Viewing pornography is leading to an increase in sexually explicit conversations among pupils - ATL

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Press release
10 February 2014 by ATL Media Office
A survey of ATL members found that viewing pornography is leading to an increase in sexually explicit conversations among pupils.

Nearly 40% of education staff say young people they work with have viewed pornography, and half have noticed an increase in sexually explicit conversations among pupils in the last five years, according to a survey of members by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

In addition, almost four-in-ten (38%) stated they were aware of pupils sexting. More than 40% said they had seen an increase in the sharing of sexually explicit content among pupils, and 17% stated they have noticed an increase in sexual bullying at their school or college in the last five years.

A secondary teacher in an academy said: "A girl in my form was upset when her image was forwarded to others from her boyfriend, resulting in her being teased."

A secondary teacher in an academy said: "Pornography is easily available on mobiles and I have caught pupils watching it during break times."

Worryingly, almost 40% feel young people are pressured into watching pornography, with most pressure coming from peers of the same sex, followed by the media, and then peers of the opposite sex.

A primary teacher in an academy said: "I work in an inner-city school and am shocked at the way the children use sexual language, and they are under 10. I think more needs to be done in the media to tackle this."

Education staff said viewing pornography not only led to greater use of sexually explicit language, but pupils were also more likely to talk about pornography and sexual touching or groping between pupils.

A secondary teacher in an academy in Kent said: "Pornography can be harmful to the social well-being of a child, particularly at an early age as it gives a warped sense of what 'normal' relationships are. I have seen Year 7 students omitted from friendship groups because of what they deem as normal after viewing extreme pornography."

Provided it is taught at an age-appropriate level at school, over three-quarters (76%) of respondents said pupils should be taught about the dangers of pornography, as part of sex and relationships education (SRE) or personal, social and health education (PSHE).

However, almost 60% of those who cover the topic in teaching said that they had not received any specific training and of those who had, less than half (41%) felt it was adequate.

Fifty-five per cent said they would be prepared to teach pupils about issues relating to pornography if they received specific training, with almost 70% stating they would like the subject covered in continuous professional development (CPD) sessions, and 58% wanting more information about organisations that support young people or provide training in this area.

Sixty-two per cent said they would have concerns delivering lessons around sexually explicit content and, of those, 79% said this was because of parents' concerns. In addition, of those worried about talking about pornography in lessons, 60% said they would have concerns with pupils not taking the subject seriously, 42% said they would feel uncomfortable delivering such material and 51% said they feel it may put their reputation at risk.

Although some education staff felt that it should be the responsibility of parents to teach children about the dangers of pornography, 71% believe that it should be taught in secondary school (Years 7-11), and almost 20% believe that it should be taught in primary school (Years 3-6).

Currently only 22% of staff said their school or college discussed pornography in SRE or PSHE classes or tutorials, while only 34% said their pupils were taught about the dangers of sexting.

A secondary teacher at an independent school said "All staff need to be prepared to address this issue - sexually explicit material occurs in Shakespeare. Training, guidance and a well-thought-out moral and social policy for the school is necessary so that children can be enabled to develop judgement, confidence and autonomy in dealing with it when they meet it."

A secondary school teacher in an academy said: "This is a delicate subject and it is important that the topic is dealt with in a highly professional way by someone who is well trained, well informed and has the skills needed to present the topic properly. I believe most schools are, or should be, aware of teaching students and parents about the dangers of social networking websites and sexting."

Andrew Simpson, a secondary teacher in an academy in Kent, said: "I believe this is the biggest threat to young people today and, unfortunately, we have not kept up with technology and have let young people down. The government must tackle this issue if they don't want to see the concerning behaviours continue into adulthood."

Luke Cottrell, a head of department at an independent school in Henley-on-Thames, said: "This is a very important issue and should be looked at very closely. I think that this should link into the ideas of internet safety and needs to be taught to children from the moment they start accessing the internet. It is also important to educate parents as they may not have the skills to set up parental controls or even realise that this material is so easy to access."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: "Although pornography is a sensitive issue, the majority of our members feel it's important young people are taught about the dangers of pornography so they can protect themselves in today's increasingly sexualised society. To do this education staff need high quality CPD. Education staff believe schools and colleges have a key role to play in providing young people with the guidance and support they need, which is why we repeatedly call for all schools to provide access to good quality sex and relationships education, taught by professionals.

"It's important that education staff work with parents, carers and governors to help young people develop confidence to deal with their personal relationships."

Helen Porter, a teacher at an independent girls' school in Berkshire, said: "This survey indicates that many teachers are in need of thorough training, so that they can deliver well-structured discussion lessons on pornography in an age-appropriate manner. We hope that school leaders will endeavour to provide their staff with the training they need to tackle this delicate issue with confidence and sensitivity."

Further notes:

ATL surveyed 451 members working in state-funded and independent schools, sixth form colleges and further education colleges, in the UK throughout November and December 2013. To view the full survey stats click here.

Notes to editors

  1. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.
  2. ATL exists to help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice.
  3. ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.