More than eight in ten Britons think sex and relationship education (SRE) should be compulsory in schools, according to new research
The finding comes as the Government faces increasing calls for the classes to be mandatory amid growing evidence young people are facing widespread sexual harassment and abuse.
Research commissioned by the charity Plan International UK found 85% of those polled think SRE should be mandatory in regular state schools and 84% believe it should be compulsory at academies and free schools.
A total of 83% believe it should be compulsory in private schools and 82% felt it should be in faith schools as well.
The survey of 2,007 adults, carried out by Opinium, also found that out of those who received sex education, just 27% found it was informative.
This figure drops to just 11% among over-55s, according to the poll.
Just 12% felt the education they received about relationships – spanning topics such as love, sexual orientation and abuse – was informative.
In contrast, nearly eight in ten (79%) said it was either not informative (48%) or they did not receive any such classes (31%).
Tanya Barron, Plan International UK’s chief executive, said: “Girls are telling us that they are suffering harassment at school, they don’t feel safe online and are scared on the street.
“They are telling us unequivocally that mandatory and good-quality sex and relationships education is one of the most important ways to help change this situation.”
Last year the chairs of five select committees wrote to Education Secretary Justine Greening demanding a change in policy.
Maria Miller, chairwoman of the women and equalities committee, who signed the letter, told the Press Association there is a pressing need for change.
She said: “We seem to hear very strong support coming for changes around sex and relationship education but it seems to not be receiving the priority that I think children themselves would expect, and I hope that’s not because there are distractions as a result of Brexit.
“The Prime Minister herself says she wants to see a fairer Britain and I think integral to that is to give children the best childhood we can so they can have the best start in life.”
Ms Miller said “the world has changed beyond recognition in the past decade” and it has become clear children want and need help to cope with online pressures.
She said: “What children are crying out for is some help in navigating the online world, which is making cyber bullying, sexting and access to explicit pornography a part of their normal teenage years.
“Hence they are asking for compulsory sex and relationship education, and who are we to say that they shouldn’t have it?”
Research published by Plan International UK last August revealed the number of sex crimes reported at UK schools has nearly trebled in four years, from 719 in 2011-12 to nearly 2,000 in 2014-15. Children as young as four were targeted.
The women and equalities committee found sexual harassment and name-calling is a part of “everyday life” for schoolgirls but too often dismissed as “just banter” by teachers.
Under the national curriculum SRE is compulsory from age 11 in maintained secondary schools, but parents can withdraw their children from parts of it.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “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.
“Education on sex and relationships is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools, and many academies and free schools teach it as part of the curriculum.
“We are actively considering what further steps we could take to improve the quality and accessibility of sex and relationships education.”