New research from the National Education Union and UK Feminista – “It’s just everywhere”: Sexism in schools and how we tackle it – shows that the sexual harassment of girls in schools is widespread.
The report is being launched today (12 December) in the Houses of Parliament, with speakers including Women and Equalities Committee chair Maria Miller MP and fellow committee member Gavin Shuker MP. The study reveals sexist language and gender stereotypes are a typical feature of school culture, contributing to a climate in which sexual harassment is commonplace.
The main findings include:
- Over a third (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.
- Over a third (34%) of primary school teachers say they witness gender stereotyping in their schools on at least a weekly basis.
- 64% of teachers in mixed-sex secondary schools hear sexist language in schools on at least a weekly basis.
A total of 1,508 students and 1,634 teachers were questioned about their experiences and views on sexism in schools.
The report calls on the Government to take urgent steps to tackle sexism and sexual harassment in schools. This includes issuing national guidance to schools on how to prevent and respond effectively to sexual harassment and sexual violence, and ensuring teachers receive the necessary training, resources and support to develop a whole school strategy for tackling sexism – from the early years in primary schools through to secondary schools.
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary at the National Education Union, said:
“This study finds sexism is an issue affecting every school and college. Our study reveals that we must address the gender stereotypes and the ideas about men and women that lead to such prevalent levels of sexual harassment. 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’. This sets up expectations about peer relationships and gender which can lead to real harm for girls’ and boys’ self-confidence and aspirations about life.
“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. Teachers tell us that barriers to tackling sexism include an overly heavy focus on academic subjects and teacher workload being too high.”
Sophie Bennett, spokesperson for UK Feminista, said:
“The results of our study are clear: schools, Ofsted and the Government must act urgently to tackle sexism in schools. Sexual harassment, sexist language and gender stereotyping are rife in school settings, yet all too often it goes unreported and unaddressed.
“To combat sexism in the classroom, the Government should issue national guidance to schools; Ofsted should recognise schools and teacher training providers that take effective action to tackle sexism; and schools should adopt a ‘whole school approach’ to tackling sexism – which includes zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
“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.”