Parents overwhelmingly support relationships education: new research

The vast majority of parents want schools to help their children understand relationships and mental health, new research reveals today, Thursday June 24. Almost all the parents (96 per cent) surveyed said it was important for schools to help children ‘understand and be prepared for’ friendships, while 82 per cent said the same about sexual relationships and 92 per cent said it about family relationships, according to the poll for the Mental Health Foundation and relationships charity Fastn.

The vast majority of parents also seem to support education that helps children identify sexually abusive behaviour. Ninety-three per cent of those surveyed said it was ‘important’ that ‘relationships education should help children understand what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual violence and why these are always unacceptable’.

The research was done online between 9th and 14th June, with 1,011 parents who currently have children in primary or secondary schools in England. It also found variation in levels of comfort with talking about mental health, with 20 per cent of parents saying their child was not confident in ‘talking about their moods and emotions with you or their friends’.

One in 10 parents said they themselves feel ‘not that confident’ or ‘not confident at all’ in talking to their child about either their own or their child’s mental health. The two charities are releasing their findings today to support #RSEDay, when parents, schools and the education sector come together to support best practice in Relationships, Health and Sex Education (RSE).

Relationships Education in all primary schools in England, and Relationships and Sex Education in all secondary schools, became a compulsory part of the curriculum in September 2020. But the full rollout was slowed because of the pandemic, and the Department for Education told schools the new curriculum must be implemented ‘no later than the start of the summer term 2021.’

The new research also found that parents recognise RHSE could help overcome barriers to talking about good mental health.

• 92 per cent of parents surveyed said that it was important or very important that the new curriculum should enable pupils to understand and recognise the connection between relationships and mental health.

• 95 per cent of parents believed that schools overall should help children understand ways to look after mental health and well-being.

Despite positive parental feelings toward the importance of education about relationships and mental health, just 42 per cent of parents recalled school communication about Relationships and Sex Education and 46 per cent said they had not been contacted by schools.

Marwah El-Murad, Programmes Manager for Families, Children and Young People at the Mental Health Foundation said:

‘Relationships matter for young people and can help shape their lives. This survey shows there is some way to go but also that parents are willing to engage in conversations about complex subjects with their children. We all want healthy relationships and the more  conversations about them between parents, pupils and teachers, the better equipped they will be to deal with concerns about mental health.’

Parentkind CEO John Jolly said:

Fastn's findings show that parents are increasingly engaged in the teaching of RSE and see the value of it. Recent headlines about sexual abuse in schools have highlighted the urgency with which the culture must change, and parents must be part of the solution. Schools and homes must take the opportunity to work in partnership to provide children with the knowledge and tools they need to stay safe and be respectful in the modern world. There is now a legal obligation for schools in England to consult with their parent communities when developing RHSE policies. Parentkind’s Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools is the ideal framework for schools to use to maximise their existing parental engagement strategy and bring parents fully on board for this important conversation.’

Fastn Chief Executive Catherine Hine said:

‘Parents clearly want support in talking to their children about relationships and mental health. I know from my own experience as a parent that schools have a really positive role in helping with that. Talking about and experiencing healthy, dependable relationships supports children to thrive throughout life. Parents are keen to make the new statutory curriculum work with schools.’

Notes to editors
- Survation polled 1,011 parents of children currently in a primary or secondary school in England online.
- Fieldwork was conducted 9th-14th June 2021.
- Summary charts from Survation are available here 
- The full Survation poll data is available here (Download) 
- Read Survation’s in-house article here 
- The survey supports the 12 Principles of Excellence in Relationships Education published by Parentkind, Fastn and others.
- Download the Principles of Excellence in Relationships Education.

Fastn believes we should all have the same chances to enjoy a thriving family life. We work with others to influence and promote the healthy, dependable relationships that support thriving families in all their forms. 

Mental Health Foundation’s vision is for a world with good mental health for all. Our mission is to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health. Prevention is at the heart of what we do, because the best way to deal with a crisis is to prevent it from happening in the first place