Schools Safe 4 Girls

Sexual violence and harassment at school - Government and schools need to take action now

‘All day, every day’ A new report shows that schools and the government could face legal challenges from girls they let down

The briefing details how school leaders and governors are exposed to legal challenges from girls who are being sexually harassed and abused and that the guidance the government gives to schools is unlawful.

We know that despite the duties placed on schools by the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act, schools are failing girls in their care. Girls and boys are learning that sexual harassment and violence is not regarded as important by adults, that perpetrators of abuse are rarely challenged, and even that it is a ‘normal’ part of relationships between adult men and women. This has long-term consequences for individual pupils and the whole school community.

Our report finds that:

  • Schools responding to allegations of sexual assault by saying they will wait or take no action until the police investigate is unlawful
  • The Government’s key guidance in this area - KCSE – does not recognise the very disproportionate risk of sexual harassment and assault faced by girls nor set out how schools should respond and as such is unlawful
  • Schools’ duty of care to pupils, already recognised and insured against for situations of personal injury, extends to taking reasonable steps to ensure children are safe from injurious behaviour by other pupils; failure in this area could result in a personal injury claim.

We know there is endemic levels of abuse of girls in school 

The Women and Equalities Select Committee reported in September 2016 on its inquiry into sexual violence and harassment in schools.

The report outlined evidence that:

  • almost a third (29%) of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school
  • nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16-18 year-old boys and girls say they hear terms such as "slut" or "slag" used towards girls at schools on a regular basis
  • 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 said in 2014 that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year
  • 600 rapes in schools were reported to police between 2012 and 2015 – that averages out as a rape in a UK school every day of the school year.

“Our inquiry has revealed a concerning picture. We have heard girls talk about sexual bullying and abuse as an expected part of their everyday life; with teachers accepting sexual harassment as ‘just banter’; and parents struggling to know how they can best support their children”

Maria Miller MP, Chair Women & Equalities Select Committee, September 2016

Despite calls from parents, teachers and young people for action, the Committee found that neither OFSTED nor the Department for Education has a coherent plan to tackle this issue and to monitor the scale of the problem. 

“Incidents are rarely recorded and rarely reported. Teachers are reluctant to record it unless it reaches a level at which it is ‘serious’ or affects school’s absentee targets. A girl who had reported incidents of sexual violence at school did not receive any interventions until she stopped coming to school.”

Evidence to the inquiry

The report is available here: