In 2017, the NEU and UK Feminista launched a study about the experiences and views of students and teachers on sexism and sexual harassment in schools. The report found that sexual harassment, sexist language and stereotypes are widespread

Key findings

  • Over a third (37%) of girls at mixed sex schools have been sexually harassed while at school.
  • Almost a quarter (24%) of female students at mixed-sex schools have been subjected to unwanted physical touching of a sexual nature while at school.
  • 66% of female students and 37% of male students in mixed sex sixth forms have experienced or witnessed the use of sexist language in schools.
  • A quarter of all secondary school teachers say they witness gender stereotyping and discrimination in their school on a daily basis.
  • Over a third (34%) of primary school teachers say they witness gender stereotyping in their schools on at least a weekly basis.

“A boy touched my bum and tried to touch my boob. I felt uncomfortable and I didn’t tell him because I was scared but I tried to ignore him.” – Female student”

5 Places to start

The NEU recommends that schools should adopt a ‘whole school approach’ to tackling sexism.

This involves building an institutional framework, staff capacity and empowering students.

Tips on what you can do to get started:

  1. Listen to girls and women. Often behaviours are under the radar and students and staff are not reporting them. You should survey staff and students to identify what the problems and experiences are and what needs to change. Don’t be afraid to ask about these experiences- sexual harassment is happening in every school - primary and secondary. You can use and adapt some of the questions used by the NEU in the ‘It’s Just Everywhere’ report. UK Feminista has some templates for students and staff.
  2. Create momentum for reflection and change. Establish a working group with members of STL, colleagues and union reps to drive forward institutional change. One person cannot do this on their own- know who your allies are!
  3. Use your national and local curriculum. Think about the role of the curriculum and audit the representation of girls and women. Many schools are auditing their curriculum at the moment. Evaluating what is already happening is key; and learning more about what are the barriers to encouraging girls and boys to speak up about sexual harassment and stereotypes about gender, race and LGBT+ people. How can preventative work on attitudes be embedded in the curriculum? What local history projects can you plan about women who have challenged sexism and fought for women’s rights in your local area?
  4. Raise awareness of what sexism and sexual harassment is and why it is harmful. Assemblies, tutor time and staff CPD and Inset will need to be used to start a conversation amongst the whole school community and feed into curriculum teaching and learning. Often staff are not at all confident about what level of behaviour and stereotyping needs to be challenged, and how is the best way to do it. Talk, share, plan. Reflection and collaboration is key.
  5. Use student activism and voice. Sexism affects students’ daily lives: they know what the issues are and have ideas of what would make a difference. Young people very often want to take action themselves through particular projects, research or campaigns. What girl clubs or sports activities might be needed? Do you have a dedicated LGBT+ student space? AGENDA provides excellent and practical examples of the power of using student voice to promote social justice.

Resources to help

Stereotypes stop you doing stuff

This provides an overview of how the different schools looked at the impact of gender stereotypes on young people and considered how they could begin to unsettle some of the established assumptions about what girls and boys might like or do.

AGENDA colour wheel

Supporting children and young people to make positive relationships matter.

Who else has a role to play?

The NEU believes that the Government has a vital role to play in supporting schools to make change.

The NEU will keep campaigning for:

  • A national education strategy to tackle sexism and sexual harassment. Education policy must support a wider vision of education as we recover from Covid-19. Schools must be empowered to develop the social and emotional aspects of learning and use the curriculum to challenge sexism and sexual harassment.
  • Greater support for schools to meet statutory Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) requirements. Teachers must have access to training to embed a gender equity approach to RSHE.
  • Properly resourced schools, local authorities and specialist services. There needs to be strong systems of pastoral and specialist support within and around the school to ensure that cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse are managed effectively and with positive outcomes for children and young people.