Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A day to be pleased with

Today the Office for National Statistics released the latest teenage pregnancy data for 2008 and Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, announced the continuation of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy in England.

Since 1998 teenage pregnancy rates for under 18s have reduced by 13.3% to 40.4 per 1,000 for 2008. This is good news and we now need to continue doing what we know works; improving access to sexual health services, good quality sex and relationships education in school and the community and supporting parents to talk to their children about relationships.

I really welcome the refresh of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy and the renewed commitment to young people’s sexual health. There is some excellent work taking place in some areas and what we need to do now is to learn from those areas who have seen the biggest decreases and make that excellent work the standard for all teenage pregnancy programmes.

Yesterday the Children, Schools and Families Bill which includes making Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education statutory completed its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons.

We eagerly await its progress through the House of Lords and the Bill receiving Royal Assent before it becomes law. Making PSHE Education statutory will provide a clear framework and ensure that it will be inclusive of every child and young person combining legal/civil rights, health, and cultural and religious perspectives.

Every day at Brook we see young people whose education about relationships and sex has not been good enough. For too long young people have been saying that the sex education they receive is too little, too late and too biological because schools are only required to teach what is in the science curriculum. Statutory PSHE will mean that all children and young people will receive the education and information they are entitled to.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Statutory PSHE Education

Children and young people want it, most parents want it and in October 2008 at long last this government showed leadership on it by announcing the intention to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education statutory. For many of us campaigning with and for children and young people this signalled the end of an era. The door was open. It was going to happen. Albeit slightly slower than expected. And as we gallop towards a general election with a short parliamentary session, I believe the door is still open.

Has the amendment laid down by Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, that provides school with right to teach PSHE Education in line with their religious character really provided an opt out for faith schools?

Was the amendment necessary? Not in my view. Is the amendment devastating? Probably not as long as schools know what they must deliver. Will it reassure some? Probably.

It is always important to know what you are arguing about. It seems to me that PSHE Education is becoming a battleground for age old arguments about state aided 'faith based schools'. Regardless of the school, PSHE Education has to be as good as it can be, and that is what this legislation must seek to ensure.

Legislating for Statutory PSHE Education is morally and socially right. It should have happened at least five years ago and must get through now. If it gets through, it will bring about systemic change and real, lasting benefit to children and young people in line with the Every Child Matters agenda. Let's keep our eyes and our minds on the big prize, statutory PSHE that will help drive standards up. This legislation, with all its limitations is worth our support.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

'Mis-selling sex': calling for collaboration between broadcasters, producers and organisations like Brook

Soap operas have long been the stimulus for family conversations about sex and sexuality and bringing socially taboo issues onto our screens and into our homes. If you just think about Eastenders over the years, I can remember Michelle's teenage pregnancy, Tony and Simon's teenage kiss and more recently Peter and Lauren in EastEnders talking about sex responsibly, getting condoms and then deciding to wait.

Brook has been working with DH and DCSF following some research called Mis selling sex which analysed the sexual content of TV programmes, and showed that of all the sexual content on the programmes audited, only 7% had safer sex messages.

First and foremost of course TV is about entertainment it is also the place that over 40% of young people say they get information about sex and relationships. At Brook we have direct contact with over 1500 young people every day. We know the power of TV in generating discussion amongst peers, and we believe more can be done to include 'reference to contraception and condoms to build on the excellent 'sex' story lines that already exist.

This is absolutely not about wanting regulation or guidance. It is about voluntary collaboration between TV broadcasters and producers and organisations like Brook who can provide information, advice and support so the stories are realistic and factually accurate - we know when it works it can be incredibly powerful and I am looking forward to the discussions with broadcasters and producers in the coming weeks.

Teenage girls in crisis?

Gender it seems is making the news again. At last. For far too long we have stopped talking about it in public spaces.

There is a really interesting article in the Observer today (I tried to get the link for this blog, but doing this via phone and it won't work for me) called Are Britain's teenage girls really in crisis? It is well worth reading as I am sure the book Living Dolls: the return of sexism by Natasha Walter will be too. The article concludes with the paragraph;

'The message is that for modern teeange girls the encouragement to do better, look better and have more has become almost unbearable. They need help and they need it urgently - not only for themselves but for the next generation, whose mothers they will be'.

And I agree with much of the sentiment in the article. And we have to be really clear here, the arguments about whether teenage girls are the most vulnerable group in society need to be heard. But for me, what i hear from young people and staff at Brook is that it is gender - growing up as a boy, or a girl and what that means that we have to address. We have to really think about what we are teaching boys and girls, and what boys and girls are learning about themselves, their bodies, their aspirations and about sex. And unless we do so we will miss the point in the development and implementation of youth policy.

That is why Brook's conference this year is on gender - at this conference we will premier a film about gender made by young people who work at Brook and have a real opportunity to spend quality time focusing on how we put gender back central stage in a way that is relevant and meaningful for this century. You can see the trailer for the film on You Tube by searching for Brook Gender 2010 and you can find out more about the conference by visiting

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Over the last fifteen years or so I have seen some pretty grim use of statistics and reporting about sex and relationships education, the age of consent, youth sexuality and sexual health services. But over the past couple of days even I have said Wow this reporting of teenage pregnancy and the blatant use of shock tactics to overstate the problem of teenage pregnancy in this country is grim.

The government released, to The Sun, following an Freedom Of Information request, figures about the rates of pregnancy amongst 10-15 year olds between 2000 and 2007. The resulting headline focussed on the youngest children about whom data was released. Leaving aside for a minute the fact that the figures were mangled and presented an extremely inaccurate picture, I ask you to consider what anyone could hope to gain from a story about pregnant 10 year olds.

Of course it is not acceptable that even a single 10 year old has ever become pregnant. No sensible child, young person or adult wants that. It is particularly terrible because we are not talking about teenage pregnancy, ‘over sexualised’ children, or any other ‘Broken Britain’ indicator. We are talking about children who have been abused.

The abuse of children has been used to score a cheap point about teenage pregnancy rates and the government policy on teenage pregnancy. And be in no doubt that some journalists want to track down some of these children. Brook’s press office received calls yesterday asking our help in providing ‘case studies’ of pregnant 10 year olds.

This deliberate misrepresentation of facts, the sensationalising of the impact of sex and relationships education and misreporting of the truth about teenage pregnancy creates fear and misunderstanding that permeates throughout society and fails to protect children and young people. Brook carried out some research last year which showed that 95% of us seriously overestimate the numbers of young people who become pregnant. Small wonder, when some part of the media continue to insist on inaccurate scaremongering fronted as public interest journalism.

And for the record, most young people under the age of 16 do not have sex and our teenage conception rates have, overall, decreased by 10.5% since 1998. Higher numbers of young people having an abortion if they get pregnant, which means that overall we have about a 24% reduction in teenage births in England.

We need to build on this success and ensure that young people are only having sex when they are able to consent, enjoy and take responsibility for it, and we need to ensure that young people are able to use contraceptive services and contraception effectively when they do have sex.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The power of young voice

Last Thursday the Department of Health held a consultative conference on the future direction of sexual health policy - 'sexual health - worth thinking about'.

One of our young volunteers was invited to be on the panel of speakers at the conference. I was unable to attend the conference in the morning as I was at the NICE meeting on Personal, Social and Health Education. However, as soon as I arrived people started telling me what a brilliant job she had done. Sometimes adult compliments of young people's input can feel patronising, but it was clear this was not the case from the way they talked specifically about what she had said, not just that she had said something. I felt very proud that she was able to do such a good job in front of 400 skilled professionals working in sexual health - enough to make many people quake just thinking about it!

I also felt proud of my team at the national office who have created an office environment that works for the young people so that their volunteering experience is positive and productive for them and the organisation, and enabling such a positive platform for young people to be able to find the power of their voice and their influence.

We now have 10 young people developing their own campaigning work on sexual health. They are particularly interested in pressures. Over the coming months they are going to be taking their ideas and work out with the aim of influencing young people and the adults who work with them. Watch this space.