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Personal, Social and Health Education

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 21 June 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the evidential basis was for the statement made by Ofsted in its report “Time for Change? Personal, Social and Health Education” that (a) research suggests that education that promotes abstinence but withholds information about contraception can place young people at higher risk and (b) school nurses provide a particularly valuable service in providing emergency hormonal contraception to pupils; and if he will make a statement. (141462)

This is a matter for Ofsted. HM Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, has written to the hon. Member and a copy of her reply has been placed in the Library.

Letter from Christine Gilbert, dated 13 June 2007:

Your recent parliamentary question has been passed to me, as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, for reply.

You asked what the evidential basis was for the statements made by Ofsted in its report, “Time for Change? Personal, Social and Health Education (HMI 070049)”, that (A) research suggests that education that promotes abstinence, but withholds information about contraception, can place young people at higher risk; and (B) school nurses are providing a valuable service by offering emergency hormonal contraception to pupils.

Our report states that ‘there is no evidence, however, that ‘abstinence-only’ education reduces teenage pregnancy or improves sexual health. There is also no evidence to support claims that teaching about contraception leads to increased sexual activity. Research suggests that education and strategies that promote abstinence but withhold information about contraception can place young people at a higher risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).’ There has been widespread international research in this area, including three pieces of research completed by the National Children’s Bureau:

1. Blake, S and Frances, G (2001) Just Say No to Abstinence Education. London

2. Abstinence-only Education, Sex Education Forum, briefing May 2004

3. Swann, C., Bowe, K. MCCormick, G. and Kosmin, M. (2003) Teenage Pregnancy and parenthood: a review of reviews. Evidence briefing. London: Health development Agency.

We found this research persuasive because it reflected our discussions with pupils in 350 inspections who said they valued clear sex and relationship education in school.

Our report states that ‘school nurses can also provide a valuable service, particularly in terms of providing emergency hormonal contraception and advising on other forms of contraception’. This is in line with non-statutory guidance published by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). The DfES publication “Teenage Pregnancy Next Steps: Guidance for Local Authorities and Primary Care Trusts on Effective Delivery of Local Strategies” (2006) sets out the key findings from ‘deep dive’ reviews carried out by the Teenage Pregnancy Unit to identify factors responsible for the significant variation in performance between local areas, including between areas that are statistically similar. The guidance states:

‘Provision of young people focused contraception/sexual health services, trusted by teenagers and well known by professionals working with them.’ This was the factor most commonly cited as having the biggest impact on conception rate reductions in the high performing areas. Features of successful services reflected the “Best practice guidance on the provision of effective contraception and advice services for young people” issued by the Teenage Pregnancy Unit in 2000: easy accessibility in the right location with opening hours convenient to young people; provision of the full range of contraceptive methods, including long acting methods; a strong focus on sexual health promotion (as well as reactive services) through, for example, outreach work in schools, work with professionals to improve their ability to engage with young people on sexual health issues; and through highly visible publicity. Effective services also had a strong focus on meeting the specific needs of young men. All high-performing areas also had condom distribution schemes involving a wide range of local agencies and/or access to emergency contraception in non-clinical settings.

Ofsted’s own discussions with young people suggest they want and trust services in schools and welcome and recognise the commitment that schools show to meeting their wider health needs.

A copy of this reply has been sent to Jim Knight MP, Minister of State for Schools, and will be placed in the library of both Houses.