Department for Education data shows that, since 2011, the total amount of time secondary schools devoted to personal, social and health education (PSHE) – including lessons in child safety – has fallen by 32 per cent.
In 2011, secondary schools around the country delivered a total of 91,800 hours of PSHE lessons. By 2015, this had fallen to 65,200 hours.
In contrast, a YouGov poll, conducted earlier this month, reveals that 92 per cent of parents believe that all pupils should receive lessons about staying safe from abusers and avoiding unsafe contact with strangers.
The poll was commissioned by the PSHE Association, the national body for the subject. Joe Hayman, the association’s chief executive, has said that, if classroom time given to child safety continues to fall at the current rate, by 2020 there would be virtually no lessons delivered in the subject.
“These new figures show an alarming decline, which damages schools’ ability to cover danger, such as contact from strangers online and staying safe from abuse, leaving children at considerable risk,” he said.
The association has called on the government to make PSHE lessons statutory for all pupils.
Mr Hayman has also written to the new chair of the independent inquiry into historical child sex abuse. A similar inquiry, in 2014, revealed that abuse survivors had been highly critical of the sex and relationships education they received in school.
Mr Hayman added that international evidence shows that, when pupils are given lessons about the dangers of abuse, they are more likely to seek help if they themselves are abused.
The PSHE Association’s demands were backed by Conservative MP and former child-safety minister Tim Loughton. “The profile of child sexual exploitation has never been higher,” Mr Loughton said.
“So it is disappointing that schools appear to be doing less – not more – in educating our younger citizens of the hazards online, and giving them the tools to cope with predatory adults, as well as inappropriate and abusive approaches from other young people.”
The campaign for statutory PSHE has already garnered support from the children’s commissioner, the chief medical officer, five teaching unions, the national police lead for child sexual exploitation and the NSPCC children’s charity.