Support for primary-age sex education

New research by the Sex Education Forum reveals that parents support sex and relationships education at primary school

The overwhelming majority of parents want important aspects of sex and relationships education (SRE) to be taught in primary schools, according to a new survey published today by the Sex Education Forum, based at leading children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau (NCB).

The survey, which sought the opinion of parents of children aged 4-16, finds the majority want schools to teach a balanced curriculum that helps primary pupils understand their bodies, appropriate behaviour and online safety.

More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of the parents surveyed wanted their children to learn about the difference between safe and unwanted touch and how to speak up if someone treats them inappropriately, whilst 72 per cent of parents felt that primary schools should educate children on what to do if they find online pictures showing private body parts or are asked to send them.

Almost two-thirds of parents (64.5 per cent are clear that they want primary schools to teach basic, medically correct terms for sexual organs such as vagina and penis, with a similar number (65.5 per cent) agreeing that primary pupils should be taught about puberty before they start to experience changes to their body. At least 15 per cent were undecided on these topics.

Parents were very clear that teachers need relevant training, with 80 per cent stating that those teachers that teach SRE should have training in the subject. Seven out of 10 parents would welcome help and support from their child’s school about how they can talk to their child about growing up and related issues.

Lucy Emmerson, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, said: “This research clearly indicates that most parents want primary school pupils to be taught age-appropriate information about a range of sex and relationships topics. Our experience shows that when schools explain to parents what exactly will be taught in SRE classes, their support for this teaching is even more emphatic.

“This survey comes at a time when the Education Select Committee’s inquiry is considering whether personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, including SRE, ought to be made statutory. The committee and the leaders of all political parties should listen to parents’ enthusiasm for teaching which helps children be safe, as well as giving them vital information about their bodies and growing up. Currently the question of whether or not to include SRE in the primary school curriculum is a choice left to individual schools. This situation does a disservice to children and their families.”

Jeremy Todd, chief executive of Family Lives – a charity that provides help and advice to parents – said: “All children and young people have a right to learn about healthy relationships and to understand what constitutes inappropriate behaviour from their peers or adults. The survey findings show that the majority of parents expect better and want teachers to be trained in the subject. 

“Families have a key role to play in providing information about healthy relationships and sex. It is not surprising that parents would welcome help from schools with these conversations, because we are regularly contacted by families looking for support on issues ranging from puberty to pornography. If SRE was taught to a good standard in all schools there would be more opportunity to involve families too.”

The Sex Education Forum’s ‘SRE: It’s my right’ campaign is calling for statutory high-quality sex and relationships education to be provided as part of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.

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