PUPILS rely on the internet and their friends for information about sex and relationships rather than schools, according to a snapshot survey.

A poll of nearly 200 pupils and teachers found 40 per cent went online to get information while a further 30 per cent spoke to their peers.

The survey, conducted under a partnership between the YWCA young women’s movement and the Scottish Parliament, also raised concerns over sexual harassment in schools.

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Over half of respondents did not feel protected from sexual harassment and two thirds said they would feel “extremely uncomfortable” speaking to a member of staff about an incident. Over 90 per cent said they felt sexual harassment was a problem in their schools.

Examples of harassment collected by the survey included a 13-year-old girl being inappropriately touched under a table during a science lesson by a pupil she was working with.

Other cases involved boys touching girls inappropriately with girls saying it was fine because it meant the boys fancied them.

The report said: “The impact of sexual harassment on girls is significant and can be long-lasting. It can negatively impact everything from their mental health to their relationships and career choices.

“That this damage takes place in an environment where young women are meant to have space to learn is fundamentally wrong and action must be taken.

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“Over the course of our inquiry a number of themes emerged, including the importance of sex and relationship education, issues around support and reporting of sexual harassment, the diverse support needs of different groups of women and the needs for consistency in access to support.”

The committee called on the Scottish Government to create a standardised definition of sexual harassment and a common disciplinary process.

It also called on the Scottish Government to expand sex education to include issues such as respect, consent and healthy relationships and make it mandatory.

Currently, relationships, sexual health and parenthood education is not statutory and it is for local authorities and schools to decide how to deliver the curriculum based on local needs and circumstances.

The report concluded: “We would expect this curriculum to include materials for primary schools, and to be taught by P5 at the latest.”

“We believe sex and relationship education should be as standardised a curriculum as other subjects like maths and English.

“This curriculum should be the same across the country, with no option to omit areas or teach them differently.”

The report was backed by anti-violence charity Zero Tolerance which said schools were not “empowered” to deal with incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

A spokeswoman said: “Too often such incidents are brushed aside by staff and not taken sufficiently seriously by school leaders.”

Scottish Women’s Aid added: “There is inconsistency of practice around Scotland in relation to how schools tackle gender-based violence.”

Pupils who took part in the survey and focus groups expressed concerns that reports of sexual harassment were not being kept confidential by guidance staff, particularly in smaller schools or communities.

They feared being called a liar, and being excluded by their peers or bullied if they reported sexual harassment.

The young people felt school staff lacked knowledge and understanding of issues around sexual violence, and expressed a desire for more education and opportunities to talk about sexual violence and gender in school.

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As a result the committee also recommended the establishment of an individual in school trained to deal with all aspects of sexual harassment as well as a “safe space” where concerned pupils could seek refuge.

Linda Fabiani, the Scottish Parliament’s deputy presiding officer and convener of the committee, said: “The group chose to run an inquiry into sexual harassment in schools and have taken evidence through focus groups, questionnaires and social media.

“The members of the committee are determined that it won’t be a century before things change for young women like them and this report and its recommendations are their first step.”