Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools Contents

4Educating children and young people

125.Sexual harassment and sexual violence are society-wide problems and should be addressed as such. However, many witnesses emphasised that schools have a significant contribution to make towards their reduction. As the International Centre Researching Child Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Trafficking notes:

Schools can play an invaluable role in preventative education as they have the capacity to reach the largest number of children and young people. Preventative initiatives should start at primary school level and be delivered to both males and females in gender and age-appropriate forms. They should educate about risk and support, but also address perceptions that harmful behaviours are ‘normal’ or ‘appropriate’ in order to prevent young people from carrying out acts of sexual harmful behaviour118

126.We heard that Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) and Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), can play an important role in addressing and preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence as part of a whole school approach.

The role of PSHE and SRE

The current situation

127.The government refers to SRE as already compulsory in all maintained secondary schools, and a subject that primary schools can choose to teach. This is misleading. Only the biological aspects of sex education, and teaching about sexually transmitted diseases, are compulsory. As Ofsted noted:

It is compulsory for pupils in secondary schools to have sex education (not SRE) that includes HIV/AIDS and [Sexually Transmitted Infections] and sex education (not SRE) is statutory in science at key stages 1–3.119

The relationships aspect of SRE, and the teaching of sexual consent and gender equality, are not compulsory.

128.The PSHE Association noted that, according to Department for Education figures, the proportion of school hours allocated to PSHE has declined by over 21% in the last three years. It also cautioned that:

While maintained schools are required to teach SRE, there is no such requirement for academies. This means that, with more schools opting to become academies, expectations on schools in relation to sex and relationships education are in fact decreasing.120

129.Any school that chooses to provide SRE has a statutory duty to have ‘due regard’ to the Secretary of State’s Sex and Relationship Education Guidance which was published in 2000 and has not been updated since. We discuss this guidance further in Chapter 6.

The quality of SRE and PSHE

130.Ofsted’s most recent report on PSHE was published in 2013. It looked at both primary and secondary schools and found that 40% of schools require improvement or were inadequate in this area. It also found:

[A] lack of high-quality, age-appropriate sex and relationships education in more than a third of schools [which] was found to be leaving children and young people vulnerable to inappropriate sexual behaviours and sexual exploitation. 121

131.A survey of over 2,000 young people by the Sex Education Forum published in January 2016 found that:

132.The young people we heard from were also disappointed by the quality and frequency of the SRE lessons they had received:

We had them in younger years, but now we’ve got to year 10 only a certain group of students has them. We don’t have them anymore. When we were in younger years, we didn’t talk about relationships—healthy relationships, signs of abuse or anything—but now a lot of people I know are going through things. Now is when they need to have those lessons, but they are not getting taught anything, and healthy relationships are not promoted in school.123

I also think it should be taught more, because I don’t think we’ve actually done any sex education since year 7. We started it in year 6, or the end of year 5 and then in year 6, and maybe a bit in year 7, but we haven’t really done any since. I don’t think anyone actually knows what sexual harassment is really, because we just learn about relationships and sexual intercourse. We haven’t really learned about other things that come with that, such as sexual harassment.124

133.We heard that despite longstanding criticism of the current standard of PSHE, not enough was being done to address the issue. The British Humanist Association told us:

The PSHE-specific Ofsted reports from 2007 and 2013, for instance, entitled ‘Time for change?’ and ‘Not yet good enough’, stated very clearly that improvements needed to be made in, among other areas, the training of teachers, curriculum time, and the rigour of assessment in the subject. Little to nothing has changed since those reports were published.125

SRE can be an effective tool

134.The Sex Education Forum points to a number of pieces of research which demonstrate positive outcomes for good quality SRE:

135.According to Public Health Bristol City Council, “Statutory Relationships and Sex Education…has the potential to make the single biggest impact on all forms of sexual violence in this country.” It also points to evidence of the cost effectiveness of PSHE/SRE noting that:

In Bristol alone, domestic violence costs the city over £40 million per year (according to Home Office estimates). Making PSHE/SRE a statutory subject is therefore a relatively inexpensive intervention that will have a long lasting, far reaching impact on sexual health, sexual violence, domestic abuse, unhealthy relationships, body image, sexual harassment, forced marriage, honour violence, FGM, the influence of pornography, consent and so much more.127

136.Good quality SRE is shown to have a positive impact in helping to reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence. The evidence clearly shows that current provision of education in this area is patchy and largely inadequate.

When should SRE start?

137.The young people we heard from suggested the problem of sexual harassment was beginning at increasingly younger ages. One 15 year-old girl told us:

I have noticed it a lot in the past two years as well. There’s a lot more as you progress through secondary school. It becomes more of a problem and it happens more. I’ve now realised that the older years are giving an example to the younger years, and they are following it and doing the stuff that we noticed in year 8 and 9, but they’re doing it in year 7 or year 6 a lot more.128

138.Attitudes towards relationships and sex are being formed from the earliest ages and should therefore be discussed sooner than secondary school. As Professor Nicky Stanley told us:

Gender attitudes and attitudes to sexual behaviour are quite entrenched by the time young people get to adolescence. There is a good argument for starting earlier.129

139.The Children’s Society has also found in its work with schools that technology is leading younger children to seeing material which could negatively influence their perceptions of sex and relationships:

Exposure to inappropriate sexual behaviours starts in primary school…Access to the Internet and smart phones gives children and young people access to words, descriptions and images of sexual acts before they have an understanding of what sexual acts are common and what are more extreme.130

140.We heard that it is possible to work with parents and teachers to deliver age-appropriate relationships and sex education in primary schools. Big Talk Education explained how fruitful working with primary age children can be:

Where we have worked previously in the primaries we see a significant difference in attitudes and norms as opposed to schools where our first intervention is with Year 9 (14 year olds)…It proves to us that in order to challenge what children and young people are considering normal (if they get their sex education from pornography) then we must start with an age-appropriate…curriculum (which grows with children), which is endorsed by parents and educators.131

The role of parents is discussed further in Chapter 5.

141.By the time they reach secondary school children often have entrenched views about gender norms. It is therefore important that children are educated about gender equality, consent, relationships and sex in an age-appropriate way starting in primary school.

Should PSHE/SRE be made statutory?

142.As long as PSHE/SRE are not statutory subjects it will be dependent on individual schools or teachers to champion them. But the evidence shows that schools do not always welcome SRE programmes. In an evaluation of a sexual exploitation intervention programme delivered by specialist women’s organisations, the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit found that:

Reaching young people in schools is beset with obstacles: some resist projects using a feminist perspective; others fear that accepting work on prevention of sexual exploitation advertises that abuse is happening in the school, and thus carries a reputational risk; workers reported that some schools could not identify who would have institutional responsibility for organising access for workers.132

143.The EVAW coalition argued that this reluctance on the part of schools means a voluntary system cannot work. It pointed to the existence of “tested, thoughtful, successful interventions…[with] measurable impact on attitudes to abusive behaviour and improving confidence in reporting abuse [as well as] a positive impact on attendance and attainment.”133 However, the voluntary nature of these interventions is a problem as they are dependent on a motivated teacher seeking them out or a school introducing them after an incident of harassment.

Support for statutory PSHE/SRE

144.There is widespread support for making PSHE/SRE compulsory including from: the Education Committee; the Home Affairs Committee; Chairs of the Health, and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees; the Children’s Commissioner for England; the Chief Medical Officer; the Association of Directors of Public Health; the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners; the Association of Independent Local Safeguarding Children Boards Chairs; the NSPCC; two royal societies; six medical royal colleges; over 100 expert bodies; 85% of business leaders; 88% of teachers; 90% of parents; and 92% of young people.134

145.Every expert giving oral evidence to this inquiry, with the exception of Ofsted who said it was a matter for Government, supported making PSHE/SRE compulsory. Many experts argued that high quality SRE, delivered by well-trained individuals, and adopted within a whole school framework, could make a substantial difference to reducing sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.

146.The importance of statutory PSHE/SRE has been noted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In its report to the UK Government in June 2016, it recommended that the Government:

Ensure that meaningful sexual and reproductive health education is part of the mandatory school curriculum for all schools, including academies, special schools and youth detention centres.135

147.Of the 92 written evidence submissions we received, only one said that SRE should not be made a statutory subject. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Safe at School campaign said “that the best place for young children to learn about sexual matters is from their parents, within the family setting.” It also argued that “There is no evidence that early sex education reduces sexting or sexual abuse.”136

148.However, as shown above, there is strong academic and expert support for compulsory high-quality SRE as part of the approach to reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence. Furthermore, the message from teachers, students, parents and those working with young people is clear—statutory PSHE/SRE is wanted and needed.

The ministerial response

149.Both the Minister for Children and Families, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, emphasised the importance of PSHE and SRE.

I am in no doubt, and I am sure my ministerial colleagues would agree with me, without necessarily speaking for their Departments, that this has to be a core part of what schools do. That is why in the national curriculum it is clear that that is what the expectation of schools is: to have quality PSHE at the heart of the school offer.137 (Minister for Children and Families)

From the point of view of the Government Equalities Office, there are some very compelling arguments [for statutory PSHE/SRE]. We have heard the arguments and your Committee’s review on this will, I am sure, only strengthen and add to this.138 (Minister for Women and Equalities)

The Minister for Children and Families told us:

We are genuinely actively reviewing PSHE and SRE. I hope we can make some significant progress in the next few weeks and months and be able to say something rather more profound than I am able to say today.139

150.Excellent resources to teach children and young people about gender equality, relationships, sex and consent, in age-appropriate ways, already exist. But at the moment only a minority of schools are delivering good teaching in this area. The Government must take a lead in ensuring that all children have access to high quality sex and relationships education (SRE) and it does not remain the privilege of a few. Making SRE a statutory subject is the first step towards achieving this. The vast majority of parents, pupils and teachers support statutory PSHE/SRE, as do health professionals, the police and other experts working in the field.

151.We welcome the Government’s response that the status of PSHE and SRE is currently under review. We recommend that PSHE and SRE are made statutory subjects as part of the new Education Bill.

Delivering high quality SRE

152.Whilst making SRE a statutory subject will ensure it is given time and status within the school curriculum, this will not reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence on its own. Appropriate SRE must be delivered by confident, well-qualified individuals. It must also be accompanied by support services for students who disclose incidents of harassment or abuse.

Teacher training

153.Research by the Sex Education Forum found that “only 3% of teachers teaching SRE said that initial teacher training had prepared them adequately to teach the subject.”140

154.Teachers’ lack of confidence around tackling issues related to sexual harassment and sexual violence was mentioned by many experts working within schools, including Sophie Bennett from UK Feminista. She observed that:

One of the things we hear time and time again from teachers is that they do not feel equipped to have conversations about sexual harassment and sexism, let alone to teach any sort of lesson on it.141

155.Teaching unions, the NUT, ATL and NASUWT, all support more and better training for teachers to deliver SRE and more broadly address the issue of sexual harassment and sexual violence. The NASUWT said:

Effective training for teachers on dealing with the sensitive issues of girls’ sexualised behaviour and acts of sexual harassment is urgently required within all initial teacher training routes and continuing professional development.142

156.We also heard that more general training on gender stereotypes in school is needed. This is relevant because, as evidence submitted by Rebecca Asher shows, a stronger belief in gender stereotypes is correlated with being both a victim, and perpetrator of, sexual violence.143 David Brockway from the Great Men Project told us:

The way in which we approach teacher training should include a huge element on gender and sexism. This country has been very successful with tackling racism and homophobia in schools, but a lot of teachers feel that sexism has fallen by the wayside as a result—that we have not kept up with that.144

157.The Department for Education (DfE) said “Initial teacher training (ITT) courses contain content to prepare teachers to meet the Teachers’ Standards, which the DfE updated in September 2012.”145 This includes “responding to safeguarding incidents” and “maintaining high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school that are relevant to tackling harassment and violence.” However, ITT courses do not have to cover teaching PSHE or SRE and do not have to deal specifically with how to tackle sexual harassment, sexual violence or gender stereotypes.

158.Some ITT providers do offer training in these areas. UK Feminista currently delivers workshops on tackling sexism to providers including Teach First, UCL Institute of Education, and the University of Durham. To date they have worked with over 1000 trainee teachers.146

159.We have heard a number of suggestions for improving training for teachers to reduce levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. These include:

160.There is a clear need and desire for better training to support teachers, other school staff and Governors to address the issue of sexual harassment and sexual violence, both in SRE and through a whole school approach.

161. As part of its ongoing review of Initial Teacher Training, we recommend that the Government assess the most effective ways to ensure all school staff are well trained to deal with and prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence. The Government should report back to us with their findings and plan of action by March 2017.

Engaging boys and young men

162.To date, the focus in SRE has been often based on girls changing their behaviour, rather than addressing the culture that leads some boys and young men to sexually harass and abuse girls and young women. Professor Jessica Ringrose noted that:

The outdated SRE curriculum is focused on disease and pregnancy and delaying intercourse is a ‘parts and plumbing’ approach, where girls must manage boys’ sexual urges.147

In particular, she pointed to research that films used in schools about sexting are “aimed at girls” and “based on fear, risk and shame”, and that this is “harmful”. Focus groups find that these interventions lead to young people blaming girls for taking photos, even though boys may be sharing them without consent.

163.There is evidence that young women would like to see a greater emphasis on young men’s role in sexual harassment. Dr Vanita Sundaram highlighted the view of one young woman:

It is the guys essentially raping the girls, so they should be taught not to do it. Because, if you’re just telling the girls how to protect themselves, you should like kill it from where it starts.148

164.David Brockway, who delivers workshops to boys and young men through the Great Men project, told us that boys wanted the opportunity to engage with SRE and PSHE but were not always given the chance to do so.

One school I went to last year…said that for the last six years they have been working with their girls on combatting sexual harassment and on body positivity. I said, “What have you been doing with the boys?” and they said, “Nothing; they just watch a video.”149

165.There is international evidence, cited by Professor Nicky Stanley, that prevention programmes in schools are increasingly looking at boys’ behaviour. However, there are challenges around their implementation:

There was…a strong view from the experts that such initiatives need to avoid blaming or accusing boys, because that is only going to provoke resistance.150

166.We heard directly from one school student how this can be a problem:

When it comes to this topic, men are seen as the main enemies. You can see from the statistics that men do it more often, but it can happen on both sides. When people come into schools or we have educational lessons, men are portrayed as the issue on all occasions. That puts across the view that all men will become violent towards woman and abusive and dominant, and that can encourage more [of that behaviour].151

167.It must be remembered that the majority of boys and young men do not engage in sexual harassment and sexual violence. As Professor Nicky Stanley noted:

We are talking about a minority. The fact that lots of boys do have positive, respectful attitudes is something that can be worked with. Positive attitudes in the peer group are a terrific tool with which you can work to change attitudes among those boys whose attitudes are more negative, because the power of the peer group is very great. 152

168.We welcome the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities comments on the importance of engaging with boys and young men in this area. As she said:

There is the opportunity for boys to be the champions to the solution… That is something that I would love to see filtering down to more and more into schools from a very early age, so that boys do not see themselves as stuck in some narrow gap that they have to fit in, between being some sort of sexual predator and something else. There is enormous power in their hands to be the solution to this rather than the problem.153

169.Too often, SRE ignores the position of boys and young men. It must be broadened to challenge harmful notions of masculinity and reflect boys’ experiences. It should also support boys to challenge and reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence.

170.We welcome the Government’s interest in supporting boys and young men to be part of the solution to the problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence. We recommend that the Government fund research to establish the most effective ways to achieve this.

119 Life lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools, Education Select Committee report, February 2015

120 PSHE Association (SVS0021) para 16

123 Q18

124 Q86 Student G

125 British Humanist Association Evidence Check July 2016

126 Sex Education Forum (SVS0075) paras 1-5

128 Q15 Student B

129 Q126

130 The Children’s Society (SVS87) para 2.4

134 British Humanist Association Evidence Check July 2016

137 Q264 Edward Timpson

138 Q265 Caroline Dineage

139 Q263

140 Sex Education Forum (SVS0075) para 13

141 Q106

142 NASUWT (SVS0072) para 6

143 Rebecca Asher (SVS0096) para 26

144 Q224

145 Department for Education (SVS0088) para 10

146 UK Feminista (SVS0029) para 3

148 Evidence from Dr Vanita Sundaram para 4

149 Q210

150 Q211

151 Q93 Student K

152 Q229

153 Q274

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

8 September 2016