Schools must do better: improving healthy relationships education in Wales

Girls face intolerable levels of sexual harassment and abuse in schools on a daily basis. Almost two thirds of girls and young women report experiencing sexual harassment in schools or colleges in the last year, and 5,500 sexual offences, including 600 rapes, were reported to police as having taken place in schools over a 3 year period. Outside the classroom, levels of domestic abuse and sexual violence continues at alarming rates, with two women a week being killed by their partner.

Yet an Estyn review of healthy relationships education in Welsh schools has found that schools are not allocating enough time or importance to educating and supporting children to develop safe, healthy and respectful relationships from a young age. The report also found that personal and social education is too inconsistent in its content and delivery, and that schools are particularly failing to educate young people about violence against women and girls and to deliver a whole school approach to prevent such abuse.

Eleri Butler, Chief Executive of Welsh Women’s Aid, said:

“Schools in Wales must do better. Many schools in Wales need to learn from the few that are delivering promising practice, which involves working closely with specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence services to plan and co-deliver sessions, in areas where specialist services in the community are also funded to support children who are being abused.

“It is deeply worrying that successive government guidance over the last 10 years has had little sustained impact in Welsh schools. Most school leaders aren’t even aware of the recent Welsh Government guidance published in 2015 for schools to deliver a whole education approach to preventing violence against women. It’s also disturbing that most teachers had received little or no training on these issues and too many schools still don’t recognise addressing this as a priority.

“For this to change, Sex and Relationships Education must be made compulsory in Wales, so that a core curriculum of age appropriate teaching and support on building healthy relationships is provided for every pupil, supported by teacher training. Schools need to adopt a whole education approach to preventing violence against women and girls and to promoting equality. This must be accompanied by resources to equip specialist services to work with schools and to support children and young people who need help to recover from the devastating impact of abuse.

“Our recommendations are supported by young people who tell us they are bombarded with confusing and misogynistic messages about sex and relationships. They want to be taught about domestic abuse and the help available, and about how to build safe equal relationships. Given we know 1 in 5 teenagers have been physically abused and 1 in 3 girls have been sexually abused by their partners, it is completely unacceptable that children in Wales face a postcode lottery in being educated and supported in how to form healthy relationships.

“All children and young people have a right to a full range of learning opportunities, to be equipped to understand consent, gender stereotypes, what’s not acceptable in relationships, and how to get help from specialist services if they’re experiencing abuse.”

Children, young people and adults who are concerned about themselves, their friends, or someone else they know who might be experiencing abuse should contact the Wales Live Fear Free Helpline – 24/7, free and in confidence – on 0808 8010800. The Helpline also operates a web chat provision:


  1. The Estyn Report can be found at:
  2. The 2015 Welsh Government Good Practice Guide for schools can be accessed at: