Ofsted inspectors are ignoring sex education, says report
Too little focus on sex education in Ofsted inspections is risking pupils' health and wellbeing, argues a study.
Sex and relationships education gets fewer mentions in Ofsted reports than any other subject, suggests analysis by the British Humanist Association (BHA).
It figured in fewer than 1% of inspections carried out in England last year, researchers found.
Ofsted says inspectors evaluate how schools boost pupils' understanding of how to keep safe and healthy.
"As part of this, inspectors will gather evidence about personal, social, health, and economic education, as well as sex and relationships education," said a spokesman.
BHA researchers searched every Ofsted standard inspection report for 2015-16, some 2,200 across both primary and secondary levels, for mentions of sex and relationships education (SRE) and personal, social and health education (PSHE), which includes sex education.
They found SRE specifically mentioned in less than 1% of reports and PSHE in 14%.
By contrast art was mentioned in 31%, music in 31%, PE in 59% and religious education in 22%.
Searches for words relating to sex education in the reports found:
- "gender" in 1%
- "safe sex" in 1%
- "LGBT" issues, including bullying, in 14%
- "sexting" in 1%
- "pornography" in just one report
The BHA says these findings are significant in the light of ministers' reluctance to make SRE and PSHA compulsory.
There is a "substantial and growing consensus" that age appropriate sex and relationships education should be a statutory requirement in English schools, argue the authors.
They cite "unequivocal evidence" that, taught well, it can:
- delay the first time young people have sex
- ensure safe and consensual sex
- reduce teenage pregnancies
- reduce sexually transmitted infections
- prevent gender based bullying and discrimination
The authors say the government's "main response for years now has been to emphasise the role of Ofsted in ensuring that, despite not being obliged to, schools do nonetheless teach PSHE".
And Ofsted has "accepted this role", they add.
In 2013, a subject review of sex education by the watchdog found lessons were inadequate in two-fifths of schools.
However, the lack of mentions of SRE and PHSE in last year's inspection reports show the subject is still not being given adequate attention, say the authors.
"Of course, to lay the blame entirely at the feet of Ofsted would be wrong," said BHA chief executive Andrew Copson.
"The fact is that the attention given to PSHE by inspectors appears to be entirely commensurate with the importance ascribed to it by government.
"If the provision of PSHE and SRE is to meaningfully improve, the subject must be afforded the statutory status it deserves.
"Only then can we ensure that children are being equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to be healthy, happy and safe."
The Department for Education said ministers were "actively considering what further steps we could take to improve the quality and accessibility of sex and relationships education".
"High-quality education on sex and relationships is a vital part of preparing young people for success in adult life - helping them make informed choices, stay safe and learn to respect themselves and others," said a spokeswoman.