High rates of teenage pregnancy in Britain have forced education authorities to try out a new package of sex education in schools that focuses more on relationships than biology.

The new initiative comes within weeks of a study conducted at Coventry University that showed that one in four 12-17-year-olds in the country are “sexually active” and half of them admit to indulging in unprotected sex.

The study also found that British Asian teenage girls lose their virginity much later than their counterparts of Afro-Caribbean origin, who often had sex for the first time at a much younger age than Asian or white classmates.

Following such studies, the Qualification and Curriculum Agency (QCA) has issued new guidelines to schools to teach sex education around relationships rather than biology. In the past, schools had been criticised for teaching sex education in biology lessons and failing to educate pupils on relationships. The new QCA guidelines aim to correct this.

“Effective sex and relationship education is essential if young people are to make responsible, informed and healthy decisions about their lives, both now and in future,” the QCA said.

“A successful programme will help young people learn to respect themselves and others and move confidently from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood.” The guidance on sex and relationship education deals with families, puberty and physical changes, bullying, friendships and how to make “healthy” choices when it comes to sex and sexuality. Teachers are encouraged to use examples from magazines aimed at teenagers in the lessons to spark debate. A spokeswoman said: “Using magazines and newspaper articles enables teachers to engage pupils in a relevant and exciting way to ensure that they have the information that they need to make informed choices throughout life.”