Our Sex and Reproductive Education survey
We wanted to know what the status of Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services to young people is like, and specifically what sexual and reproductive education (SRE) young people were receiving from across the UK. SRE is a vital education programme that impacts a variety of issues, such as rates of STI transmission, rates of pregnancy, awareness of FGM, LGBT rights and tolerance, and incidence of sexual violence.
It is for this reason that we conducted a survey to gather evidence on satisfaction rates of SRE in the UK.By creating an online survey that was promoted and shared on social media, we have bridged a gap between young people and government data collection. We were successful in receiving 303 responses, which proves the effectiveness of youth-led accountability and young people generating data on themselves for monitoring the SDGs. By generating our own data with the survey, which we have made open and accessible, young people have a bigger role to play in monitoring and accountability of the government decisions in their lives. The survey asks respondents about their satisfaction with their experience of SRE, what general topics they were taught, and what topics should be included in sex education.
To see a concise report of our Sex and Reproductive Education survey results click here – SRE Survey Results Report
Accountability towards the UK Government’s Sex and Relationships Education and Goals 3 and 5
In March 2017, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced her intention to make ‘Relationships and Sex Education’ (rather than SRE) compulsory for all schools, with a reformed statutory guidance on what this would look like. We found this an important opportunity to be able to research the legislation change and the extent to which it reflects the needs of young people who answered our 2016 SRE survey (below) and ultimately SDG Goals 3 and 5. We also hope to input the results of our survey into the consultation process.
Our new report on the UK SRE legislation change can be viewed here – Accountability towards the UK Government’s Sex and Relationship Education Legislation Changes
By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes
The only indicator for this target is concerned with family planning needs. Sexual and reproductive health care and services encompass so much more than contraception. Where Target 3.7. mentions sexual education, there is no indicator for this. Sexual education is vital in achieving quality sexual and reproductive well-beings. Although sexual education is commonplace in UK schools, we want to increase not only access but quality to bring about the greatest impact on people’s sexual and relationship needs and realities.
Percentage of women of reproductive age (15-49 years) who have their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods
What are family planning methods in the UK?
Figures based off of people using contraception (FPA Contraception Factsheet, 2007):
Sterilisation: Over half of couples over 40 use this method
Oral contraception: Highest proportion of people using oral contraception are aged 20-24
Male/female condoms: 43% of men aged 16-69 used condoms in 2007, with 1% of women using female condoms
The implant/Long-Acting Reversible Contraception: 14% of women using contraception use this form. 3 per cent use natural family planning.
In 2006/07, three quarters (76 per cent) of women aged 16-49 in Great Britain used at least one form of contraception. The most used methods were oral contraceptives, sterilisation and male condoms, but this varies by age group.
Measuring the prevalence of family planning methods
WHO (2006) conducted household surveys which included a series of questions to measure modern contraceptive prevalence rate and demand for family planning. The total demand for family planning is defined as the sum of the number of women of reproductive age (15–49 years) who are married or in a union and who are currently using, or whose sexual partner is currently using, at least one contraceptive method, and the unmet need for family planning. Unmet need for family planning is the proportion of women of reproductive age (15–49 years) either married or in a consensual union, who are fecund and sexually active but who are not using any method of contraception (modern or traditional), and report not wanting any more children or wanting to delay the birth of their next child for at least two years. Included are:
- All pregnant women (married or in a consensual union) whose pregnancies were unwanted or mistimed at the time of conception;
- All postpartum amenorrhoeic women (married or in consensual union) who are not using family planning and whose last birth was unwanted or mistimed;
- All fecund women (married or in consensual union) who are neither pregnant nor postpartum amenorrhoeic, and who either do not want any more children (want to limit family size), or who wish to postpone the birth of a child for at least two years or do not know when or if they want another child (want to space births), but are not using any contraceptive method.
(Complementary) Indicator 3.7.2
“Proportion of 15 – 25 year olds that were satisfied with their experience of Sexual and Reproductive Education (SRE)”
Why we created this indicator
We wanted to know what the current status of Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services to young people is like, specifically what sexual and reproductive education (SRE) young people were receiving from across the UK. Owing to the previous indicator on meeting family planning needs, we wanted an indicator that specifically measures the quality of SRE. We felt this was necessary as SRE is a vital education programme that impacts a variety of issues, such as rates of STI transmission, rates of pregnancy, awareness of FGM, LGBT rights and tolerance, and incidence of sexual violence.
SRE in the UK; the picture so far
Gov.uk states that “sex and relationship education (SRE) is compulsory from age 11 onwards. It involves teaching children about reproduction, sexuality and sexual health. It doesn’t promote early sexual activity or any particular sexual orientation. Some parts of sex and relationship education are compulsory – these are part of the national curriculum for science. Parents can withdraw their children from all other parts of sex and relationship education if they want.”
SRE is mandatory for all pupils of primary and secondary school age, and includes: anatomy, puberty, biological aspects of sexual reproduction and use of hormones to control and promote fertility, STIs. However, other elements of personal, social and health education (PSHE), including SRE, are non-statutory. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 states that anything that is not included in the science curriculum is put in PSHE. The only aspects of PSHE that are compulsory for schools to teach are citizenship.
FPA (2000) notes that ‘reviews of international research show that school-based SRE… does not increase sexual activity, but can have a positive impact on young people’s knowledge and attitudes, delay sexual activity and/or reduce pregnancy rates by use of contraception and safer sex’.’ There is no evidence that abstinence-only education programmes delay the initiation of sex, increase a return to abstinence or decrease the numbers of sexual partners’.
Following our analysis of the ‘Sex and Relationship Education Guidance’ report (2000), we have found the following aspects of SRE policy in the UK:
- No mention of consent
- No mention of rape/sexual violence
- Too heteronormative, although it says it must be ‘relevant to the needs of the pupils’ it doesn’t address the specific learning needs that are required to discuss all sexual identities/sexual orientation
- No mention of catering to non-gender conforming students
- No mention of FGM or C/EFM
- Biology based in KS1, should also discuss that young children must understand agency.
Notably, the 2016 Sex and Relationships Education in Schools (England) Briefing Paper, which advocated for the inclusion of the aforementioned thematic issues in education, was rejected.
Why must the UK Government act upon improving SRE?
National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (2015) states that SRE in the UK is:
- How young people learn about sex
- Most young people reported not knowing enough when they first felt ready for sexual experience (68.1% men, 70.6% women), and this did not change substantially over time.
- They wanted more information about psychosexual matters (41.6% men, 46.8% women), as well as sexually transmitted infections (27.8% men, 29.8% women) and, for women, contraception (27.5%).
- Young people primarily wanted this information from school, parents or health professionals.
The 2007 UK Youth Parliament survey of 20,000 young people showed:
- 40 per cent thought the SRE they had received was either poor or very poor
- 61 per cent of boys and 70 per cent of girls reported not having any information about personal relationships at school
- 73 per cent felt that SRE should be taught before the age of 13
- Wanting to access health professionals: 49% of young people responding said they knew where their local sexual health clinic was (UKYP, 2007)
- 32% of young people responding to the Tellus 4 survey (NFER 2010) either found the information they had received on sex and relationships unhelpful, or had received no such information at all.
- The previous Tellus survey, which used different questions, found that thirty-seven per cent of young people (Ofsted, 2008) said they needed better information about sex and relationships.
- Survey of 1900 young people; 31% of year 10 pupils could not identify chlamydia as STI, 56% did not know syphilis is an STI. (Westwood and Mullan, 2006).
- A poll of over 2000 adults found that 92% of people cannot name the 15 types of contraception available to them (Populus, 2009).
The 2015 Girls’ Attitudes Survey by Girlguiding found that there is a noticeable disconnect between what girls are concerned about and the provision of support and information by the adults around them. Healthy relationships, consent and sexual identity are all topics that large numbers of girls stated they should be taught in school, but a comparatively small number of the girls report that they actually have been. Girls say they believe their parents worry about teenage pregnancy, yet just 53% are taught about their choices if they were to become pregnant. Even provision of lessons about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – compulsory in many secondary schools – falls short, given that only 67% say they have received it.
Around one in four learn about pornography, something that 60% of girls aged 11 to 21 report having seen boys their age viewing on mobile devices (60%). Girls feel very strongly about the negative impact of pornography – they say it gives confusing messages about sexual consent (71%), normalises aggressive or violent behaviour towards women (71%) and promotes damaging views about what sexual relationships should be like (73%) (Girls Attitudes Survey, 2015).
The 2015 Girls’ Attitudes Survey also found the need for SRE to address gender expectations:
“Gender stereotypes and aspirations The pervasiveness of gender stereotypes can be clearly seen in this year’s findings, especially among younger girls. The majority of girls aged 7 to 10 stick firmly to traditional gender lines when asked to choose characteristics that define girls and boys – listing words such as strong and brave for boys and shy and caring for girls. Their views on boys’ and girls’ aptitudes also reflect tradition, which may explain why just 15% of girls aged 7 to 10 chose engineer or architect (3%), scientist (6%), or lawyer (6%) in their top three potential careers. However, the majority of 7- to 12-year-olds agree that boys and girls have equal chances in life (70%), and 64% agree that they can do anything that a boy can do. Gender stereotypes affect older girls’ aspirations more tangibly. In a crowded job market, 44% feel they must stay slim, 27% that they should wear high heels and 25% that they have to wear a lot of makeup to help their chances.”
The function of our complementary indicator:
Following this research, it is possible to see a very clear need for there to be an indicator in the UK that measures satisfaction rates with SRE. In order for the target to be achieved fully, which would also have positive knock on effects on Goal 5 targets such as ending violence against women and ending harmful practices, there must be good quality education on the subject of SRHR. It is for this reason that we conducted a survey to gather evidence on satisfaction rates of SRE in the UK, and we received 303 responses.
The data has been disaggregated by:
We have also included a section of the survey that will serve to look at which aspects of SRE need to be improved the most in the UK, and what topics should be included in sex education. Please refer to our separate document for more in-detail analysis.
Findings from sample data collection:
- 94.4% of respondents received PSHE/SRE
- The largest proportion of people received their education at secondary school (96.2%)
- The reported quality of SRE/PSHE received was generally ‘bad to very bad’ (43.6% of 303 respondents). 37.8% (110 people) who received SRE/PSHE said it was ‘ok, or neutral’, with only 3.8% (11 people) saying that the quality of SRE/PSHE they had received was ‘very good’.
- Of the 274 people who answered question 6 ‘are you satisfied with the SRE you were given’ only 18.2% (50 people) of respondents reported that they were satisfied with the SRE that they were given, compared to 75.2% (206) who said they were not satisfied.
- 78.8% (227) of respondents received education on heteronormative ‘sex and the way it works’, compared to 5.2% (15) of respondents who received education on LGBTQ* ‘sex and the way it works’.
- 76.4% (220) respondents received education on drugs and alcohol compared to 4.2% (12) of respondents who learnt about Female Genital Mutilation.
- Only 44.7% (130) of the 291 responses to question 9 ‘did your teacher seem trained/knowledgeable in this area’ said that their teacher seemed knowledgeable/trained in PSHE/SRE.
- LGBTQ+ issues, consent, healthy relationships, virginity/sex expectations/the way it works are the recurring issues that young people who filled out the survey wished were in their SRE.
- 98.7% of people who filled out the survey think that all students should have access to good quality sex education. (Please refer to ‘Responses from SRE Satisfaction Survey’)
Intentions for the Indicator:
Following our survey, we believe that, in order to effectively meet Target 3.7., the UK government must:
- Make SRE compulsory, therefore providing good quality and consistent levels of SRE around the UK
- Give a platform for young people (aged 15-25) to have their say in shaping their education and allow it to be relevant to their lives and needs
- Include FGM, C/EFM, LGBTQ+ issues, consent, and sex expectations in the national curriculum.
Furthermore, the PSHE association suggests:
- There should be an emphasis on developing knowledge, skills and attitudes and appropriate teaching methods.
- Primary schools should ensure that both boys and girls know about puberty before it begins.
- Teachers should develop activities that will involve boys and young men as well as girls and young women.
- Policies should be developed in consultation with parents, young people, teachers and governors.
- All schools have a duty to ensure that the needs of children with special needs and learning disabilities are properly met.
- The needs of all pupils should be met, regardless of sexual orientation or ethnicity.
- SRE should be planned and delivered as part of PSHE and citizenship
- Fpa.org.uk. (2011). Sex and relationships education factsheet | FPA. [online] Available at: http://www.fpa.org.uk/factsheets/sex-and-relationships-education [Accessed 8 Jun. 2016].
- Fpa.org.uk (2015). Patterns of contraception use [online] Available at: http://www.fpa.org.uk/factsheets/contraception-patterns-use [Accessed 27 May 2016]
- Girlguiding (2015). Girls’ Attitudes Survey. [online] Available at: http://www.girlguiding.org.uk/pdf/GAS_15_website.pdf [Accessed 10 May 2016].
- Gov.uk. (2016). The national curriculum. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/national-curriculum/other-compulsory-subjects[Accessed 8 Jun. 2016].
- PSHE Association (2016). Ten principles of effective PSHE education. [online] Available at: https://www.pshe-association.org.uk/curriculum-and-resources/resources/ten-principles-effective-pshe-education [Accessed 8 Jun. 2016].
- Sex Education Forum (2016). Data and Statistics. [online] Available at: http://www.sexeducationforum.org.uk/evidence/data-statistics.aspx [Accessed 8 Jun. 2016].
- UK Youth Parliament (2007). Sex and Relationships Education: Are You Getting It? http://www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/AreYouGettingIt.pdf [Accessed 27 May 2016]
- WHO (2006). Contraceptive Prevalence Rate [online] Available at: http://www.who.int/whosis/whostat2006ContraceptivePrevalenceRate.pdf [Accessed 27 May 2016]