Only a third of pupils taught about consent in schools

Girlguiding has sent an open letter to the UK government to appeal for better consent education in schools

  • The number of young women experiencing sexual harassment at school from other students has increased in the past eight years. 
  • Only 36 percent of 11–17-year-olds are learning about consent in RSE classes, despite inclusion in statutory curriculum since 2020. 
  • Young members from Girlguiding have penned an open letter to the Government, demanding better quality relationship and sex education (RSE) in schools.  

Girlguiding, the leading charity for girls and young women in the UK has today sent an open letter to the UK government to appeal for better consent education in schools. The letter, written by the Girlguiding Advocate panel — a group of Girlguiding young members demands for comprehensive teaching of relationships and sex education (RSE) in school to tackle violence against women and girls.  

Currently, RSE is not being delivered consistently in schools across the UK. Girlguiding's own research found that 67% of girls have experienced sexual harassment in school from other students (up from 55% in 2014). Ofsted reported this number to be much higher, at a staggering 93%.

And whilst statistics show girls and young women face violence, abuse, and harassment across different areas of their lives, new research by Girlguiding and CHILDWISE reveals only a third (36%) of 11–17-year-olds say that they learnt about consent at school this year. This figure drops further in areas of high deprivation (33%). 

Girlguiding’s Advocates are demanding change and have written an open letter to the Rt. Hon. Gillian Keegan MP - Secretary of State for Education - which calls on her and the government to: 

  • Renew the commitment to the delivery of RSE and aim for 100% of young people to be learning about consent.  
  • Publish guidance to help schools address sexual harassment and abuse, as was promised almost 18 months ago.   
  • Provide more support and training for teachers so they feel more skilled and confident.  
  • Support schools to take a whole-school approach to addressing sexual harassment, of which RSE is part of.   
  • Ensure schools listen to young people’s voices to co-create and inform the RSE curriculum to ensure it meets their needs. 

The open letter, which has been co-signed by several leading organisations in this area, expresses that consent education must cover sexual consent, healthy relationships and respect, online safety, violence against women and girls and gender stereotypes. This increased commitment in schools will allow young people to recognise when behaviour in not acceptable. 

For Girlguiding, this is not the first time it has campaigned to end sexual harassment in schools. In 2015 they launched a campaign calling for mandatory RSE. And in 2017 when the government announced RSE would be made compulsory in England, the organisation celebrated a turning point. Yet despite RSE becoming officially statutory from 1 September 2020, the statistics and research show that there are inconsistencies in how RSE is being delivered and it desired impact.  

Advocate Erin, 20, said: “Schools should be a safe space where pupils are free to learn. Yet harassment is still devastating many girls’ lives and years on, the reality is, nothing has changed. We understand the pandemic delayed the embedding of RSE, but its delay has real consequences for young people’s safety and wellbeing.  

“Girlguiding is committed to supporting young girls and women through their lives and we want our girls’ voices to be heard by the government, and by schools. Our open letter calls on the government to ensure that all children and young people get the information they need in RSE to learn about the importance of consent.”  

 While also highlighting data from the recently commissioned research carried out by CHILDWISE, the letter is being sent ahead of The International Day For The Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November 2022) which marks the launch of the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, an initiative of 16 days of activism concluding on International Human Rights Day (10 December).