This article first appeared on Education International on 30 November 2016.
Education unions in the UK have strongly reasserted the need to bring an end to sexual bullying and harassment and refocus efforts to train teachers on sexual harassment and violence awareness.
They were reacting to the government’s response to the Women and Equalities Committee’s report on sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.
NUT: Resources needed
The government “is continuing to overlook the role of personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) and sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools,” said Rosamund McNeil, Head of Education and Equal Opportunities with the National Union of Teachers (NUT).
She also stressed the need to invest resources and focus on developing PSHE as a core subject in every school so that every child has the same chance to benefit from it.
The NUT says that the government has also failed to ensure the inclusion of specific training on sexual harassment and sexual violence in initial teacher training. The government’s claim that it is “creating conditions for high quality professional development in schools” is simply not true, added McNeil.
However, she welcomed “the intention to set up an advisory group and hopes that proper representation is guaranteed for teachers, heads and teacher unions”.
NASUWT: Zero-tolerance approach
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) also expressed concern at the status of PSHE and SRE in schools. “There is absolutely no place in our schools for sexual harassment or violence towards either pupils or staff,” NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates added.
She found it worrying that, despite rising levels of sexual bullying and sexual harassment by children and young people, the provision of PSHE and SRE has been under pressure due to government-driven curriculum reforms, funding cuts, and changes to accountability requirements.
Keates demanded that the government sets out how schools can secure a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and bullying by providing clear guidance on how to deal with these issues and ensure that all schools record, report and take effective action whenever incidents of sexual violence and harassment involving students occur.
In addition to ensuring that there is space in the curriculum to address these issues, she said, schools need improved access and quality provision of safeguarding training that specifically addresses the issue of sexual violence and harassment.
“It must be recognised that sexual harassment and violence is a societal problem which cannot be left to schools to tackle alone,” Keates added.