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New research finds that schools delivering specialist Relationship and Sex Education lessons can significantly reduce violence in partner relationships

Violence in teenage relationships is a significant problem. Previous research has shown that 1 in 7 teenage children watched sexual violence being committed online last year and that 1 in 12 teenage girls were victims of sexual assault. Today, new evidence has found that programmes that specifically aim to reduce violence between young people in partner relationships could make a real difference, by reducing crime like emotional, physical, and sexual violence, psychological abuse, stalking or harassment.

In the latest update to their flagship Toolkit, the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) revealed today that violent crime could be reduced by 17%, following education that helps young people:

  • explore attitudes associated with dating violence
  • engage with stories about the impact of these types of crime
  • learn how to spot the early signs of unhealthy relationships.

Often delivered as part of a school’s wider programme of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), a smaller number of studies also showed that these approaches could reduce abuse that takes place online.

What is relationship violence prevention?

Many relationship violence prevention lessons and activities are delivered by trained schoolteachers or external providers during existing relationship and sex education (RSE) lessons or personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons.

Since 2019, RSE has been statutory in England. At primary school, all children are required to learn about topics including stereotypes and how to have healthy friendships. At secondary school, all pupils have to learn about safety in relationships – including with romantic partners – and “what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual violence and why these are always unacceptable.” The Curriculum for Wales’s 2022 Relationships and Sexuality Education Code also required that all student to “develop an understanding of the social, emotional, physical and legal nature and impact of harmful behaviours, including all bullying, and LGBTQ+ based bullying, sexual violence and gender-based violence in a range of contexts, including online.” Dating violence prevention programmes are therefore not only effective; they can also help schools to meet their legal obligation to their pupils.

The YEF Toolkit’s new research builds on what we already know. It uses 16 high-quality studies from the UK and internationally to show that we’re right to be optimistic about relationship violence prevention lessons and activities as a promising way to keep vulnerable children and young people safe from harm.

More about the YEF Toolkit

Relationship violence prevention lessons and activities is a new strand that the YEF has added to its Toolkit.  The free online resource summarises the best available research on what works – and what doesn’t – to reduce youth violence. Each approach included in the Toolkit (e.g. relationship violence prevention lessons and activities) is ranked according to its impact on preventing serious violence (from ‘High’ to ‘Harmful’ or ‘Unknown’) and is given a score to indicate the quality of the associated research.

The Youth Endowment Fund Toolkit ranks relationship violence prevention lessons and activities as having a ‘moderate’ impact on violent crime.  This is based on an analysis of 16 UK and international research studies. Included in the Toolkit are a number of other approaches used by the police to prevent young people becoming involved in violence. The most impactful school-based approach is social skills training, which is estimated to have a ‘high’ impact, reducing crime by 32%. Another approach that could be highly effective (but where we have less evidence) are sports programmes. The Toolkit also shows that some programmes could actually be harmful. Evidence shows that commonly used approaches like prison awareness programmes are likely to increase a child’s likelihood of becoming involved in violence – which means they shouldn’t be commissioned. 

Minister for Safeguarding, Sarah Dines said: “It is deeply concerning that young people are exposed to sexual violence and it is clear that we need major societal change to protect young people from sexual predators.”

“We know that educating young people about healthy relationships is a vital part of this. That’s why, as part of our ‘Enough’ behaviour change campaign, we’ve launched a comprehensive resource page with guidance on teaching pupils about healthy relationships.”

Jon Yates, Executive Director at the Youth Endowment Fund, said: “1 in 7 teenage children watched sexual violence being committed online last year and that 1 in 12 teenage girls were victims of sexual assault. The research we publish today shows that schools delivering high quality Relationships and Sex Education lessons can reduce certain types of violence by almost 20%. This is a huge opportunity to make our society safer, especially for women and girls.”

Lucy Emmerson, Chief Executive of the Sex Education Forum, said: “The new research from YEF reinforces what we know about relationships and sex education (RSE): that it helps prevent sexual violence between young people and that the quality of RSE provided is key to its success. There can be no doubt that making RSE a mandatory part of the school curriculum was the right thing to do.  However, the quality of RSE is still inconsistent. 

“Recently, the Sex Education Forum surveyed over 1,000 young people aged 16 and 17 years old, with 37% telling us that they did not learn anything about ‘power imbalances in relationships’, with 28% not learning about how to tell if a relationship is healthy, including online relationships.

“Schools need much more support to train educators adequately in the subject and to nurture specialist RSE teachers. Quality RSE will reduce harm and suffering. Every child and young person has a right to that education and quality RSE needs to be the norm in every school.”

To access the Youth Endowment Fund’s Toolkit, please visit:

Visit the YEF Toolkit to find out more