A key priority of the union is to make sure there is equal opportunity for all members, prevent unlawful discrimination in employment, and ensure our members do not face barriers to promotion, representation or participation.
The results of UK Feminista and NEU’s groundbreaking study are clear: schools, education bodies and Government must take urgent action to tackle sexism in schools. Sexual harassment, sexist language and gender stereotyping are commonplace in school settings, yet teachers report feeling unsupported and ill-equipped to respond. “It’s just everywhere”, commented a girl participating in the study, yet all too often the institutional response to sexism in schools is silence.
The voices of girls around the country who are being subjected to sexual harassment and sexism at school must be heard – and acted on. It is clear that schools must urgently do more to tackle sexism, but they need support and guidance to be able to do so effectively. The Government, Initial Teacher Training providers, Ofsted and individual schools all have a vital role to play.
Our recommendations identify the priority actions necessary to bring about change. They are achievable and they would be transformative. What is required now is the political will and personal commitment of all those with the power to make these changes happen – from Downing Street to the classroom.
We have a duty and an opportunity to bring about a historic shift: to stop schools being places where girls and boys learn that sexual harassment and sexism are routine, normal, accepted. It would transform school life – and society as a whole.
Sexism is just everywhere. It’s an issue for every school in every community. It therefore requires a commitment from each of us to make change happen.
We need to understand what creates sexism and expose the attitudes which repeat the patterns of harmful experiences that women and girls face. We need to break the mould – the expectations about men and women, and girls and boys, that perpetuate harassment and gender injustice.
Its effects are deeply harmful – for girls and boys. As uncomfortable as it might be, we have to face up to the level of sexism and sexual harassment in society and what this means for education. In this study, teachers expose the barriers which stand in their way to tackling sexism. They talk about time, training and the toxic effect of the wrong kind of targets.
The research reveals the lack of professional development on how to use schools’ curriculum and students’ learning to prevent sexism and sexual harassment.
We can all make a difference but we need national and local strategies to build real capacity. We urge the Government to consider the recommendations in our report.
And we must listen – to both girls and boys – and make their experiences our starting point; let’s empower teachers to support positive student-led activism.
It is just everywhere. But education is one vital place to start if we want to set up different expectations for the next generation.
Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted
Joint General Secretaries National Education Union