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Education Matters: City team probes sexual behaviour in classroom.

Byline: By Shahid Naqvi Education Correspondent

Inappropriate sexual behaviour among children is on the increase in Birmingham schools according to social workers.

Teachers are growing concerned after seeing pupils as young as seven interacting in a "sexualised" manner with each other.

A team of eight specialists has been set up by the city council to help schools that are worried about the way children are behaving.

Earlier this month Labour MP Claire Curtis-Thomas called for legislation to ensure so-called "lad mags" were kept out of reach of children in shops. She claimed they were "sexually explicit and highly sexually denigrating" and "a great disservice" to women.

Birmingham Council's Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour Unit warned more primary and secondary schools believed they had a problem.

Stephane Breton, a social worker with the team, said: "It can be just touching each other. Just some of the games like kiss and chase.

"It can be kids going to the toilet and touching each other. Sometimes you have a whole school where all the kids are very flirty.

"They are seven and eight and they are flirtatious. We go with them and address the issue to make sure they know what they are talking about.

"We have been to at least eight schools. That is on request from the schools. At the end of the session there is an evaluation. We ask them if there is inappropriate behaviour within that school. The answers show there is a need for it."

Mr Breton blamed greater exposure to sexual images in society for the trend.

"I think society has to answer because of the mixed messages we are sending. How are young people able to understand what is what as society becomes more sexualised?

"They open a newspaper and see women who are showing their breasts. How are they meant to understand what is what?

"They see on the TV and advertising board on the streets a lot of sexy material and they don't know how to feed that into what they are learning.

"Some of them don't even know what the age for sexual relationships is."

Mr Breton said more research was needed into exactly what kind of sex education children needed.

"Schools provide sex education. But sometimes it happens to early or it focuses too much on condoms and safe sex rather than focusing on relationships and respecting each other and respecting themselves as well."

The last decade has seen an explosion of lap dancing clubs across the country. Pornography is also more freely available on the internet and TV while magazines aimed at the youth market have increasingly used sex to sell.

Against this environment, Mr Breton claimed children often became sexualised, particularly if there is a lack of boundaries at home.

"Maybe there is a sexual programme on TV and the parents let them watch it," he said.

"Or parents walk naked around the house so the child gets confused about what is appropriate and what isn't appropriate."

Mr Breton said some young males believed girls wore short skirts to get attention because they wanted to be touched.

On other occasions, youngsters exhibited sexualized behaviour because they had low self-esteem or to get rid of their anger.

Birmingham's sex health charity the Brook Advisory Clinic also expressed concerns over children being exposed to sexual material.

"I feel we do live in a very sexualised society," said Penny Barber, the charity's chief executive. "Both young men and women are subject to enormous pressure to be sexually attractive early on. They are bombarded with images really when they're young. What they don't have is a counterbalance to that which is access to information and confidential advice."

shahid_naqvi@mrn.co.uk
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 17, 2006
Words:616
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