The quality of sex education in schools is suffering because the vast majority of teachers lack confidence in tackling the subject, according to a survey.
Eight out of 10 teachers said they do not feel trained or confident enough to talk about sex and relationship education (SRE), the research found.
More than 1,400 school leaders, governors and parents of school-aged children were quizzed on their attitudes to sex education, with one in four teachers and a fifth of governors responding that current provision is failing to prepare children for their futures. Just 9 per cent of teachers rated the materials available to them as "very useful".
The findings follow the controversial dropping of proposed new laws, which would have made sex education statutory for every pupil from the age of five. The Conservatives blocked changes to the law last month because they wanted pupils to be able to opt out of sex education up to the age of 16.
But teachers, parents and governors were in broad agreement about the age at which different SRE topics could be introduced, according to the poll commissioned by heads' union the NAHT, the National Governors' Association and the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations (NCPTA).
Behaving responsibly and protecting yourself from harm was thought suitable for key stage 1. Puberty is an appropriate topic for children in KS2 and contraception choices in KS3, according to the survey, which was run in partnership with condom manufacturer Durex.
Ninety-one per cent of parents, and 83 per cent of parents and governors said it was "very important" for young people to have information on practising safe sex.
Parents also felt that SRE lessons should not end at school, with 84 per cent saying they should be followed up at home.
Sion Humphreys, of the NAHT's education management department, said: "The survey highlighted that parents, teachers and governors all agree about the importance of SRE for children.
"However, teachers have not been adequately trained to deliver it and have not had access to the resources they need. This is an urgent need that must be addressed to prepare young people for their future."
David Butler, chief executive of the NCPTA, said: "We owe it to children to get this right. More needs to be done to ensure teachers are trained in how to deliver sex education."
THE JOY OF SEX (EDUCATION)
What the national curriculum says about sex education:
- At key stage 1 pupils learn about themselves as "developing individuals", are taught basic rules for keeping themselves healthy and safe and learn the names of parts of the body.
- At KS2, children learn about puberty and the main stages of the human life cycle.
- At KS3 children learn about the importance of good physical, mental, sexual and emotional health, and about different sexual orientations.
- At KS4 children learn about the importance of confidence and developing self-esteem, about how to develop healthy lifestyles and how to deal with change while growing up.