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Lack of sex and relationships education is ‘ticking time bomb'

Councils have described the lack of sex and relationships education (SRE) in England’s state secondary schools as a ‘ticking time bomb’.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says that age-appropriate SRE should be compulsory for all young people to adequately prepare them for adulthood. Currently SRE is compulsory for maintained secondary schools, but not the 65% of secondary schools that make up academies and free schools, which are not obliged to follow the national curriculum. The LGA stated the importance of allowing parents to opt their child out of SRE lessons if they considered this to be in the best interests of their child, but warned that a lack of access to accurate information is leaving young people at risk.

Worrying figures show that the number of STI diagnoses increases significantly for those who have left school, with 141,000 new diagnoses for 20- to 24-year-olds in 2015, compared with 78,066 for those aged 15-19. High quality SRE lessons could alleviate this trend by informing and preparing young people about the key issues around sex and relationships.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “This is a major health protection issue. The lack of compulsory sex and relationships education in academies and free schools is storing up problems for later on in life, creating a ticking sexual health time bomb, as we are seeing in those who have recently left school.

“We believe that making sex and relationships education compulsory in all secondary schools… could make a real different in reversing this trend, by preparing pupils for adulthood and enabling them to better take care of themselves and future partners.”

Demand is also high from students according to a poll by children’s charity Barnardo’s in January 2017, which showed that three-quarters of 11- to 15-year-olds would feel safer if they had SRE lessons. Furthermore, more than 9 in 10 children said it was important for them to understand the dangers of being online so that they can stay safe.

The ASDAN Sex and Relationships Short Course covers all aspects of SRE, from body knowledge and contraception to relationships and messages in the media. It can accredit between 10-60 hours of activity aimed at increasing young people’s awareness of, and confidence to deal with, issues surrounding relationships, personal skills and sexual health.

The Short Course also contains challenges specifically linked to the impact of digital technology, including the impact of social media, the availability of pornography, online grooming and cyber-bullying. These challenges are available to download as part of a supplement titled Sex and Relationships Education in a digital world.

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