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Heads or Tails ? - what young people are telling us about SRE

1 January 2016

This report presents findings from a survey of over 2,000 11-25 year-olds, showing that across a range of topics that could protect children and young adults from harm, such as knowing where to turn to for help if they experience sexual abuse, or information about female genital mutilation (FGM) or sexual consent, many young people are left in the dark by gaps in their SRE.

Half (50%) of those surveyed had not learnt from their primary school about how to get help if you experience unwanted touching or sexual abuse, 16% had not learnt the correct names for genitalia and even more (17%) had not leant that the genitals are private to you, all key to recognising and reporting abuse. Young people were more likely to have learnt about the difference between safe and unwanted touch from discussions at home than at school, but even so, less than half of young people (45%) said they had learnt about this with a parent or carer. 

When asked about their school SRE as a whole:

  • Over half of young people (53%) had not been taught to spot the signs of when someone is being groomed for sexual exploitation.
  • More than 4 in ten had not learnt about how to tell when a relationship is healthy (46%) or abusive (44%).
  • Worryingly, given that sexual assault is something that a significant minority of young people experience (1), lessons about sexual consent are not routinely covered in schools.
  • Half (50%) of young people had not discussed real-life scenarios about sexual consent.
  • A third (34%) had been taught nothing at all about sexual consent.
  • Only a quarter (24%) of young people said they learnt about FGM, but the figure increased to 4 in ten (40%) amongst 11-13 year olds, suggesting things are starting to change.

Overall, despite signs that SRE is slowly improving, just 10% of those surveyed said the SRE they received was ‘very good’, and more than 1 in 5 (22%) said it was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’, indicating that young people themselves are dissatisfied.


Footnote (1)
One in five women and one in 20 men in Britain experience attempted sex against their will. Source: Macdowall, W and others (2013) ‘Lifetime prevalence, associated factors, and circumstances of non-volitional sex in women and men in Britain: findings from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3)’, The Lancet, 382, 1845-1855.