Sunday 15 August 2010

Ofsted report into sex education is flawed

Dr John Fleming, SPUC's bioethical consultant, has sent me his analysis of a report by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, into sex and relationships education. I blogged about the Ofsted report last month. I report Fr Fleming's analysis in full below:
The Ofsted report, “Sex and Relationships Education in Schools”, is a very curious document at best and downright subversive at worst. The report is “a response to a recommendation in the Social Exclusion Unit’s 1999 report Teenage pregnancy that the Ofsted that should carry out a survey of sex and relationships education and produce a guide to good practice.”

1. That Ofsted is not well placed to carry out serious research is amply demonstrated by the methodology employed in this report. The methodology used is merely a collection of impressions by a wide range of Ofsted inspectors about what those inspectors considered to be the state of affairs in a school and based on their attendance at one or two lessons. It is quite unclear how these opinions are arrived at. There is no declared standardisation of the “judgements” made, and one is left with the impression that the “judgements” appear to be no more than the subjective assessments of a variety of different judges.

2. The examples used in the report are, from an educational point of view, damning although cited by the report favourably. For example, at page 9, the report speaks approvingly of students’ knowledge and understanding of topics such as contraception at Key Stage 4. The report immediately goes on to provide an example of “how a topic such as contraception can be dealt with in a straightforward manner” (page 10). The example given of a Year 10 lesson at a girls’ grammar school” by “a specialist teacher” (specialist in what we are not told), reduces the topic down to one of knowledge about “effective accounts of the use of each contraceptive”. The girls were said to be able to use the correct terminology and that “pupils’ questions were answered accurately and honestly”. Nowhere in this ‘praiseworthy account’ is there any evidence that the students were given “accurate and honest” access to information about the serious moral questions which have been raised about the use of contraception both inside and outside marriage. That should include “accurate and honest” information about the abortifacient mechanism that might be at work with a particular contraceptive. Ofstednot only approves of contraception but seems incapable of thinking there could be any reason to question contraceptive practices. This is indoctrination, not education!

3. The report often refers to “moral development” so that students will have “a moral framework that will guide their decisions, judgements and behaviour” (page 3). But nowhere in the report is there any suggestion that morality is taken seriously beyond students making sensible personal judgements, whatever the word “sensible” is meant to denote. For students to have a moral framework they need to be introduced to the subject in a proper manner. But this report assumes the confused moral reasoning implicitly and sometimes explicitly embraced by unqualified education elites to be the only correct moral reasoning which a student will uncritically embrace. No evidence is given of alternative views being given a fair hearing. The mere transmission of so-called ‘facts’ outside of any properly constructed moral framework is itself tendentious. On page 9 the report defines the areas of knowledge and understanding that students should have by the end of Key Stage 4 in terms which make no reference at all to the significant moral issues at stake. To be sure the report often talks about “morality”, but its authors show no sign either of understanding the reach and scope of moral teaching or about how it really applies in the area of sex and relationships education.

4. The report has little regard for the proper role of parents in the lives of their children. The report boldly states that “schools have been effective in addressing the concerns of parents” (page 6). The evidence cited for this remarkable claim is that “about 4 in every 10,000 pupils (0.04%) are currently withdrawn from the non-statutory aspects of SRE”, which is no evidence at all. That the report has scant regard for parents is revealed later in the report under the revealing heading “Parents and Other Sources of Information and Advice”. The report states that parents are “less and less” the pupils’ main source of advice on sexual matters’ and seems to accept that melancholy fact as if there is nothing to be done about it. The report notes that, according to its research, about 40-50% of pupils think their parents should be their main source of advice, but is lukewarm at suggestions that schools might better spend their time assisting parents to educate their children rather than engage in state sponsored imposition of ‘group think’ on unwitting students. In any other circumstances we would assist the educators to educate, so why not assist the first educators of children to more effectively carry out their role.

5. Finally, this report makes strong recommendations based upon inadequate research, subjective impressions by school inspectors (whose qualification in this area of sex and relationships education is not revealed), and muddled thinking accompanied by fuzzy language. It is more about the indoctrination of a particular approach than real education. Even worse it does not take into account the undeniable fact that current approaches to sex education are massive failures measured against their own clearly stated objectives to reduce teen pregnancy, reduce the number of teen abortions, reduce the number of unmarried teenage mothers, and to reduce the incidence of STIs. If Ofsted took into account all of the information widely available it should have concluded that the current sex and relationships education course are massive failures and are in serious need of a root and branch rethink.

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