by Peter Stanford TWO of the five GCSE. examination boards have decided to delete direct references to birth control from school room biology lessons after representations from Catholic organisations.
In the London-East Anglia region, the examining board, in its biology syllabus announced last week, has decided to cut out the section in last year's course which referred to "contraception, advantages and disadvantages of the pill, condom/sheath, IUD, cap and rhythm methods". However, in the alternative ''biology (human)" option, which aims to be more relevant to the everyday lives of teenagers, details of family planning remain.
A spokesman for the board said that the decision to change had been taken "because of the overloading of the biology syllabus, and pressures/discussions about family planning at the time".
There has been much concern in recent months in Catholic schools about the content of the biology syllabus and the textbooks used. At the recent Conference of Catholic Secondary Schools, a motion put forward by Dr Mercer, the headmaster of Stonyhurst, was passed unanimously. It stated that the GCSE syllabus "should not contain material that goes against or undermines Catholic and Christian moral teaching, such as the amoral presentation of abortion or birth control techniques as part of a compulsory section on human reproduction".
After the conference, representations were made by the CCSS to the five examining boards.
In Wales, the board sent a draft syllabus for biology and for biology (human) which followed the practice of previous years and contained references to birth control. However, in the Final text, family planning was omitted as "a deliberate act because we knew the feeling of the Catholic schools", a spokeswoman, Nester Williams, told the Catholic Herald.
However, the southern, northern and Midlands examining boards continue to include direct sections on birth control in their courses. A spokesman for the northern board said that, despite representations from the Salford diocese, it had been decided to maintain a "purely factual" presentation of contraception which did not call on the students to make "value judgments".
The headmaster of Stonyhurst, which falls under the northern board, stressed that in his view the biology lesson "was not the place for the ,presentation of factual information on birth control techniques, abortion or homosexuality". In a Catholic school, in his opinion, religious education was the correct setting for matters of "human reproduction".
To attempt to give a "purely factual" presentation of birth control in biology lessons was "like saying we dislike murder, but we are going to teach you how to use a machine gun", Dr Mercer said.
This approach was endorsed by the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council whose volunteers go into Catholic
schools to inform pupils about the background to natural family planning techniques, often dismissed in biology textbooks as unreliable. The CMAC aims to set the issue of natural family planning into the context of preparation for marriage and adult life, their schools' officer, Margaret Vincent, told the Catholic Herald.
At the CCSS conference, Dr Mercer had also voiced concern about the use of Biology for Life by M B V Roberts as a standard textbook in schools. Under a section entitled "sex without pregnancy", pupils are informed that "the rhythm method is unreliable", while "the pill is very effective and there are normally no unpleasant side effects".
Turning to abortion, the textbook tells students that
"some people think that the law should be changed to make abortion more easily available". In a section on homosexuality, this widely used work reveals That "homosexual relationships occur quite often in places like prisons and boarding schools where people of the same sex are cooped up together". Dr Mercer said that in his long experience of working in boarding schools he had found no evidence to back up this assertion.
Parents who object to the syllabus or textbooks being used by their children can, as a last resort, have them removed from the relevant class. However, Victoria Gillick told the Catholic Herald that this was often "very difficult" to effect. If a child was removed from one biology lesson there was pressure for him or her to drop the subject altogether, she said.