Commenting on the passing of an emergency motion at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“It is overwhelmingly clear that sexual harassment and sexual violence is still normalised and widespread in our society and that it's therefore commonplace in schools. We've got to find better ways to listen to girls' voices and to talk actively in schools about sexism because boys don't 'grow out of' the sexist stereotypes pushed onto them.

“Sexism has real negative consequences for girls and for female staff, who disproportionately experience sexual violence and harassment. If we want different outcomes for girls, we need to start doing things differently.

“Schools must be empowered to do more. Schools must be given curriculum flexibility and shown national leadership that says that wellbeing and social development really is the key business of schools. The NEU wants all schools to be able to develop a whole-school approach to prevent the attitudes and sexist ideas about girls that fuel sexual harassment. This must be about supporting schools to use the whole curriculum to promote equality between girls and boys, to talk actively about sexism and women's history. We need to share ideas from schools where they actively challenge harmful gender stereotypes, consistently and regularly. There must be clear school policies on sexual harassment which are talked about, and referenced, regularly. Women and girls must be supported to speak out about what sorts of language, jokes and incidents constitute harassment and we need more training for schools and school staff.

“But schools cannot stop sexism and misogyny on their own. The Government must show long-term leadership and create a strategy to use the potential of education to address sexism and sexual harassment. Bringing in Ofsted to review safeguarding policies is not the answer – because high stakes tick-box pressure on schools is precisely what teachers say is squeezing out all the time and space for curriculum work on sexism, pastoral work and social skills.

“Education policy must help schools to create the capacity and opportunity for the social and emotional aspects of education and subjects like Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). Using the curriculum to challenge sexism and sexual harassment must be a central part of the Government’s re-imagining of education as we recover from Covid-19 and reflect on its lessons.”