The Department for Children, Schools and Families has today announced its response to the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group: 'The Government has taken forward all the major recommendations including making sex and relationships education statutory within Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education from 2011' and is to invest more than £45 million in improving young people's awareness and access to effective contraception.
The Government claims 'We know what works to bring down teenage conceptions - giving young people the knowledge and confidence to resist pressure to have early sex, and to prevent early pregnancy when they do become sexually active.' However, over the past 10 years, while the government has spent £250 million providing information on sex, contraception, and abortion and linking schools to sexual advice clinics, pregnancies among under-16s, sexually transmitted diseases and teenage abortion rates have all increased. As independent assessment has shown, Government policy has failed.
Scarily, Public Health Minister Gillian Merron said, 'It is vital that work continues to reduce the teenage pregnancy rate and prevent young people becoming pregnant earlier than they would choose to. That is why the Government has already invested £20.5 million to improve access to long acting reversible (LARC) methods such as the implant and injection - which are very effective and easy to use.'
When she says the Government has 'invested' £20.5 million to improve access to long acting reversible contraceptives, what she means is that this year for the first time GPs can get bonus payments from pushing LARCs - which is why women, even those who have been taking the pill and mini pill successfully for many years, have recently been reporting that they are being put under pressure to switch to LARCs when they go to their GP surgeries for a repeat prescription of their oral contraceptive. Incidentally, the advice for anyone who feels they have been subject to such pressure is to write to their NHS Primary Care Trust to complain and ask the PCT what the payment for pushing LARCs is under the Quality and Outcomes Framework scheme of remuneration bonuses.
A closer look at the eight major recommendations proves even more worrying. They begin 'Government should continue to provide strong leadership to champion the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy'. This goes directly against the biblical guidance that the primary responsibility for education lies with parents, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as article 26.3: 'Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.' Yet, just last week, ignoring the results of its own public consultation, the government declared that parents' right to pull their children out of sex education classes in England will be ended once pupils turn 15.
Among its other recommendations, we find heavily-loaded statements such as the following:
- We recommend the removal of the restriction on promoting condom use before the 9pm watershed;
- Abortion and contraceptive services should be joined up at national and local level so that the cost-benefits of contraception, particularly long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), can be set against the greater costs of terminating an unwanted pregnancy;
- The Government's current review of SRE should:
- State clearly that all schools including faith schools must teach all aspects of SRE within the context of relationships in an anti-discriminatory way; contraception, abortion and homosexuality are all legal in this country and therefore all children and young people should be able to learn the correct facts;
- Make explicit links to young people's advisory services and provision of contraception and sexual health services and demonstrate this by teaching young people how to access services.
Among all the talk of 'increasing access to condoms' and the implicit promotion of 'alternative' lifestyle choices such as homosexuality, it is noticeable that the Government still refuses to countenance abstinence as even a part of the solution to the nation's STI, abortion and teenage pregnancy problems. This despite the clear evidence, as we have pointed out before, that abstinence education funding results in significantly greater reductions in teen abortions than is otherwise the case:
At the end of the day, I suppose the question is what values are we teaching our children and what values do we think we ought to be teaching? Are we teaching them to understand their identities as something greater than merely their sexuality? Are we teaching them that intimacy and friendship make a greater and longer-lasting contribution to happiness and wellbeing than does sexual intercourse? Are we teaching them to see the wider personal and social impact of their sexual choices? That, it seems, would be a more balanced approach to Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), and far more likely to 'give young people the knowledge and confidence to resist pressure to have early sex.'