Young people are experts in their own experience and they are telling us they want access to inclusive Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). They are actively seeking information about relationships and sexuality and they want to be taught from a younger age.
Research suggests that young people are dissatisfied with the quality, inclusivity and thoroughness of the RSE provided to them at school.
In 2023 a survey undertaken by the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) reported that 80% of young women think schools need to do more to support young people’s sex and relationships education. In 2022 SafeLives found that only half of the young people they surveyed agreed that RSE classes gave them a good understanding of toxic and healthy relationships. In the same year young people told the Young Women’s Movement Scotland (YWCA), ‘they wished they had been taught about emotional abuse or toxic behaviours as this would have helped them to recognise signs in their own relationships or the relationships of their friends earlier.’
Young people also feel that the current RSE provision isn’t inclusive enough of LGBTQIA+ young people, tending to be heteronormative. In 2021 Brook reported that ‘LGBT+ young people struggle to access useful education for themselves and face becoming an education for others’. Similarly, SafeLives reported that ‘LGBT+ students are receiving less education in RSE than heterosexual students and they feel less comfortable and less confident about where to go for support’.
There is also concern that the current provision isn’t meeting the needs of Black and global majority young people, as well as those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Ofsted recognises that ‘reporting of sexual abuse by these children is thought to be even less common.’ Black children are under-identified as victims and over-identified as perpetrators of abuse. One expert who spoke to SafeLives said:
“I think there is an assumed whiteness as the norm in RSE.”SafeLives, ‘“I Love It – But Wish It Was Taken More Seriously”: An Exploration of Relationships and Sex Education in English Secondary School Settings’, (2022)
By definition, a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot be culturally responsive and ends up meeting the needs of very few. It’s understandable, then, that young people are turning to their peers and to social media to educate each other. A young woman who spoke to Ofsted as part of their rapid review had to explain, “It shouldn’t be our responsibility to educate boys.” Two years later a young man told a facilitator from Bold Voices: