Only now, eight hours later, having read the letter in the Telegraph, do I realise they did no such thing. Yet the Telegraph's and ConservativeHome's reporting of this letter has meant that thousands of their readers believe that John Bercow and Robert Key both suppport giving sex education to five year olds on the basis that they have put their names to a letter supporting appropriate sex education for relevant age primary school kids. For the avoidance of doubt, here is the full text of the letter to the Telegraph...
SIR – Although rates have fallen over the past 20 years, Britain still has by far the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe – five times the figure in the Netherlands, three times that in Germany and twice that in France. The most recent figures for teenage abortions and sexually transmitted infections are equally depressing, despite efforts to reduce them, with 42,784 abortions to teenage girls last year and 32,000 new teenage cases of chlamydia.
Yet Ofsted in England and Estyn in Wales have reported that provision of good sex and relationship education is still very patchy, with too many young girls reaching their first period without knowing what is happening to their body. International evidence suggests that high-quality sex and relationship education that puts sex in its proper context, that starts early enough to make a difference and that gives youngsters the confidence and ability to make well informed decisions helps young people delay their first sexual experience and leads to lower teenage pregnancy levels. Young people and their parents continually ask for sex and relationships to be taught in schools.
We call on the Government to guarantee appropriate sex and relationship education in every primary and secondary school by putting personal, social and health education on a statutory basis as part of the national curriculum.
Nowhere in this letter does it talk about five year olds. This was the headline used by ConservativeHome.....
Two Tory MPs join call for "appropriate"
sex education for five year-oldsThe story should never have been headlined in that way. It was irresponsible and provocative. However, they were only taking their lead from The Telegraph whose headline was
Pupils Should Have Sex Education From the Age of Four Say MPs
If you use the term "primary school" I suppose in theory you could draw the conclusion that the letter was indeed calling for sex education for all primary school age children, who would include four year olds. But that is not what the letter says, and I am confident it is not what the letter meant to imply.
In some people's minds, teaching sex education is not the solution but a symptom of the problem. Instead, much of the answer (see the ConHome post) relates to abstinence counselling. I am not qualified to judge the effect of that. But whatever the effects of it might be (I suspect they would be negligible in this country), nowhere do ConservativeHome or the Telegraph address the problem of teaching girls in particular what is happening to their bodies.
Girls start their periods much earlier nowadays, it seems - often way before they start at secondary school. It breaks my heart to think of kids with a single digit age even knowing about sex, let alone becoming sexually active. But I am afraid we are dealing with the world we are in rather than the one we might like it to be. Yes, I would love kids to retain their innocence for as long as possible. But we have to recognise that many parents - even today - shy away from explaining periods and puberty to their children (daughters in particular), partly because they are embarrassed and partly because they don't have the faintest idea how to do it. They leave it ... and leave it ... and leave it ... and then it's too late. The child has to cope on its own. Many do, some don't.
Let's face it, some eleven year old girls are having sex nowadays. Are most of them doing so because they know what they are doing, let alone what the implications are? I doubt it. Surely to God it would be better for an eleven year old to understand what she (or he) is doing and the consequences of it, rather than being kept in a state of ignorance until it is too late?
It is right, of course, to ask where one draws the lines. Kids reach sexual maturity at different ages. Some girls start puberty at the age of nine, others not till fourteen. I am not qualified to make the judgement of where the line is drawn, but I can offer an opinion. And that opinion is that I too would have been happy to sign the letter published in the Telegraph today. And I too would oppose sex education for five year olds. But that, of course, was never on the table.