CALLS for sex education to be expanded to combat child abuse have been welcomed in Dorset.

Children's charity Barnardo's wants all children in England to receive age-appropriate lessons - and secondary school pupils to be taught directly about child sexual exploitation and abuse.

It comes after the charity recorded a 50 per cent rise last year in the number of sexual exploited and at-risk children it helped - up to 3,175 children across the UK in the year 2014-15.

Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan said teaching children about healthy relationships was "key" to preventing exploitation.

He added: "It must not be allowed to drop off the agenda. The new Government in Westminster must work with local authorities, police, schools and parents across England to help keep young people safe and bring their abusers to justice."

As well as expansion of sex and relationship education, the charity wants teachers to receive specialist training on "the nature of child sexual exploitation and abuse" so they can deliver classes effectively and confidently.

It also called for parents to be involved by schools in Sex and Relationship Education from the beginning.

Mandy Gulliver, service director at Bournemouth based Acts Fast, which supports child abuse victims and their families, said more education "suitable to the age of the child" was needed "to help them understand what a healthy relationship is, and what is appropriate from an adult."

She added: "Teachers need to have specialist training, to spot the signs that potential child abuse is taking place, or being groomed ahead of abuse. We have to combat this problem in an holistic way, to help protect our future generations."

Dr Andrew Mayers, senior lecturer in psychology at Bournemouth University, and trustee at the charity said with expert input such conversations with children could be started earlier.

"Abuse can start at a early age - or the grooming can. If we can identify these things a lot earlier it can prevent escalating abuse."

He added: "We should also be raising awareness in schools and encouraging children and young people to speak out about anything that is bothering them or making them uncomfortable."

Cllr Mike White, portfolio holder for children and young people, Borough of Poole, also supported Barnardo's views, adding: “We are already, through our Local Safeguarding Children’s Board Strategy, supporting schools with staff training and working with them to develop age appropriate education for children and young people so that they can make informed decisions and know what support is available to them.”