POLITICS
12/12/2017 00:00 GMT | Updated 12/12/2017 10:59 GMT

Girls Still Regularly Facing Sexual Harassment At School, Disturbing Report Underlines

Ofsted must intervene and schools need more resources, says study.

More than a third of girls have suffered sexual harassment at school, a disturbing new report reveals. 

The research from the National Education Union and UK Feminista shines a light on an epidemic of sexism behind the UK’s school gates. 

Sixth form students hear sexist language regularly and gender stereotyping happens “on a weekly basis” at primary schools, the ‘It’s just everywhere: Sexism in schools and how we tackle it’ report says. 

The NEU also calls on Ofsted to target the problem and for the Government to give schools more resources for projects to combat the rising tide of sexism. 

Findings include: 

  • 37% of girls at mixed-sex schools have been sexually harassed while at school.

  • 66% of female students and 37% of male students in mixed-sex sixth forms have experienced or witnessed the use of sexist language in schools.

  • 34% of primary school teachers say they witness gender stereotyping in their schools on a weekly basis.

  • 64% of teachers in mixed-sex secondary schools hear sexist language in schools on at least a weekly basis.

It also mirrors the findings of a Parliamentary report on the issue more than a year ago, suggesting little is changing. 

Women and Equalities Committee chair Maria Miller MP and fellow committee member Gavin Shuker, a Labour MP, will launch the report in Parliament today. 

A total of 1,508 students and 1,634 teachers were questioned about their experiences and views on sexism in schools.

Miller says: “Without doubt, there is clear evidence that sexual harassment is blighting the lives of girls in our schools. It is worryingly ‘normalised’ and often goes unreported.”

The committee’s own report detailed how widespread sexual harassment and sexual violence had become. 

Miller adds: “Fourteen months on from our report, schools seem no better placed to tackle the problem than they were then. We made many recommendations and ministers urgently need to review the guidance, support and resources made available and send a clear message to schools that girls’ safety and equality must be prioritised.   

“Government has to take urgent action on this problem. Negative stereotypes, sexist attitudes, expectations about relationships and sexual harassment and violence not only impact on children’s lives, but create problems in later life.”  

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Sexist language is commonplace at UK schools

The new report calls for the Government to issue national guidance to schools on how to prevent and respond effectively to sexual harassment and sexual violence, and ensure teachers receive the necessary training, resources and support to develop a whole school strategy.  

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary at the NEU, says: “As we come to the end of 2017, we’ve lived through a year in which sexual harassment of women and girls has been at the forefront of the public eye.

“This study shows us how normalised and pervasive it is for young people also. Sexual harassment and regular sexist remarks are patterns that most girls and young women come to view as ‘normal’.” 

Schools need more resources to respond to the concerns, he adds. 

“Schools and colleges have an important role to play in breaking down stereotypes but education policy is making it harder and not easier. We are not giving schools and teachers the tools, time and teaching environments they need.

“The Government, alongside the profession, needs to develop teacher training about the best ways to reduce sexism in the classroom and to use the formal and informal curriculum to make a difference for girls and boys. In this study, only one in five teachers say the national curriculum gives them adequate scope and flexibility to enable schools to prevent sexism.”

Sophie Bennett, spokesperson for UK Feminista, says: “The solutions are clear; what has been lacking is the political will to act. All those with the power to make schools safe for girls must now step up - from Downing Street to the staff room.

“We need to stop schools being places where girls and boys learn that sexual harassment and sexism are routine, normal, accepted. It would transform school life – and society as a whole.”