Gaps in sex education leave children at risk, campaigners warn

Young people’s safety is being undermined by wide variation in sex and relationships education, the Sex Education Forum has warned.

A survey of over 2,000 11-25 year-olds found that many have not been given proper education regarding issues such as how to spot sexual abuse, where to turn for help and what constitutes a healthy relationship.

50 per cent of respondents said they had not been taught how to get help if they were abused and over 40 per cent had not learnt about healthy or abusive relationships.

The survey also found that 50 per cent of respondents had not discussed real-life scenarios about sexual consent, with 34 per cent saying they had been taught nothing at all about sexual consent.

Young people were found to be more likely to learn about sexual consent and exploitation at home rather than in schools, but even then, only 45 per cent said they had talked about this with a parent or carer.

In response to these findings the Sex Education Forum is calling for mandatory sex and relationships education in all schools to better equip young people to recognise the signs of abuse and understand how to get help.

Lucy Emmerson, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, said: “The odds of a young person learning vital information about equal, safe and enjoyable relationships are no different than the toss of a coin. The ultimate consequence of this is that many children don’t know how to recognise abusive behaviour or how to seek help.

“With evidence about the benefits for children and young people of teaching [sex and relationships education] stacked up high and a growing list of politicians calling for the subject to be mandatory, there is no excuse for government to continue leaving [sex and relationships education] to chance.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said: “As members of the Sex Education Forum, ATL fully supports its call for mandatory and inclusive sex and relationships education. We know that education staff want high quality training so that they can deliver the sex and relationships education that will enable young people to keep themselves safe. We call upon the government to take this important step, which parents, education staff and young people all want, so that we can all help to tackle child abuse, sexual health issues and young people’s poor mental health.”

Read more