Sex education in a quarter of schools is inadequate

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Lessons about sex, relationships and health are not good enough in 25% of schools in England, according to Ofsted inspectors.

Schools are teaching pupils all they need to know about the biology of sex but place little emphasis on the importance of marriage and loving relationships, because of embarrassment or lack of knowledge to teach sex education convincingly.

One teacher wrongly believed that all changes during puberty took place between the ages of 12 and 16.

One in three secondary schools is failing to provide good quality teaching in personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) which includes lessons on sex, drugs and alcohol, Ofsted warns in a report.

Inspectors criticised a failure in many schools to consult parents about the content and timing of lessons despite their sensitive nature.

Some lessons used ‘inappropriate resources’ and failed to match work to pupils’ maturity, suggesting some are exposed to materials too advanced for their age.

The report said: "Students' knowledge and understanding was often good about the biology of sex but weaker about relationships.

"They said that their sex and relationships education was taught too late and there was not enough of it to be useful.

"Discussion was sometimes limited because of the teacher's embarrassment or lack of knowledge. In these schools, the students did not have the opportunity to explore the nature of relationships in any depth. They had not discussed managing risks, saying 'no', negotiation in relationships, divorce and separation, or living in reconstituted families."

Some lessons were ‘dull’ and ‘superficial’ and relied mainly on worksheets.

In good schools, most students had a ‘secure knowledge’ of contraception and preventing sexually-transmitted diseases, but struggled to discuss other issues.

Pupils’ understanding of sex education was merely satisfactory or weak in more than one in three secondary schools, the report warns.

In primary schools, sex education was too often ‘squeezed out’ or left until after spring SATs tests in pupils’ final year, leaving them with only a ‘partial understanding’ of puberty.

One in seven primaries was failing to offer good teaching in PSHE.

In a further finding that will alarm parents, Ofsted said that in 165 primary and secondary schools visited, ‘parents were rarely involved with or consulted about PSHE education’.

The report went on to raise concerns about drug and alcohol education.

In half of secondary schools visited, pupils’ knowledge of the physical effects of alcohol was ‘rudimentary’.

Some teachers failed to reinforce that buying alcohol was against the law for under-18s or challenge pupils’ boasts about under-age drinking.

Pupils were frequently unaware of the long-term consequences of drug and alcohol misuse.

Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert said: "It is pleasing to see that most of the schools visited were good or outstanding at teaching the subject. However, there were some weaknesses and schools should continue to promote professional development in PSHE education so that teachers strengthen their knowledge and skills in the subject.

"In addition, some schools still struggle to teach their pupils effectively about sensitive but important issues such as the misuse of drugs and alcohol."

The report found it was a common misconception that heroin and cocaine were the drugs responsible for most deaths every year, when smoking and drinking accounted for many more deaths.