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Poll of young people shows gaps in Relationship and Sex Education

A poll of young people shows gaps in Relationship and Sex Education on sexual grooming, abusive relationships and how to get help if they are sexually assaulted.

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% of pupils thought more time should be spent on Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and 34% 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% rated the quality of their RSE as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. A further 39% said the RSE received as ‘OK’. 89% 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% did not receive teaching on the signs of an abusive relationship, with 18% not learning anything about how to find help if they are sexually assaulted.
  • 23% of 16-17-year-olds did not learn anything at school about how to recognise when someone is being groomed for sexual exploitation.
  • 23% 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%), pornography (27%) or sexual pleasure (30%). 22% did not learn about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT+) issues and 12% learnt nothing about HIV.

Male students were more likely to rate their RSE highly: 1 in 6 (17%) boys aged 16 and 17 rated their RSE as ‘very good’ compared to only 1 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% rated their RSE as ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good’. Three years later this has jumped to 45%. 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.”

About the survey

The Sex Education Forum, in partnership with the National Education Union (NEU), commissioned Censuswide to carry out a poll of 1000 young people aged 16 and 17 years old.

In total 1001 young people participated in the survey, including 393 males, 595 females, 5 preferred not to say and 8 other. Participants were either 16 years old (505 individuals) or 17 years old (496 individuals).

Just over a quarter (26%) indicated that they are eligible for free school meals. 7% of respondents stated that they have a disability and 9% that they have a special educational need.

The survey ran between 23 October 2018 and 2 November 2018 and covered all 9 geographical regions in England.

The survey was co-funded by the National Education Union and Sex Education Forum.

About the conference: Countdown to Statutory RSE

The survey results and ‘roadmap to statutory RSE’ are being presented at the Sex Education Forum’s national conference ‘Countdown to Statutory RSE‘ on Friday 30th November 2018.

RSE in schools is changing. The Sex Education Forum is counting down to the start of statutory RSE by guiding teachers through the new legislation, advising on curriculum design and helping you choose the best resources and teaching approaches to build an inclusive and up-to-date programme that is relevant to your pupils real lives and supported by parents. 

Having shaped policy and practice on RSE for 30 years, we will present our delegates with keynotes from leaders in the field, share hand-picked examples of good practice and provide immediate advice in response to your questions on the day.

About the Sex Education ForumThe Sex Education Forum, based at the National Children’s Bureau, is the national authority on relationships and sex education (RSE). We believe that good quality RSE is an entitlement for all children and young people and we are working with our partners, who all support statutory RSE and include local authorities, children’s, religious, health and family organisations, to achieve this. The Sex Education Forum is part of the National Children’s Bureau (NCB). 

About the National Education Union (NEU): The National Education Union stands up for the future of education. It brings together the voices of more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders working in maintained and independent schools and colleges across the UK, to form the largest education union in Europe.

About the National Children’s BureauThe National Children’s Bureau (NCB) is a leading children’s charity working to build a better childhood for every child. We champion children’s right to be safe, secure and supported, by using evidence and our expert knowledge to influence government policy, and help practitioners to do the best job possible, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people.


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