Calls have been made for sex and relationships education (SRE) to be covered in a “meaningful way” after a poll found that a third of young people did not learn about consent at school.
The survey, conducted by the Sex Education Forum, also found that only 43 per cent learnt about “what is good or bad in a relationship”.
The poll of 890 young people, aged 14 to 25, saw many of them describe “a complete absence of discussion about real-life relationship situations and what you would do should something happen”.
Furthermore, with a majority of respondents to the survey aged 16 or 17, it means that they are describing very recent experiences of sex education in schools.
The Sex Education Forum said the findings prove that SRE provision is a “lottery” for young people.
Elsewhere, the poll discovered a lack of confidence among young people about where to go for help should they need it – one in three said they didn’t know or were unsure where to go if they were sexually assaulted, while four in 10 did not know where their local sexual health clinic was.
Also, many young people did not know that under-16s are entitled to receive confidential contraceptive and STI treatment. Less than half were confident that a 15-year-old could get a HIV test without a parent or carer being told, while only a third were aware that a 14-year-old could get contraception confidentially.
The study has been published to coincide with the release of a new resource – The Consent Issue – for teachers focusing on consent.
Lucy Emmerson, co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum, said: “This survey confirms that the quality of sex education children receive is a lottery. Young people are telling us very clearly that teaching is often too theoretical and fails to deal with the real-life practicalities of getting help and advice or building the skills for pleasurable, equal and safe relationships.
“Learning about consent is integral to good-quality sex and relationships education and every school should have a planned programme which includes content on bodily boundaries, gender and power, caring for one another, feelings and emotions, and how to get help and advice. We need to listen to the evidence and make high-quality sex and relationships education a guarantee across all schools.”
Commenting on the findings, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “The survey reveals the dire need for all young people to have good sex and relationships education to keep them safe and allow them to make informed decisions.
“It also highlights the need for education professionals to have high-quality training and for sex and relationships teaching to be covered in a meaningful way and not just appear sporadically on the timetable.”
Elsewhere, the poll found that many of the young people showed an understanding of the legal age of consent and the law relating to sexual offences.
The Consent Issue can be downloaded for a small charge via www.sexeducationforum.org.uk