Sexual harassment is 'undermining the confidence of young women'
MPs have demanded urgent action to end the widespread sexual harassment of girls in schools, after hearing that groping, bullying and catcalling have become part of everyday life for young women.
Too often complaints from girls were dismissed by teachers as ‘just banter’, according to the Women and Equalities Commons Select Committee, even though such abuses would not be tolerated in the workplace.
It wants schools to be legally required to tackle sexual violence and harassment, and inspected on how well they are dealing with such problems as part of a whole-school approach.
MPs had earlier heard as part of their inquiry that girls were often victim-blamed because teachers lacked the skills and training needed to identify there was a problem. Even young children in primary schools were being exposed to pornography, which was affecting their views of sex and relationships.
In June, the Department for Education argued that sexism in schools is a matter of behaviour management rather than safeguarding, and earlier this year rejected recommendations to make PSHE, the subject in which such issues might be taught and discussed, a statutory part of the curriculum.
Maria Miller, the chair of the committee, said failing to tackle the issue in schools was ‘undermining the confidence of young women’. She went on: “Failing to reinforce what is acceptable behaviour could well be fuelling the ‘lad culture’ that the government has already identified as a problem in colleges and universities.”
The committee further recommended making sex and relationships education and PSHE statutory subjects and for the government and Ofsted to update their guidance to include references to sexism. Teachers also needed more training to tackle sexual behaviour, it said.
Kevin Courtney, of the National Union of Teachers, called on ministers to provide ‘real leadership on this issue and widen their vision of the purpose of education’.
Girlguiding UK has recently launched a petition calling on the UK’s education ministers to end sexual harassment in schools with a zero-tolerance approach, after its members said that groping and catcalling were a daily experience for girls. Young women said they were often told they were ‘over-reacting or being oversensitive’ when they reported incidents of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
ASDAN’s Sex and Relationships Education Short Course can help teachers to navigate some of the challenging and difficult topics relating to these matters. The course is aimed at young people of all abilities mainly aged 13 and over, is internally moderated and accredits 10-60 hours of activities. It also offers progression to other ASDAN courses.