THE headteacher of a Basingstoke secondary school believes young people are given mobile phones and other gadgets at too young an age.

Julie Churcher spoke to The Gazette in response to a study conducted by children’s charity The NSPCC about the increase in ‘sexting.’ This is when someone sends a text message of a sexual content on their phone – something which The NSPCC said is increasing among teenagers.

Although Mrs Churcher, head at Aldworth Science College, in Western Way, said she has not been made aware of this happening at her school, she is concerned about the findings of the study, and said: “It’s something that we need to take seriously.”

The study showed that teenage girls are subject to peer pressure from boys, constantly demanding sexual images.

Jon Brown, head of the sexual abuse programme at the NSPCC, said: “What’s most striking about this research is that many young people seem to accept all this as just part of life. But it can be another layer of sexual abuse and, although most children will not be aware, it is illegal.

“Girls should never be forced to carry out sex acts, and boys must understand it’s not acceptable to put them under such duress.”

The charity hopes parents, teachers, industry and other professionals will work together to give victims the protection they need.

Mrs Churcher said: “We do talk to children about the proper use of emails and we also try to follow up where we can with issues, mainly friendship ones, in relation to Facebook.

“I think parents and schools need to educate children about the dangers of electronic gadgets. My personal view is that children are given access to these things at too early an age.”

The use of mobile phones by pupils is banned during the school day at Aldworth after a new policy was introduced in September last year. If a pupil’s phone is confiscated, it has to be collected by a parent.

Mrs Churcher said: “This protects them (the pupils) and means it’s not disruptive to learning.”

The NSPCC is now calling for all professionals to receive training in the latest technology so they are better equipped to deal with ‘sexting.’ It also wants secondary schools and the communication industry to give young people better protection through education promoting considerate, respectful relationships, and for parents to talk to their children about the issue.