By Paul Bracchi
Casual sex and ‘bad touching’: Guess what your eight-year-old is learning at school these days
The camera pans to the bedroom. Soon, a computer-generated image of a naked man and woman appear on my screen.
They begin to chase each other around the room; she tickles him flirtatiously with a feather; he responds by hitting her with a pillow.
They start to kiss and caress. The next moment they leap onto the sheets and begin having sex in a variety of different sexual positions.
The voiceover informs us: ‘The man’s penis slides inside the woman’s vagina. It’s very exciting for both of them.’
A late night adult show on Channel 4, perhaps? An animated version of the Kama Sutra? Or a free CD that comes with a copy of Loaded or any number of other lad mags or soft porn publications?
Well, it is a Channel 4 production (they’re rather good at that kind of thing, after all). But shockingly, the target audience for this film is children as young as eight, and the film could soon be showing at a primary school near you.
The DVD also features information about masturbation, orgasms (including an animated sequence depicting ejaculation), casual sex and ‘good and bad touching’. The list of X-rated topics is almost endless.
In one section, a group of boys who look no more than ten are shown in a public toilet where there is a condom machine on the wall.
‘They have even got different flavours,’ one of the youngsters observes.
Not surprisingly, the film, entitled, Living And Growing, is causing concern among parents across the country. It is now being shown to youngsters at scores of primary schools.
Admittedly, the world is a very different place to the one many of us grew up in. But are we really to believe that explaining the ‘facts of life,’ in explicit detail, to youngsters, many of whom still believe in Father Christmas, could help solve the teenage pregnancy epidemic or reduce the rates of sexually transmitted diseases among adolescents?
The examples we have highlighted are just a sample of the controversial subject matter now being peddled to our very youngest pupils; it’s not even the worst of it either.
Labour, of course, wanted to make SRE compulsory in all primaries, just as it is in all secondary schools, but it failed to win cross-party support and was forced to abandon the initiative. Instead, the decision on whether or not to introduce such lessons remained with governors.
Yet, nearly two years on, what seemed like a victory for common sense is proving to be quite the opposite.
Under Department of Education guidelines, any primary school planning to introduce SRE has a duty to consult parents, to ensure they have an ‘input’ and their voice is heard.
‘It is essential that schools involve parents in developing and reviewing their sex education policy,’ the guidelines state.
‘Schools should ensure that pupils are protected from teaching materials that are inappropriate having regard to the age and the religious and cultural background of the pupils concerned.
‘Governors and headteachers should discuss with parents and take on board concerns raised, both on materials which are offered to schools and on sensitive material to be used in the classroom.’
But many schools have been accused, rightly or wrongly, of simply paying lip service to the consultation process; sending out letters which ‘play down’ the content of proposed classes and holding meetings at inconvenient times for mums and dads.
And, by the time such meetings are held, schools have already invested considerable time and money in choosing from a variety of SRE packages and can be reluctant to discard them.
Perhaps this is part of the reason why such classes — driven by the powerful sex education lobby (including groups like fpa, formerly the Family Planning Association, and the Brook sexual health advice service) — are now being extended to more than a fifth of UK primaries. That’s at least 3,400 schools and nearly one million pupils.
Almost all of them will see, if they haven’t already, the Channel 4 DVD showing on my computer.
Entitled All About Us: Living And Growing, it was produced by Channel 4 in ‘response to requests from teachers and heads for a resource that promotes sex and relationship education as a developmental process, beginning in the early years at an appropriate level and progressing through childhood and adolescence.’
Childhood? Would any youngster aged between eight and 11, the intended audience, have much of a childhood left after watching it?
Up to 20 families are now said to be prepared to pull their children out of SRE classes if they are introduced at Grenoside. It is becoming a familiar story all over Britain.
In Lincolnshire, Lisa Bullivant, 39, a mother-of-three, not only withdrew her seven-year-old daughter from an SRE class at East Wold Primary, she removed her from the school altogether. The catalyst was the Channel 4 DVD.
‘The original letter from the school led me to believe that it (the DVD) was just about puberty,’ she said. ‘The title was not given so we couldn’t even look it up online. I couldn’t make the viewing parents were invited to, but I didn’t think I had any reason to be concerned.
‘The first I knew about its content was when I heard my daughter and her friend discussing it on the way home in the car. It caused such a stir. There were reports of some boys copying what they saw and jumping on girls after school.
‘I discovered that only two out of 30 parents had turned up to the viewing and they had been shocked by what they had seen.
‘The teacher presenting it said they could withdraw their children from the lesson but she would “strongly advise against it” as they’d hear about it from other pupils anyway, which would be worse.
‘Most of the parents thought the DVD went too far but I feel the school just brushed our concerns away and the governors all banded together to support the school.’
So much for consultation.
In the end, Mrs Bullivant and husband Stephen, a builder, decided to take their daughter out of East Wold. She’s now being home-schooled. East Wold declined to comment, but referred us to the county council.
‘Parents have every right to question what their schools do, but it is up to schools and governing bodies to make these decisions,’ said Andy Breckon, Assistant Director of Children’s Services.
Whatever Mr Breckon, or anyone else might say, isn’t there a thinly veiled contempt for the rights of parents?
Merseyside father Christopher Power sent a thoughtful and considered email to Alison McGovern, Labour MP for Wirral South, after the Living And Growing film was shown at his ten-year-old son’s school.
‘In my opinion, people need to grow and develop, enjoying their lives, not becoming adults at the age of ten,’ he wrote.
‘It was said that “children at this age (Year Five) know about these things anyway and have probably watched worse films”. I do not feel this can ever be a justification to show inappropriate material on the basis or assumption a child may have seen worse.’
The Channel 4 film is far from the only material causing offence. A CD Rom from BBC Active, the corporation’s learning resources department, comes with a red label warning: ‘Contains explicit content. Review before use.’
In which case, why is it aimed at nine to 11-year-olds? It is also being screened in primary schools.
One clip (Men And Women’s Bodies) features full-frontal nudity showing a real couple in the bedroom and bathroom. There are also computer-generated images of penetration.
A third teaching package, the Primary School Sex & Relationships Education Pack, comes from Liverpool-based publishing company HIT UK.
The introduction states: ‘In the past some people have set aims in SRE such as “promoting marriage”, “dissuading children from having sex before marriage”, “stopping young people from having sex”, “telling children what is right or wrong” etc.
‘Such aims are not achievable, inappropriate for schools and are often more to do with propaganda than education.’
So what is appropriate then?
A card game, apparently, where children are invited to match words to definitions listed in the pack’s glossary. Among the phrases defined are ‘oral sex’ (‘using the mouth and tongue to lick, kiss or suck a partner’s genitals’) and ‘anal intercourse’ (sexual intercourse where a man puts his penis into another man’s anus.’)
Subjects recommended for discussion include: ‘Homosexuality, bisexuality, abortion, rape, incest, sex abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and Aids.’
A string of councils, including East Sussex, Norfolk, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Swansea, have recommended this pack to schools. Remember, these are primary schools.
Scandalously, a spokesman for East Sussex admitted that the authority’s education specialists had not even viewed the material.
‘It is the school’s responsibility to ensure that the selected resources are appropriate for their own school, ethos and policy,’ the spokesman said.
About 30 schools a year buy the pack, compiled by ex-teacher Julian Cohen.
‘There is all sorts of practical advice in the pack and schools can pick and choose what they wish,’ Mr Cohen said.
So would he be happy for his own children to play the ‘card game’ he advocates? Mr Cohen insisted he would.
‘We live in such a sexualised culture now,’ he added. ‘Good sex and relationships education protects children.’
Mr Cohen is right about one thing. Our culture has become increasingly sexualised. After all, you can buy 3in heels for girls aged four to six, and T-shirts with suggestive logos, lads’ mags are displayed at child’s-eye level, and pop videos air as early as 10am with adult lyrics
Doesn’t the material now being peddled to pupils in primaries only serve to contribute to this sexualisation? Certainly, most parents would think so; but their voices are the only ones no one seems to be listening to.
In fact, the influential Sex Education Forum (SEF), an umbrella organisation representing groups such as fpa and the Brook sexual health advice service, which has advised recent governments on sex and education, believes that ‘maintaining the parental right of withdrawal from SRE is not in the best interests of children’.
In its guidance to schools on what to include in their SRE curriculum, it suggests that children as young as nine and ten are taught about sexual feelings, sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted infections and the meaning of the words lesbian and gay.