TEACHERS AND parents struggle to discuss sensitive issues with children such as homosexuality, according to hundreds of pupils interviewed by Ofsted inspectors.
Schools need to recruit more specialist teachers of personal, social and health education and improve their knowledge of drug problems facing pupils, inspectors said.
The findings form part of a major review of the quality of the PSHE curriculum in primary and secondary schools over five years. Standards have improved steadily, inspectors found, but work is needed to make the subject more relevant to what pupils want to know.
Ofsted's report, based on inspections of 600 schools, said it is important for schools to provide support and a "moral code" for pupils who cannot turn to parents for advice and look to their teachers for guidance instead.
The report also said that sexually explicit lads' magazines are a valuable resource for teenage boys, which help make up for a lack of information given by parents. Magazine problem pages are a positive source of advice for young people, inspectors said.
As well as sex and drugs education, PSHE includes a range of other topics including careers guidance, financial awareness and parenting. More than a third of schools have also included at least part of their citizenship curriculum in PSHE lessons, without making any more time available for the combined subject.
Three-quarters of secondary schools have developed teams of specialists to teach PSHE, but there are still too many poor classes taught by non-specialists who deliver poor quality lessons, inspectors found.
Form tutors rely too heavily on generalised lesson plans, with one in five of their lessons at key stage 4 judged to be unsatisfactory.
Drugs education is one of the areas where teachers are failing to properly address pupils' concerns. Adults focus on the dangers of illegal drugs, but pupils, rightly according to Ofsted, are more worried about alcohol and tobacco.
Research carried out by the schools health education unit at Exeter University on behalf of the schools watchdog shows the percentage of pupils who admitted smoking in the previous week has remained largely unchanged in the past 20 years, at between 25 and 30 per cent for year 10 girls.
Inspectors encouraged the Department for Education and Skills to provide guidance to schools so they can better tackle sensitive issues in sex education.
Some effective schools have established drop-in centres that provide advice for teenagers. It is expected that these services will increase in number as the Government's extended schools programme becomes more widespread.
There is no evidence that "abstinence only" programmes reduce teenage pregnancy or improve sexual health, the inspectors said.
Primary schools are generally providing high quality lessons because teachers know their pupils well and can tailor the curriculum for them.