996 and has served as Resident Judge at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court since 1998. He will draw on over 40 years of experience in the legal field as he addresses us on the link between family breakdown and crime, the importance of fatherhood, and the damage being done by permissive sex education.
Further details will accompany the Spring bulletin. Please note the date in your diary now and plan to join with us if you are able.
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