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15 June, 2024
 
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Schools fail to address gender equality

Report calls for government-led strategy to address sexual harassment in schools

Source: The Guardian

Sexual harassment of girls is “a scourge” in England’s schools, according to MPs, who have called for a government-led strategy to focus on boys failing to engage in relationship and sex education.

MPs on the women and equalities committee said in a report that there should be training for all teachers to help them hold conversations with boys and young men about sexual harassment and gender-based violence, in a way that challenges prevailing gender norms and ideas of masculinity.

They have also called for relationships, sex, and health education (RSHE) to be compulsory up to the age of 18 in sixth forms and colleges, warning that without it young people take their first steps in the adult world “undersupported and less equipped to navigate potentially harmful and dangerous situations”.

Relationships education has been compulsory in primary schools and RSHE in secondaries since September 2020, but MPs said the pandemic had delayed implementation and delivery was inconsistent across the sector.

The report (pdf) said some schools were failing to promote gender equality or acknowledge the problem of violence against women and girls, and in too many cases schools lacked the funding and time to deliver RSHE effectively.

A review of the RSHE curriculum is underway. It was brought forward after complaints from MPs including Miriam Cates, the Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, that children were being given inappropriate lessons on subjects such as oral sex or choking.

As part of its RSHE review, the committee asked the government to develop a specific strategy for engaging with boys and young men. “Evidence to the inquiry suggested current relationships and sex education is less applicable and engaging for boys,” MPs said. “It also found some schools were not sufficiently promoting gender equality or acknowledging the problem of violence against women and girls.”

The scale of the sexual violence problem in schools was exposed by Everyone’s Invited, a website set up three years ago, which attracted tens of thousands of testimonies from girls and young women detailing incidents of sexual violence, harassment, and peer-on-peer abuse in schools.

The MPs’ report said: “Sexual harassment and sexual violence continue to be a scourge in our schools, with many girls and women feeling powerless. The issues are longstanding and warnings have been frequent. It is saddening that it took the public testimonies of thousands of school-aged children for Ofsted and the schools they inspect to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem.”

The report also said it was “disgraceful” that universities in England had used non-disclosure agreements to silence victims of sexual harassment and violence. “Universities need to improve their whistleblowing policies to end the culture of silence regarding sexual abuse and violence in higher education institutions,” the MPs said.

The committee chair, Caroline Nokes, said: “For far too long too many people in positions of authority have failed to notice the problem of sexual harassment in schools, of girls and female staff. It has taken the testimonies of students to prompt an official response.

“It is incumbent on school leaders, inspectors, and the government not to let them down. Whilst there have been some positive steps since the Everyone’s Invited movement exposed how widespread the problem is, there is more to do to improve safeguarding and education.

“Education is a powerful tool in combatting harmful attitudes towards women and girls and preventing violence. Mandatory RSHE must continue past secondary school. We also need a specific focus on engaging boys and young men in RHSE and we expect the government to consider this in its ongoing RSHE review.”

A government spokesperson said: “All women and girls deserve a safe environment, and we expect schools, colleges, and universities to take immediate action against sexual misconduct or harassment.

“We are developing further guidance for schools to support educators in teaching about this issue and engage boys and young men about misogyny and sexual violence in education.”

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Cyprus  |  harassment  |  schools  |  education

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