Scotland's children 'need earlier sex education lessons'

pregnant Teenage pregnancy rates are far higher in the poorest areas of Scotland than in the most affluent

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Sex education at a younger age and free contraception for people as young as 13 are needed to cut teenage pregnancy rates, according to a Holyrood inquiry.

The health and sport committee has called for a national strategy to tackle the problem in Scotland.

Rates are falling but a target to reduce the number of under-16s who have a baby has been missed.

The Scottish government said work to address the issue was ongoing and it would consider the report.

The six-month inquiry called for a culture change to tackle some of the highest teenage pregnancy figures in Western Europe.

MSPs want a review of sex education with an emphasis on relationships over biology, starting at as early an age as possible.

Committee convener Duncan McNeil said: "Improved access to contraception or better access to high-quality sexual health education won't in itself tackle our rates of teenage pregnancy.

"Our committee is confident that implementing this package of measures will bring about the step-change we need to make a real difference."

'Earliest possible'

Recommendations in the report include refreshing the way sex education is taught on the school curriculum, with extra input from young people.

Providing sexual health and relationships education (SHRE) "from the earliest age possible" is likely to prove controversial, MSPs noted.

Start Quote

As part of this new strategy, we need central government direction to deliver culture change ”

End Quote Bob Doris Health and sport committee

At present, the curriculum does not set an age limit, giving discretion to teachers in consultation with parents.

"Nevertheless, the committee accepts the majority of the evidence presented to it that SHRE needs to begin earlier and that the majority of parents, many of whom feel ill-equipped to discuss sexual matters with their children, would welcome and support quality SHRE provisions from an early age," the report concluded.

Concern was raised about how a consistent approach can be taken with Catholic schools.

MSPs heard from an NHS board that it was "denied access to RC schools", an accusation rejected by the Scottish Catholic Education Service.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said that by the committee's own analysis the existing approach had failed, adding: "The church suspects it is time to re-orientate our approach to relationship and sex education."

The committee also recommended that easily accessible contraception services were key to reducing the rate of pregnancy.

It drew attention to an existing scheme which makes condoms freely available to people aged between 13 and 24.

Noting potential problems with the approach, the committee report stated: "It is essential to ensure that, where new services are provided, communication with pupils, parents and the wider community about the reasons for the development of the provision is carefully and sensitively managed."

Rates 'unchanged'

Responsibility for the provision of these services should lie with councils and head teachers.

MSPs ruled out a controversial call for schools to offer emergency hormonal contraception such as the morning-after pill.

The inquiry aimed to find out why Scotland has a higher rate of teenage pregnancy than most other Western European countries.

There has been a small, constant decline among the under-18 and under-20 age groups but little change among under-16s, the committee found.

The rate among the younger age group was 7.1 per 1,000 people in 2010.

Committee deputy convener Bob Doris said: "As part of this new strategy, we need central government direction to deliver culture change to develop greater partnership working which is essential to make further progress. A new strategy can drive that agenda."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "We have taken significant action to ensure contraception and longer-acting reversible contraception is widely available, and is particularly available to vulnerable women most at risk of unintended pregnancy.

"We will consider further the evidence presented and the particular recommendations made."

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