Sex Educations for School


School-based sex education can be an important and effective way of enhancing young people's knowledge, attitudes and behaviour. There is widespread agreement that formal education should include sex education and what works has been well-researched. Evidence suggests that effective school programmes will include the following elements:

  • A focus on reducing specific risky behaviours
  • A basis in theories which explain what influences people's sexual choices and behaviour
  • A clear, and continuously reinforced message about sexual behaviour and risk reduction
  • Providing accurate information about, the risks associated with sexual activity, about contraception and birth control, and about methods of avoiding or deferring intercourse
  • Dealing with peer and other social pressures on young people; providing opportunities to practise communication, negotiation and assertion skills
  • Uses a variety of approaches to teaching and learning that involve and engage young people and help them to personalise the information
  • Uses approaches to teaching and learning which are appropriate to young people's age, experience and cultural background
  • Is provided by people who believe in what they are saying and have access to support in the form of training or consultation with other sex educators

Formal programmes with all these elements have been shown to increase young people's levels of knowledge about sex and sexuality, put back the average age at which they first have sexual intercourse and decrease risk when they do have sex.

In addition to this, effective sex education is supported by links to sexual health services and takes into account the messages about sexual values and behaviour young people get from other sources (such as friends and the media). It is also responsive to the needs of the young people themselves - whether they are girls or boys, on their own or in a single sex or mixed sex group, and what they know already, their age and experiences.

In 2010 the UK missed an important opportunity to introduce structured, compulsory sex and relationship education in all English state schools. The measure, seen by many as controversial, had been designed by government to ensure all 15 year olds would receive sex education. The Labour Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls MP, described his disappointment that political opponents "could not agree to make personal, social and health education satutory." 31

Taking sex education forward

Providing effective sex education can seem daunting because it means tackling potentially sensitive issues and involving a variety of people – parents, schools, community groups and health service providers. However, because sex education comprises many individual activities, which take place across a wide range of settings and periods of time, there are lots of opportunities to contribute.

The nature of a person's contribution depends on their relationship, role and expertise in relation to young people. For example, parents are best placed in relation to young people to provide continuity of individual support and education starting from early in their lives. School-based education programmes are particularly good at providing information and opportunities for skills development and attitude clarification in more formal ways, through lessons within a curriculum. Community-based projects provide opportunities for young people to access advice and information in less formal ways. Sexual health and other health and welfare services can provide access to specific information, support and advice. Sex education through the mass media, often supported by local, regional or national Government and non-governmental agencies and departments, can help to raise public awareness of sex health issues.

"Because sex education can take place across a wide range of settings, there are lots of opportunities to contribute."

Further development of sex education partly depends on joining up these elements in a coherent way to meet the needs of young people. There is also a need to pay more attention to the needs of specific groups of young people like young parents, young lesbian, gay and bisexual people, as well as those who may be out of touch with services and schools and socially vulnerable, like young refugees and asylum-seekers, young people in care, young people in prisons, and also those living on the street.

The circumstances and context available to parents and other sex educators are different from place to place. Practical or political realities in a particular country may limit people's ability to provide young people with comprehensive sex education combining all the elements in the best way possible. But the basic principles outlined here apply everywhere. By making our own contribution and valuing that made by others, and by being guided by these principles, we can provide more sex education that works and improve the support we offer to young people.