My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for initiating this important debate.
I would like to draw the Minister’s attention to the increasingly important role of online content and social media and the Government’s forthcoming reforms to relationships and sex education. The Department for Education is currently conducting a call for evidence on this subject and new statutory guidance will focus on what should be taught in our classrooms to ensure that young people can navigate an increasingly complex world in relation to sex and healthy relationships.
As important as this undoubtedly is—I commend the Government for their efforts in this area—when new guidance is published by the department it should not ignore the role of online content and social media. In a recent opinion poll conducted by the Centre for Social Justice, almost 60% of young people said they are actively looking for relationship information and advice online. In the same survey, these young people told us that they are least likely to go to a teacher for information. New statutory guidance produced by the Government should bridge this gap.
The way young people receive information and go looking for it has changed and RSE provision needs to reflect this. A modern approach to relationship education cannot simply be delivered exclusively within the classroom. At a time when a typical 12 to 15-year old spends almost a day a week online and more than eight in 10 have access to a smartphone, the Government should consider how high-quality relationship information and advice could be delivered online as well as in the classroom. The previous Secretary of State for education talked about the need for a modern approach to RSE. This must include a high-quality online presence. In the same survey, 42% of older teenagers thought that there was not enough good-quality advice and information online. The Government should step in with their reforms to guidance in this area.
One charity taking a lead in this area is the Family Stability Network, which has launched the Status campaign to help young people understand what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Status responds to a growing demand for better relationship information delivered online and through social media, and believes in helping young people think through their relationships and build longer-lasting, healthier relationships through engaging and informative content. Status is promoted to young people across social media and has reached over 500,000 young people in the past year alone. I recommend that the Government look to Status as an example of what can be achieved in this area.
Perhaps I may make a direct appeal to the Minister. When the Secretary of State launches new guidance on relationships and sex education in schools, the Department for Education should also announce a new dedicated innovation fund, recommended by the Centre for Social Justice, to encourage the development of kitemarked online information for young people and parents.
Relationship and sex education needs to go beyond the classroom if it is to make an impact on young people, and the department has an important role in making it happen.