Survey finds significant gaps in sex education in England

By agency reporter
November 28, 2018

A poll of one thousand 16 and 17 year-olds in England, published by the Sex Education Forum and the National Education Union, shows that 52 per cent of pupils thought more time should be spent on Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and 34 per cent wanted the subject to be treated more seriously.

The majority of young people surveyed were positive about the quality of their RSE, as a whole, at school. 45 per cent rated the quality of their RSE as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. A further 39 per cent said the RSE received as ‘OK’. 89 per cent of respondents described those who taught relationships and sex education at their school as confident.

The survey did however highlight some significant gaps in young people’s RSE:

  • 20 per cent did not receive teaching on the signs of an abusive relationship, with 18 per cent not learning anything about how to find help if they are sexually assaulted.
  • 23 per cent of 16-17-year-olds did not learn anything at school about how to recognise when someone is being groomed for sexual exploitation.
  • 23 per cent said they didn’t learn anything at all about how to tell if a relationship is healthy.

Considerable numbers did not learn about other important subjects, including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) (33 per cent), pornography (27 per cent) or sexual pleasure (30 per cent). 22 per cent did not learn about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT+) issues and 12 per cent learnt nothing about HIV.

Male students were more likely to rate their RSE highly: one in six (17 per cent) boys aged 16 and 17 rated their RSE as ‘very good’ compared to only one in 10 girls.

Lucy Emmerson, Director of the Sex Education Forum, said: “The confidence of schools to address important topics such as abuse, grooming, LGBT issues, pornography, sexual pleasure and FGM will be critical to ensuring that RSE meets the needs of children and young people growing up now, so they are safe and savvy as they mature into adults.

“When we conducted a survey of young people in 2015, around 35 per cent rated their RSE as ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good’. Three years later this has jumped to 45 per cent. While direct comparison cannot be made with the earlier survey, the poll results we publish today suggest a modest improvement.

“We train hundreds of teachers each year and have seen growing awareness of the elements of high quality RSE. We need to go further and accelerate progress in schools in the run-up to 2020 when the subject becomes statutory, so all schools can deliver on children’s right to information about their bodies, growing up, sex and relationships. Government must invest to achieve this.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The general trend in improving RSE is a welcome testament to the willingness of school staff to deliver a demanding subject while adapting their methods to the needs of pupils. We know that schools’ budgets are stretched to breaking point and, in this climate, the professional development and support of teachers must vie with other demands on their school’s finances. Only with good training, guidance and support can teachers in all schools be ready to deliver high quality RSE by 2020, and central Government has to factor this into budget allocations for schools.”

* The full poll results are available here

* National Education Union

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