#EveryonesInvited - @UKLabour is demanding “swift and decisive action” to tackle sexism across the education system, following over 8,000 reports of sexual harassment and abuse being posted on the Everyone’s Invited website.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green MP and Shadow Domestic Violence and Safeguarding Minister Jess Phillips have written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to call for an independent inquiry and new national strategy to tackle sexism and sexual harassment across the education system.

Their letter states that the: “Government has resisted calls for a national strategy, failing to take the necessary steps to protect students and support education providers to put robust processes in place,” citing previous research which found a third of girls at mixed sex schools have experienced sexual harassment, while at university an estimated 50,000 incidents of sexual harassment and abuse are taking place each year.

Labour is calling for a strategy to equip education providers with the guidance, policies and training needed to ensure that staff are confident creating a zero tolerance to sexism and sexual harassment, in identifying and responding to reports of sexism, sexual abuse and harassment.

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“It is extremely concerning to see these reports of sexual harassment and abuse across the education system.

“Ministers have let young people down with their dangerous and irresponsible resistance to calls for a strategy to tackle sexism and sexual harassment in the education system. 

“Swift and decisive action is urgently needed to ensure every school, college and university is equipped with the training and processes needed to protect every child and root out sexist attitudes before they are taken into adulthood.”

Jess Phillips MP, Shadow Domestic Violence and Safeguarding Minister, said 

“The Government have known the scale of sexual harassment and abuse in schools, colleges and universities for years and have done nowhere near enough to tackle this endemic problem.

“Every student is entitled to an education free from the threat of sexual violence or harassment.  The Government must act urgently to ensure our education system never tolerates or allows for such behaviour or attitudes, and all students are protected.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“The recent reports of sexual harassment and violence we have seen are shocking and deeply concerning. It is vital that any incident of sexual harassment or violence is reported so that it can be investigated, and the appropriate actions taken.

“There is clearly an urgent need to ask ourselves what more we can all do to prevent sexual harassment and violence now and in the future. There is no doubt that schools can and should play a key role in this work, but this is a problem that reaches far beyond the school gates.

“There is no place for sexual harassment or violence in our schools. Every school should have clear and well-established procedures in place for dealing with allegations of sexual harassment and violence as part of their safeguarding procedures.

“It is important to remember that schools’ work goes beyond responding to incidents if and when they do occur. They also proactively seek ways to prevent such behaviour from happening in the first place. At the heart of that work is creating a culture where it is very clear that any form of sexual harassment or violence is completely unacceptable, and one where pupils feel confident to speak out should such behaviour occur, knowing that they will be listened to.

“The introduction of RSHE for all pupils in all schools will also enable a place in the curriculum for pupils to understand and explore the issues. Schools are doing vital work in this field.”

Former teacher Claire Bloor is calling for greater awareness of sexual harassment and assault in schools – as a government report found that a third of girls and six per cent of boys reported sexual harassment at school - and thousands received counselling for sexual assault.

About 50,000 cases of abuse or harassment also take place every year at University a recent report,  Unsafe Spaces: Ending Sexual Abuse in Universities has found. It also discovered that the role of the “lad culture” in student sports clubs – especially rugby clubs – is creating a toxic atmosphere leading to sexual abuse and harassment, with abusers adopting “a pack mentality”. It also shined a light on sexual harassment and abuse by staff, including distinguished academics, where universities can be reluctant to take action because they want to keep their star performers.

Following updates in September 2018, the Department for Education’s statutory guidance, ‘Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE)‘ was updated again in September 2019. Safeguarding and duty of care experts, EduCare, looked at the key changes to KCSIE and advised on the ways in which you should ensure you are adhering to this: Keeping children safe in education – What do you need to know?

Full text of Kate Green and Jess Phillip’s letter to Gavin Williamson

Dear Gavin

Following the extremely concerning reports of sexual harassment and abuse across the education system, we are writing to urge you to establish an independent inquiry and to implement a national strategy for tackling sexism and sexual harassment in education, without delay.

Today over 8,000 testimonies have been posted on the Everyone’s Invited website highlighting the scale of sexual harassment and abuse that is taking place around schools, colleges and universities across the country. This is not a new problem, yet your Government has resisted calls for a national strategy, failing to take the necessary steps to protect students and support education providers to put robust processes in place.

In 2017, the National Education Union and UK Feminista published the report ‘It’s just everywhere’, reflecting the words of one school girl about sexism in schools. The report highlighted that sexual harassment is commonplace with over a third of girls at mixed-sex schools reporting personal experience of harassment. This echoed previous findings from the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s 2016 report which called for urgent Government action. On university campuses an estimated 50,000 incidents of sexual harassment or abuse are taking place every year according to recent research.  

This research has shown that teachers and lecturers feel ill-equipped and unsupported in dealing with reports of sexism and sexual harassment, with the result that action is often not taken, with incidents going unreported. This sends early signals to young girls that these actions do not carry consequences for perpetrators, normalising sexism and abuse.

Swift and decisive action is needed to make sure that the education system is safe for every young person, and that sexist or misogynistic attitudes towards women and girls are stamped out early. A national strategy is urgently needed to equip schools, colleges and universities with the guidance, policies and training needed to ensure that staff are confident in identifying and responding to reports of sexual harassment and every incident of sexism, sexual harassment and abuse is recorded and escalated, creating a zero tolerance culture where students are confident they can speak out and concerns will be heard. Independent regulators and inspectors must have a role to play in monitoring the situation across the education system, ensuring that action is being taken. Additionally, the much delayed Online Harms Bill presents a clear opportunity for you to work with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to close avenues for online sexual harassment and abuse. Education staff want to protect and support their students, but your Department must equip them to do so.

Young people and their parents will be extremely concerned by the reports shared over the last week, they need to hear urgently from you and the Prime Minister on the steps that will be taken to ensure this culture of sexism, abuse and harassment cannot continue.

Yours sincerely

Kate Green MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Jess Phillips MP, Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding

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