Know your rights, you have a right to be safe at work and to work free from sexist comments, sexual harassment and abuse.
Why do we need a whole school approach?
This toolkit was created as a response to a motion brought to annual conference by NEU members. The work began when we researched sexual harassment in schools for our research report It’s Just Everywhere in 2017.
Sexual harassment, we found, was rife in schools. The research identified that over a third (37 per cent) of girl students at mixed-sex schools have personally experienced some form of sexual harassment at school and almost a quarter (24 per cent) of female students at mixed-sex schools have been subjected to unwanted physical touching of a sexual nature while at school.
We have two posters you can download about this research.
Since our report, there has been a step change in the conversation about sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement, a growing global social movement against sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape culture, publicly called out perpetrators of sexual assault – particularly those in power – and said,
Sexism and sexual harassment disproportionately affect women and girls. Violence and discrimination against women and girls have also become a headline issue with Laura Bates highlighting ‘Everyday Sexism’; public marches against the sexist behaviour of politicians; the deaths of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry; and public campaigns on street harassment. Black Lives Matter and the case of Child Q have highlighted the racialised and widespread nature of sexism for Black women and girls, and we know that sexual harassment is experienced differently by LGBT+ and disabled students and staff.
There is now enough evidence available in the UK to show that sexual harassment is prevalent in all schools – no member of school staff needs to prove that change is needed.
DfE and Ofsted are clear: schools should presume sexual harassment is happening and that change is needed, and act accordingly.
The union is committed to providing advice to our members to influence the policies in their school or college, both relating to issues which affect members but also how teaching can respond to the social issues which impact on young people and their access to, and experiences of, education. The union has focused on sexual harassment because it is a consequence of gender inequality and challenging it can unlock positive conversations in education about sexism and gender equity.
As a starting point, you should assess where your school is currently with responding to and preventing sexual harassment.
What is a whole school approach?
It’s now well understood that sexism and sexual harassment are prevalent in schools. Evidence from reports and studies shows that for meaningful change to happen, a whole school approach to preventing sexism and sexual harassment is required.
This approach needs to address the behaviours of individuals and shift school culture. That leads us to a question, ‘what does a whole school approach to preventing sexism and sexual harassment look like, and how do we make it happen?’
This document outlines how to plan a whole school approach and breaks it down into five key elements:
Within these, five essential threads should be considered:
Changing culture takes time, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Change takes years, not one term or school year, and the NEU toolkit allows you to pick out the most useful first steps you want to take for your school. It also allows you to plan for the longer term.
All schools are starting from a different point, and we advise collective discussion and reflection as a staff group to identify first or next steps, given your context and community. This toolkit is designed for you and colleagues to select what’s useful and to adapt the content, and for you to pick and choose the elements and tools you want to use.
Five key themes
A whole school approach can take many different forms.
The commitment needs to be clear and visible. Change needs to be seen at the top. School leaders and governors commit to taking a whole school approach to preventing sexism and sexual harassment. They lead by example, by promoting the importance of this issue, linking all sections of the whole school approach, and they make space for staff to embed that change.
Leaders also need to take responsibility for the infrastructure of their school. This should include safeguarding, behaviour and reporting policies and an inclusive approach to the issue. Acknowledging that sexism and sexual harassment happens in your school, is not a reflection on your school, but society as a whole. Ofsted require schools to report on how they are tackling sexism and sexual harassment. This toolkit provides leaders with the support to do this.
- Do you have a Sexual Harassment policy?
- Are you reporting processes inclusive and offer support to staff and students?
- Are Staff trained on how to identify, report and support victims?
Staff are the ones who generate a school culture and they must be supported, not just with encouragement but with time, skills and capacity to reflect on behaviours, teaching and the curriculum. They also need policies in place guiding how staff treat each other, such as behaviour policies for staff and how to report harassment. Staff act as role models for students. They need to be enabled and supported to generate positive cultures through access to training, and have the time to reflect.
- Could you set up an equalities committee?
- How can all staff be active bystanders and work together?
- Can you supporting students to have safe spaces to talk?
All aspects of the curriculum, from science and history, to art, drama and PE, should identify harmful gender stereotypes, represent women’s achievements and contributions and address healthy relationships. Relationships and sex education should be designed in consultation with students and explicitly address consent, respectful relationships, gender stereotypes, violence against women and girls and the meaning of consent and sexual assault.
- Are all PE specialisms accessible to girls and boys?
- Do your lessons include women role models?
- Are women role models visible in your classroom?
Students’ experiences and using their ideas for change forms a core element of the school’s approach to preventing and responding to sexism and sexual harassment. Students are supported to organise in feminist/equality groups. Students can share their thinking in safe learning spaces and are encouraged to grow their understanding and change their behaviours because they realise gender stereotypes harm them and all their friends and peers.
- Could you encourage students to set up a student group?
- How can student voices be heard?
- Can students deliver training to staff?
Families and carers should receive clear messages from the school that sexism and sexual harassment are harmful and will be challenged. The school can explain why preventing sexism and sexual harassment is important and beneficial for all students and their success at school. Parents and carers should receive information and reminders about who to approach if they are worried about something that has happened to their child.
As sexism and sexual harassment is ingrained in society, our school communities will also need educating and made aware of how they can support their children to live free from sexism and sexual harassment in their homes and schools.
- Could you hold active bystander training? Look at our top tips
- How can you share the toolkit with parents?
- Can you share your work in a parent newsletter?
Five essential threads
Each element should have five essential threads running through it:
Whether it concerns school uniform policy, reporting sexual harassment or access to non-stereotypical careers advice, the building blocks that make up the daily business of a school need to be part of the change to prevent sexism and sexual harassment. This is what we refer to when we talk about infrastructure.
Taking a whole school approach to prevent and address sexual harassment must sit in the wider context of infrastructure around safeguarding, behaviour policy, staff policies and more. We have a checklist for the Infrastructure thread on our website. If you visit the NEU website, you can explore this area further, looking at behaviour policies, uniform policies, and case studies.
Sexism and sexual harassment manifest in different ways for different groups of staff and young people, such as Black women, women of different ages and lesbian or trans staff. Some groups of staff face multiple barriers and negative experiences which can be described as ‘’multiple discrimination’’. This means it is harder for some staff to feel able to report or seek support, or confident that it will make a difference.
To make it easier to report, evidence shows that regularly, positively encouraging ‘reporting’ as a sign of a healthy workplace culture will benefit all staff. Do consider the wider demographics of your school and community when developing your anti-sexism and sexual harassment policies. However, schools should feel confident to project and model a set of values that may be different to a student’s experience outside the school (‘’our school values’’). It is also important to actively counter negative or narrow stereotypes which students will be encountering online.”
- Sexism and homophobia are closely linked and reinforce each other so your whole school approach must include challenging sexism and challenging prejudice against LGBT+ people.
- Different groups of Black girls will experience different assumptions about their peers and their aspirations, so plans to challenge sexism need to involve their concerns and recommendations and your anti- racism work needs to consider the needs of girls in your setting.
- LGBT+ disabled pupils are more likely to experience homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying than non-disabled LGBT+ pupils (60 per cent compared to 43 per cent). - Stonewall.
- 40 per cent of young Gypsies and Travellers have experienced bullying, with a higher percentage of girls (58 per cent) reporting to have experienced bullying than boys (26 per cent) - The Traveller Movement.
We have more case studies on intersectionality and inclusion on our website.
The language we use and how we behave towards each other as professionals, and how students behave with each other, form a core part of the culture of a school.
“We were in a presentation to staff and the Head was speaking. When he finished, he said ‘And now it’s time for the girls’ referring to a presentation from several young female staff members.”
The language we use in our day-to-day interactions, our policies and school communication are key to demonstrating a commitment to preventing sexism and sexual harassment. Over time it is recommended that you review your curriculum resources to identify content that promotes sexism. (See the Curriculum section on our website).
Reviewing language should span formal documents, contracts, policies and letters. It is essential that staff act as role models for students and model behaviour that works to prevent sexism and sexual harassment modelling equality and mutual respect between men and women.
We have a checklist for the Interpersonal thread on our website.
How do we create time and safe spaces for staff and students to reflect on their own beliefs and behaviours?
The internal thread is about ensuring that everyone involved has time and space to reflect on how they can contribute to a community which promotes positive values. Whether a member of staff or a young person, we are all exposed to stereotypes about gender and culture that impact how we act and what we do. Built into this internal dialogue will be some form of gendered social norms and expectations about how genders behave and how we behave as gendered bodies.
Thinking about gender inequality and preventing sexism and sexual harassment can often lead to important reflections about what influences us and where we acquired our ideas about men, women and gender. Different teachers have had different levels of access to professional development about gender and education. A whole school approach needs to include spaces for professional reflection and joint planning, so we can reflect on our own personal motivations and personal experiences and commit to listening and learning from other colleagues.
Can staff, families and students see a clear message throughout the school that sexual harassment is not acceptable? The Imagery thread is all about how the school promotes and displays its ethos, in what it says, celebrates, showcases and displays.
No matter how good a school policy or lesson plan, if staff and students don’t know about it, or aren’t receiving messages about it, it will not have the desired impact. This means that at every level, from clear statements from the school that sexual harassment is unacceptable to diverse role models in science, what every part of the school body sees every day tells them about the values and beliefs of the school. Changes that you are making can be reflected there.
Schools will benefit from making explicit links to demonstrate that gender inequality is at the root of sexual harassment. There needs to be a clear message about preventing sexism and sexual harassment to say that such work is the responsibility of everyone in the school.
We have a checklist for the Imagery thread on our website.