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The Politics of Sex Education Policy in England and Wales and The Netherlands since the 1980s

The issue of sex education is controversial in both the UK and The Netherlands, but while the political debate has been fierce in the UK it has been largely absent in The Netherlands. Teenage pregnancy rates are extremely high in the UK and extremely low in The Netherlands. Comparing with two countries, sex education is acknowledged to be a determining factor. Sex education has been fiercely debated in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s, whereas in The Netherlands consensus has been reached despite the existence of religious minorities with strong views on the subject and representation in the Dutch Parliament.

 This research investigated the recent history of policy-making on sex education at the central government level, by using documentary sources and interviews. Researchers in England and The Netherlands used documentary sources and interviews to investigate the recent history of policy-making on sex education at the level of central government during the 1980s and 1970s. Researchers compared a selection of key texts used in secondary schools; and drew on exploratory fieldwork in three English and three Dutch secondary schools.

 The research hypothesis is that the adversarial nature of the politics of sex education in England and Wales results in a message that lacks coherence, which is in turn reflected in what happens in the classroom. Importantly, research do not advocate any simple attempt at ‘policy borrowing’, but rather highlight the importance of understanding the differences in the nature and conduct of the debate.

  In summary, the politics of sex education policy in the UK and The Netherlands are very different. The issue is controversial in both countries, but this research has shown the extent to which the struggle over ideas has proved the decisive factor in the British case, affecting the way in which policy is made. Dutch policy-makers take a more pragmatic approach. The Dutch approach is also libertarian and permissive which produces coherent, positive sex education programmes in schools and appears to be better suited to a plural society. However, it too has its limitations.

On the other hand, the political culture of ‘consensus-seeking’ may not succeed in including all ethnic groups.


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