Pornography and LGBT issues missed out in sex education, poll finds

More than half of older teenagers think schools should spend more time on relationships and sex education and cover more topics, a new poll has revealed.

The survey of 1,001 16 and 17-year-olds by the Sex Education Forum and National Education Union found 52 per cent said the subject needed more teaching time, while 34 per cent said it should be taken more seriously. The results have prompted calls for more money to train teachers.

Gaps in teaching were also revealed, with 23 per cent of respondents saying they did not learn how to recognise grooming for sexual exploitation or how to identify a healthy relationship. Female genital mutilation, sexual pleasure, pornography were also among the issues most frequently missed out by schools, while 22 per cent of pupils said they did not learn about LGBT+ issues.

The findings follow a decision by the government to delay the implementation of compulsory relationships education in all schools and sex education in all secondary schools until September 2020.

Although more than 45 per cent of respondents to today’s survey said the quality of their relationships and sex education as “very good” or “good”, an increase from 35 per cent in 2015, many teenagers said they wanted changes to the way the subject is taught.

Of the respondents, 56 per cent said more topics needed to be covered, while 39 per cent called for a “more sex-positive approach that stresses the positive side of sex and relationships”.

A third of respondents want teaching methods used that make the subject less awkward and more real-life examples, while 29 per cent said lessons should begin at a younger age.

The government’s reforms to relationships and sex education, set in motion by the new children and social work act 2017, will extend compulsory sex education to all secondary schools and create a requirement to teach relationships and health education to all pupils at both primary and secondary level. Under current rules, only LA-maintained schools have to teach sex education as a separate subject, with academies exempt.

The change was supposed to come into effect in 2019, but was set back by a series of delays to the consultation process.

Lucy Emmerson, director of the sex education forum, said it was “critical” that schools have the confidence to teach about LGBT+ issues, pornography, sexual pleasure and FGM.

“We need to go further and accelerate progress in schools in the run-up to 2020, 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 NEU, said: “We know that schools’ budgets are stretched to breaking point and in this climate the professional development and support of teachers has to 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.”