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Porn, assault and LGBT issues: the gaps in sex education

More than a quarter of teenagers are not being taught about pornography and a fifth don't learn about LGBT issues

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Many secondary school students are not being taught about LGBT issues, pornography or what to do if they are sexually assaulted, a new survey on sex education has revealed.

The study, commissioned by the Sex Education Forum and the National Education Union (NEU), highlights gaps in relationship and sex education (RSE) in many schools, two years before its teaching becomes compulsory.

More than half of the 1,000 16- and 17-year-olds surveyed wanted more time spent on RSE lessons and a third thought the subject should be treated more seriously.

Some 27 per cent of students said their classes did not cover pornography and just over a fifth were not taught about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

A fifth said they were not told how to spot the signs of an abusive relationship, while 18 per cent were not taught what to do if they were sexually assaulted.

“The confidence of schools to address important topics such as abuse, grooming, LGBT issues, pornography, sexual pleasure and FGM [female genital mutilation] will be critical to ensuring that RSE meets the needs of children and young people,” said Lucy Emmerson, director of the Sex Education Forum.

“When we conducted a survey of young people in 2015, around 35 per cent rated their RSE as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Three years later, this has jumped to 45 per cent. While direct comparison cannot be made with the earlier survey, the poll results we publish today suggest a modest improvement.

“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. The government must invest to achieve this.”

The government has made it compulsory for all English schools to teach RSE from 2020, including on issues of consent, peer pressure and grooming.

The overhaul of sex education was driven by concern that the current guidance failed to address modern-day issues, such as cyberbullying, sexting and online safety.

But the changes have already been delayed and the government has faced criticism for not making it compulsory for all schools to teach about LGBT relationships.

“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,” said Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU.

“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.”

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