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Make sex and relationships education mandatory, says UK public

London – More than eight in ten Brits think sex and relationships education should be mandatory in UK schools, according to new research published today by children's charity Plan International UK.

Widening access to quality sex and relationships education (SRE) is the subject of a growing campaign by young people, MPs and charities. The new findings, based on polling commissioned by Plan International UK and carried out by Opinium, confirms that a strong public consensus now exists. 

The polling found that regardless of a school's status, a consistent and clear majority of the public believe it should form a mandatory part of a child's education:

  • 85 per cent of those polled agreed sex and relationships should be mandatory in state schools
  • 84 per cent believed so for academies
  • 84 per cent believed so for free schools
  • 82 per cent believed so for faith schools
  • 83 per cent believed so for private schools

Sex and relationships education (SRE), which covers the physical, emotional and social side of sex, relationships, consent and sexuality, does not currently have mandatory status in school curricula. Implementing it would be of particular benefit to girls, argues Plan International UK, whose research last year indicated a doubling of reported sexual offences in UK schools in recent years.*

Tanya Barron, the charity's chief executive, said: "It's time for mandatory sex and relationships education in UK schools. Girls are telling us that they are suffering harassment at school, they don't feel safe online, and are scared on the street.

"And they are telling us unequivocally that mandatory and good quality sex and relationships education is one of the most important ways to help change this situation. It's encouraging that the wider UK public agrees in such large numbers.

"Quality, comprehensive SRE covers much more than just the physical side of sex and reproduction. It's a common sense policy that all children should receive information about what a healthy relationship looks like, what sexual consent means, and issues such as the impact of sexting and pornography.”

Plan International UK is calling on the public to write to their MP to express their support for mandatory SRE, ahead of upcoming debates in Parliament.

“Momentum is growing in and around Westminster on the issue,” added Ms Barron. “We mustn’t simply be a silent majority – if you support SRE, it’s time to let those in power know.”

The survey, in which 2,007 adults were polled, also found that the public report poor experiences of their education sex and relationships education when at school.

Only slightly more than a quarter (27 per cent) felt the education they received on sex was informative, with the figure dropping to just one in ten for over 55s (11 per cent). Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) felt it either wasn’t informative (48 per cent), or worse, that they didn’t receive any education on the subject at all (17 per cent).

Meanwhile, just 12 per cent felt the education they received about relationships – about topics such as love, sexual orientation, abusive relationships - was informative, with nearly eight in ten (79 per cent) saying it was either not informative (48 per cent), or they received no such classes (31 per cent).

Ms Barron added: "For so few people to feel they received good quality information and guidance about sex and relationships when at school is worrying.

“These are basic life lessons which we need to ensure all young people are receiving so that they grow up to have healthy and happy relationships.”

The findings are published as a growing group of MPs from across the political spectrum are backing the policy. An adjournment debate on the issue is set to be held on Monday evening, called by Maria Miller MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee. 

About the research

Opinium polled a nationally representative sample of 2,007 adults (aged 18+). Fieldwork was carried out 13th to 17th January 2017 via online survey. Results have been weighted to nationally representative criteria.

Opinium is an award winning strategic insight agency built on the belief that in a world of uncertainty and complexity, success depends on the ability to stay on pulse of what people think, feel and do.

* In August 2016, Plan International UK published research based on Freedom of Information requests submitted to police forces about incidents of sexual offences reported in schools. Alleged cases increased from 719 in 2011-12 to 1,955 in 2014-15, based on responses from 34 police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.