Relationships and Sex Education poll — May 2023
88%of parents agree it’s important that sex education is covered in schools (9% disagree)
77%of parents agree it’s important children are taught about different sexualities (18% disagree)
34%of parents agree the national curriculum covers sex education appropriately (42% disagree)
63% of parents agree with schools using external providers to support lessons (30% disagree)
80% of parents believe it’s important that schools consult with parents in advance about the content of sex education lessons, and 58% of parents tell us that schools have provided them with information in advance
25% of parents raised concerns that their child had been taught something in sex education that they did not feel was age-appropriate
45% of parents are happy with the content of sex education in their child’s school, with 22% of parents saying they were unhappy with the content of sex education lessons.
Engaging with parents has a huge effect on parents’ perception of sex education lessons
Parents who had been consistently informed of sex education lesson content in advance by their child’s school had more confidence in both the national curriculum and the specific content of what was being taught at their child’s school, and were far more likely to be happy with the school using external providers.
In contrast, parents who had not heard anything from their child’s school about the content of sex education lessons were a lot less happy with what they believed was being taught in the school and within the national curriculum, and gave a more polarised view on the school using external providers.
309 parents whose child’s school told them in advance about the content of sex education lessons:
- 82% were fairly/very happy with the content of lessons (5% were fairly/very unhappy, 3% told us they didn’t know)
- 55% agreed they had confidence that the national curriculum covers sex education appropriately (19% disagreed)
- 86% agreed they were happy with the use of external providers (9% disagreed)
- 7% said that they felt their child had been taught something inappropriate for their age
446 Parents who did not hear from their child’s school about the content of sex education lessons:
- 15% were fairly/very happy with the content of lessons (32% were fairly/very unhappy, 27% told us they didn’t know)
- 18% agreed they had confidence that the national curriculum covers sex education appropriately (57% disagreed)
- 49% agreed they were happy with the use of external providers (43% disagreed)
- 35% said that they felt their child had been taught something inappropriate for their age
There were no significant differences between parents of primary vs secondary school children
Whether a parent currently had children in primary or secondary school did not make a significant difference to the answers given to most questions.
Due to time available and the volume of open comments, we haven’t been able to conduct a fully in-depth qualitative analysis.
However, a number of themes were apparent from parents’ commentary:
1. A significant number of objections to content of sex education lessons revolve around the topic of transgender individuals and/or gender identity. This is particularly true of comments from parents who state they are unhappy with the content of lessons and parents who say that they have not been informed by the school of lesson content (there is a fairly notable overlap between these groups of parents).
2. The next most common type of objection related to content that parents did not feel was age-appropriate. There were a range of specific topics picked out as part of this, including gender identity, sexual practices and younger children learning specifically about genitalia. Most objections of this nature were around topics introduced to children in primary school or early into secondary school.
3. Content from external providers was raised in a number of comments, typically negatively — although this may in part be a reflection of the fact that external providers appear more likely to be dealing with more challenging content and/or topics that appear more likely to attract objections. A few parents raised concerns about the views expressed by individuals amongst external providers; for example, a trans-man who explained his own experience was felt to have encouraged pupils to question their own gender identities.
4. A few parents raised objections that they did not feel that the sex education curriculum was respectful of their religious beliefs — for example, a Catholic parent raised objections to teaching about homosexual couples and discussing contraception with children.
5. Most comments from parents focused on negative issues and areas of concern, which is quite common with this type of research. However, some parents praised elements of the curriculum and the way in which schools had engaged with parents on the topic, and some gave contrasting views to themes above. For example, some parents felt that topics should be covered in more detail at a younger age than was currently the case, and some spoke positively about external providers.
This poll was conducted online between 2 May — 5 May 2023 with responses from 1,064 parents in England. We invited responses from Parentkind’s own contact list of parents (c.26,000) and PTA members. A link to the poll was also made available on Parentkind’s social media platforms, and we conducted some targeted recruitment via social media advertising aimed at parents in England.