EVAW calls for major action to tackle abuse in schools

Education Secretary asked to take action and ensure consistent high-level leadership to address sexual violence and harassment in schools

girl at school

Read letter to Education Secretary here.

Today (08.04.21) we wrote to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, expressing grave concern at the huge number of stories of sexual violence and harassment being shared on the Everyone’s Invited website.

Although there has been recent media attention on the issue of sexual violence and harassment in schools, we know that this is nothing new. A 2016 Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into sexual harassment and violence in schools found that there were 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools over a three-year period, including 600 rapes. These findings and recommendations were a key driver for the introduction of statutory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in all schools. EVAW’s own research in 2010 found:

  • almost one in three (29%) 16–18-year-old girls had experienced ‘groping’ or other unwanted sexual touching at school
  • 24% 16-18-year-olds said that their teachers had never said unwanted sexual touching, sharing of sexual pictures or sexual name calling is unacceptable
  • 71% of 16-18-year-olds said they heard sexual name-calling such as “slut” or “slag” towards girls at school daily or a few times per week.

In 2016 we published a briefing setting out the legal obligations of schools under human rights and equalities legislation to ensure the safety of girls in their care which has led to successful legal challenges against schools where their response to serious sexual assault has fallen short. But 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, and that perpetrators of abuse are rarely challenged. We need schools to take its duty of care seriously and not look to a criminal justice system response to reports before acting.

We have worked with the DfE on the development of strong safeguarding guidance for schools but this 2017 guidance has been available for almost 4 years, and we remain concerned about how widely it is known about, understood and implemented in schools. We need schools to take its duty of care seriously and not look to a criminal justice system response to reports before acting. It is crucial that schools implement a ‘Whole School Approach’ which requires school leadership that prioritises tackling abuse, teacher training, and making links with local, specialist abuse organisations.

We note that Ofsted is tasked with a review of safeguarding policies in state and independent schools. This will be most effective if Ofsted inspectors are also appropriately trained in identifying cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and we encourage Ofsted to engage women’s sector specialists who understand the gendered dynamics of abuse and have significant experience and expertise in working with schools and girls.

We are calling on the Education Secretary to implement the following actions to tackle sexual harassment and assault in schools:

  1. A resourced strategy and action plan at the DfE for wholescale improvement of the school response to sexual harassment and assault
  2. A ‘whole school approach’ becomes an explicit expectation in addition to the full roll-out of compulsory relationship and sex education (RSE)
  3. DfE collection, monitoring and reporting of disaggregated data on sexual harassment and sexual violence
  4. Sexual harassment and assault is closely monitored under school inspection frameworks, by trained inspectors
  5. The specialist VAWG sector is consulted as part of a review into school safeguarding arrangements for sexual harassment and violence

We hope to receive a reply to our letter soon, and will publish any replies here.

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