Call for action over sex abuse
Sex education should be expanded to ensure all children in England receive "age-appropriate" lessons in order to combat child sexual exploitation, a leading charity has said.
Secondary school-age pupils should all be additionally be taught directly about CSE and abuse, Barnardo's said, after recording a 50% rise last year in the number of sexually exploited and at-risk children it helped.
It called for a widening of sex and healthy relationship education (SRE) after supporting 3,175 children across the UK in the year 2014-15, up from 2,118 the previous year. SRE is currently compulsory from age 11 onwards in state schools.
The charity warned that better education was needed in light of scandals like the Rotherham revelations. Last August , a report by Professor Alexis Jay provoked nationwide shock when it revealed that at least 1,400 children were raped, trafficked and groomed in the Yorkshire town.
Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan said teaching children about healthy relationships was "key" to preventing exploitation.
He added: "Our specialist services are seeing more and more children who are identified as needing our help. Whenever and wherever we open a service we find children who urgently need our support.
"Recent high profile sex abuse scandals like Rotherham and Oxford pushed child sexual exploitation to the forefront of the public consciousness. However, we must ensure that this profound crisis doesn't get lost in the maelstrom of the post-election fallout.
"We must maintain the political momentum on this threat to children. It must not be allowed to drop off the agenda. The new Government in Westminster must work with local authorities, police, schools and parents across England to help keep young people safe and bring their abusers to justice."
Barnardo's said it was now providing support to girl and boy CSE victims in 47 different areas across the UK, with some victims as young as 11.
As well as expansion of sex and relationship education, it wants teachers to receive specialist training on "the nature of child sexual exploitation and abuse" so they can deliver classes effectively and confidently.
It also called for parents to be involved by schools in SRE from the beginning.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "Nothing is more important than keeping our children safe.
"High-quality PSHE and relationships education can have an important role to play in this, helping young people to make informed decisions and ensuring they know what support is available.
"Sex and relationship education is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and many primary schools also teach it in an age appropriate manner. We also expect academies and free schools to deliver relationship education as part of their provision of a broad and balanced curriculum.
"We want to continue to improve the quality and provision of PSHE education as a whole, to ensure teachers have high-quality resources and appropriate guidance to tailor a curriculum which meets the needs of their pupils and the issues they face today."