Lack of Sex and Relationships Education creating ‘safeguarding crisis’ for young people

75% young people not taught about consent and 95% not taught about LGBT relationships, according to new survey by Terrence Higgins Trust


Sex and Relationships Education is infrequent, low quality and almost never covers LGBT sex and relationships or consent, according to a major new survey by Terrence Higgins Trust.


The UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity has warned that the failure of the government to make SRE compulsory could leave children vulnerable to abuse, bullying and poor sexual and mental health.


The survey, released today to launch the charity’s SRE: End the Silence campaign, shows that, where it is happening, SRE is usually limited to biological topics like reproduction, body parts and heterosexual sex.


Meanwhile, 75% had not been taught about consent, 95% had not learned about LGBT sex relationships, 89% were not taught about sex and pleasure and 97% missed out on any mention of gender identity.




Three out of five respondents either didn’t remember receiving information on HIV in school (32%) or didn’t receive information on HIV in school (27%).


In February, the government refused to make SRE compulsory in schools, against the advice of parents, educators and the Education Select Committee.


Currently, SRE is only mandatory in state-maintained secondary schools, which means private schools, primary schools, academies and free schools are under no obligation to provide it.


Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “In this report, we’ve seen the stark reality of SRE in this country and heard saddening stories of how one generation of young people have been exposed to low self-esteem, homophobia, bullying, unhealthy relationships and poor sexual health, as a result of the lack of quality SRE in our schools.


“The government’s quiet blocking of compulsory SRE will condemn another generation of young people to leave school armed with little to no information on anything other than the biological basics of heterosexual sex.


“We must end this silence and make SRE mandatory in all schools if we are to tackle this safeguarding crisis. This would mean teachers would get allocated time, resource and training so the quality of SRE would improve. This in turn would help students make positive and informed decisions, and to have healthy relationships with themselves and others  – wherever they go to school, and whatever their sexuality.”


The survey of 900 people aged 16-24 revealed that one in seven respondents had not received any SRE at all. Over half (61%) received SRE just once a year or less.


Meanwhile 99% of young people surveyed thought SRE should be mandatory in all schools and 97% thought it should be LGBT inclusive.




Half of young people rated the SRE they received in school as either ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’. Just 2% rated it as ‘excellent’ and 10% rated it as ‘good’.  The results reflect the realities of a recent Ofsted report that found 40% of SRE was requiring improvement or inadequate.


Terrence Higgins Trust believes one issue is that the most recent guidance on SRE has not been updated for sixteen years.


“It is shocking that the government guidance offered to schools on SRE is older than nearly all of the students themselves,” said Ian Green.  “Young people are getting information about sex and relationships in a world before social media existed, before smartphones, before equal marriage or Civil Partnerships. It is wholly unfit to prepare them for the realities of sex and relationships in 2016.”


Paul Bishop, Assistant Headteacher and Director of Sixth Form at St Cecilia’s School in South West London, said: “It seems everyone thinks SRE is someone else’s job. The result is an information vacuum which leaves children and young people reliant on inaccurate or unrealistic depictions of sex and relationships from alternative sources, such as their peer groups and social networks.


“This has strong implications for young people’s wellbeing. If we neglect issues like consent and LGBT relationships, it will inevitably lead to safeguarding issues, particularly given young people’s easy access to social media and the internet, and the wider context of sexting, pornography and cyber-bullying. Ignoring this can have a detrimental impact on people’s ability to have healthy relationships and to have realistic expectations of sexual behaviour.”


Read the full findings in the ‘Shh… No Talking’ report, and find out more about the ‘SRE: End the Silence’ campaign at