More than half of young people have not been taught at school how to recognise when someone is being groomed for sexual exploitation, a survey has found.
Half of youngsters had not been educated on how to get help if they are sexually abused, while a third (34 per cent) had been taught nothing about sexual consent at school, according to a report by the Sex Education Forum.
The campaign group is calling for statutory sex and relationships education (SRE) in all schools, after the survey – of more than 2,000 people aged 11 to 25 – revealed that sex education in schools is inconsistent.
The survey found that more than four in 10 young people had not learned about healthy or abusive relationships, 16 per cent had not learned the correct names for genitalia at primary school, and 17 per cent did not know that the genitals were private.
Young people were slightly more likely to discuss safe and respectful relationships at home than at school, the study found.
The findings suggest that the safety of young people is being undermined by dramatic variations in what is taught.
But the proportion of 11 to 25-year-olds who rated SRE at their school as "bad" or "very bad" has dropped from 28 per cent in 2011 to 22 per cent in 2015.
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.”
Earlier this month, MPs joined forces to urge the education secretary to make sex and relationship education statutory in all schools – including primary schools, academies and free schools.
Ms Emmerson added: “With evidence about the benefits for children and young people of teaching SRE 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 SRE to chance.”
Mary Bousted, general secretary at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), supports the call for mandatory and inclusive SRE. "We know that education staff want high quality training so that they can deliver the SRE that will enable young people to keep themselves safe," she said.
"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.”
Justine Roberts, chief executive of Mumsnet, said: “Parents on Mumsnet have long wanted sex and relationships education in schools to be compulsory and comprehensive, and for teachers to be given the support they need to deliver it.
"Good SRE builds self-confidence and helps children to stay safe online as well as in face-to-face situations. Children are increasingly expected to negotiate the adult content, images and conversations that modern culture puts in front of them; it's surprising that as a society we appear so reluctant to give them the tools that they need to do this successfully.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “High quality sex and relationship education is a vital part of preparing young people for life in modern Britain. It helps them make informed choices, stay safe and learn to respect themselves and others. It is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and many primary schools also teach it in an age appropriate manner.
“Our statutory guidance is crystal clear that anyone who has concerns about pupils’ welfare should refer to local authorities or the police if a crime is committed and all schools must act swiftly on allegations.”