Monday, 30 November 2009

Bitter blow for women in Northern Ireland

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Services in Northern Ireland published guidance on abortion. SPUC launched a judicial review to get the guidance withdrawn. We have today learned they were successful which is a bitter blow for women in Northern Ireland.

Responding to the news, FPA said

Reacting to today's ruling by Lord Justice Girvan in the High Court in Belfast, granting the withdrawal of the Guidance document on abortion from the DHSSPS following a Judicial Review instigated by SPUC, Dr Audrey Simpson, OBE said 'this is bitterly disappointing and a huge step backwards. Women with a crisis pregnancy and health professionals trying to carry out their duty of care have been badly let down by today's ruling which, again, leaves the entire situation in a state of limbo. We would urge the Department to re-write the Guidance as soon as possible'

New campaign to promote open conversation about sex

Today the Department of Health and Department for Children, Schools and Families has launched the first phase of their Sex: worth talking about campaign in England.

The first phase focuses on contraception and is called contraception: worth talking about.

I am pleased that this campaign has been launched. We know that many many young people still do not know everything they need to about contraception, and time and again they tell us that adults do not talk openly and confidently about sex.

High profile campaigns can help change the way we understand things. The fact this campaign has been launched marks a shift in our attitudes towards young people, sex and contraception. The fact that it starts from a positive position of encouraging open communication marks it out from sexual health campaigns that have gone before it which have generally focused on some of the negative consequences of having sex such as sexually transmitted infections.

Lets hope its positive and slightly different approach will resonate with young people and get them talking.

To find out more about the campaign visit

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A new headline and my tube friend

Thankfully I rarely use the tube to get around London, preferring instead to hotfoot it on my fold away bike, but yesterday I didn't have the physical energy to cycle so I ended up on the tube.

As I sat down, the man next to me was reading his Metro paper. As he turned the page I saw the headline 'transexual lessons for five year olds'. Now I have seen plenty of 'sex lessons for five year olds' and 'gay lessons for four year olds' headlines and expect to see many more, but this was a first.

So i (annoyingly) tried to read the article over his shoulder. He (annoyingly) decided he didn't want me to read over his shoulder and repositioned his paper. Normally the tube is littered with people's read free papers by 7.30, but not yesterday. So unable to wait I had to ask if I could please read the article about transexual lessons for five years.

He gave me the paper, i scanned the article as quickly as possible to learn that this is a non story. And that it was reporting on the fact that as part of PSHE Education children will learn about equality and domestic violence. There was nothing new in it, so why the new headline? As i read the article I sighed and shook my head and muttered this is ridiculous. I thought I was quiet, but my fast becoming friend - lets call him Sam - agreed, although misunderstood what i thought was ridiculous, so actually we disagreed because he thought transexual lessons for five year olds was ridiculous and a signal this government had lost the plot.

Now what annoys me to hell about this is that in the space of three tube stops he learnt quite a lot about PSHE Education and cheerily claimed to be an advocate as I hopped off at Euston. And I learnt first hand from your average (sorry Sam you were by no means average) about the insidious role of those tedious headlines on rational people's understanding of what children will be taught in school, and it breeds fear and suspicion and contempt about an area of education that is absolutely right and moral that it is taught in schools working in partnership with parents.

So the curriculum isn't changing, but the headlines are - what will the headline be next? Ideas on this blog!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Brook has a new website

The Brook team has worked fantastically hard to update, extend and develop our website (

Young people have helped with both the design and content of the site and we are confident that it will really meet the needs of both young people and professionals - feedback from young people and professionals so far tells us we have got it right.

Take a look - there is a section on the website for feedback - please let us know what you think.

FPA win award for work on sexual health for people with a learning disability

FPA has won an award for their excellent DVD for people with learning disabilities. Great they have got recognition for this ground breaking work. Find out more on their facebook page

To find out more about the work of FPA visit

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

National Chlamydia Screening Programme must continue

Today the National Audit Office has published its report on the National Chlamydia Screening Programme in England. In making its assessment of the value of the programme it charts some of the challenges of implementing a national programme when local Health Bodies have responsibility for delivery. It does say that the programme has not demonstrated value for money to date. And of course the danger is we look backwards not forward, and we lose the good news in with that headline. The report goes on to say that the programme and other sites, including GUM services are now reaching a level of testing which will begin to make a difference to the amount of chlamydia within the population. All national strategies take a while to bed down and we are now getting there - continued investment is vital if we are to build on the successes to date, and ensure that all, not just some, areas are doing excellently - every area will be doing something well and we need to escalate efforts to share best practice.

The report sets out some important areas for change to ensure that moving forward the programme makes a difference. For my money, there are some important wins some of which the NCSP are already moving forward on including providing guidance on how much a test should cost so there are not such big discrepancies between areas.

From a young people's perspective 45 brands does not make sense - we need to have one national brand, locally developed and tailored so young people really know what chlamydia is, how to prevent it and where to get tested if they need to even if they move between PCT boundaries and regions. We also need one national high quality website so young people can access tests on line. At Brook young people contact us asking how to get a kit online and I worry about the variation in quality of service young people get with our current arrangements of local websites (or indeed no websites). Given where the programme is and the way health policy has developed, I don't underestimate the challenge in national branding or a national website, but for the sake of young people and getting the best bang for our buck we must grasp the nettle.

So, when I am asked by journalists whether the NCSP should continue, yes absolutely it must. There is no doubt in my mind.

And last week Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children announced that PSHE Education will become a statutory part of the curriculum in England. For many of us, including myself this announcement is long overdue and very very welcome. I keep on pinching myself - having personally worked and campaigned for this at least a decade, along with colleagues who have been pushing even longer, this is a triumph that is a defining moment in our history. For far too long children and young people have been telling us their PSHE including learning about sex and relationships is not good enough - that it needs more time, that it needs enough interest and skill from people teaching the subject and that it needs to help them address real life dilemmas more effectively. Of course this is not the end of the journey - statutory provision is not a magic bullet or a panacea, but it is a huge step forward. I urge everyone who supports PSHE Education to contact their local MP and make sure they support the move as it makes its way through the parliamentary process. We have government commitment to the destination, now we just have to make sure we get there. There will be others who don't agree making their voices heard very loudly - we cannot afford to be complacent.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Battle of Ideas - we do need sex education

Today I took part in a debate at the Institute of Ideas, Battle of Ideas Festival at the Royal College of Arts in Kensington. I have to admit to being dubious beforehand about how many people would be there - first thing on a Sunday morning, the night after halloween. I have done Sunday morning debating slots before with the panel and their supporters. I am glad to say I was proven absolutely wrong. It was a good debate, with a decent amount of people, and very well chaired. I recommend next years festival, and the activities of the Institute of Ideas to you.

The title of my debate was we don't need no sex education and the other panellists were Dr Hera Cook a historian from the University of Birmingham; Dr Jan Macvarish from University of Canterbury and Professor David Paton from University of Nottingham.

I really enjoyed the contribution of Dr Hera Cook from a historical perspective. It is always useful to remember how history shapes our understanding of what is happening now and what will happen in the future. I was struck yet again by how powerfully sexuality is controlled in this country.

It was clear today yet again that we should never underestimate the power of myth and misunderstanding in relation to sex and relationships education and young people's sexual health. Some of the stories I heard today about sex and relationships education seem far fetched at worst, and at best mis guided. But isn't that true of attempts to engage young people in english, maths and geography too - just we fail to question these subjects as much as we question SRE.

Anyways, the rumour, the myth, and the misunderstanding about SRE promise to be continual challenges to the type of education and support children and young people tell us they want. As professionals, parents and young people who want to improve young people's sexual health we must continue to challenge the hysteria, politicisation and misinformation that is so common place.

And on a different but equally important note, when it comes to intimate relationships, people with learning disabilities often have less opportunities to make friendships and establish relationships than their non disabled peers - in the Sunday Times there was a brilliant article called pleasure principle - its introductory paragraph, ' time was when a learning disability meant automatic exclusion from cool music, clubs and clothes, kate spencer meets the people who are blazing a trail to change all that'. And thank goodness there are people trailblazing these overdue and important changes.

And in case you have not heard of Heart N Soul before, go on their website and see the fantastic work they do, led by people with disabilities to promote social opportunities, high aspirations and relationships. They are an organisation that really walks the talk.