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Delivery is just as important as content in sex and relationship education

New digital technologies and widespread internet access have changed how young people learn about sex and conduct their sexual lives, bringing new risks, while existing risks (such as sexually transmitted infections) remain relatively high.

Sex and relationship education (SRE) is seen as vital for improving young people’s sexual health and keeping them safe from harm, and the government has recently announced its intention to require all English secondary schools to teach age-appropriate SRE.

Young people need effective SRE but this has to be acceptable to them if it is to be effective.

We conducted a series of quantitative and qualitative research projects to identify what makes SRE effective, acceptable and sustainable.

These included a systematic review of existing research on effectiveness of school-based sexual health programmes, a systematic synthesis of 48 studies of young people’s views of SRE, as well as interviews with health commissioners in 36 English local authorities, detailed case studies and analyses of national survey data.

We synthesised this evidence and developed criteria for best practice. The criteria emphasise the importance of focusing on issues relating to the delivery of SRE as well as content; issues that need to be carefully considered when developing statutory provision.