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Action needed on 'worrying' sexual harassment in schools, government admits

As the government prepares to set up an advisory group on tackling the issue, unions and MPs say ministers still need to do more

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As the government prepares to set up an advisory group on tackling the issue, unions and MPs say ministers still need to do more

Action is needed to tackle the “worrying” picture of sexual harassment and violence in schools across the country, the government has said.

A new advisory group will be set up to look at how the issues – highlighted by a commons committee in September - can be best reflected in official guidance for schools.

The government has acknowledged that "action is needed" to make sure all schools are equipped to respond appropriately and tackle issues around sexual harassment and violence.

In a response to a report by the Women and Equalities Committee, it added: "There is cross-government support for prioritising work to make significant progress in this area, including through the strategy addressing violence against women and girls."

But the committee and teaching unions say the government’s response does not go far enough.

The committee found an inconsistency in how schools deal with sexual harassment and violence, a disregard for existing equality law and obligations, and a lack of guidance and support for teachers to deal with issues effectively.

The report made a series of recommendations – including making relationships and sex education (SRE) compulsory, and ensuring Ofsted looks at how schools respond to incidents of sexual harassment.

But following the committee’s findings, the government has said it will:  

  • Support schools to produce their own new codes of practice to combat bullying, harassment and abuse.

  • Build an evidence base to better understand the scale and scope of the problem.

  • Set up an advisory group to look at how the issues and recommendations from the committee’s report can be best reflected within existing Department for Education guidance for schools.

Maria Miller, chair of the committee and MP, said: "The scale of the problem of sexual harassment in schools demands a robust and urgent response from those who take responsibility for our children’s safety when they are at school.

“Schools are responsible for fostering the best environment for young people to learn; fear of sexual harassment, or worse, should not be part of that."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “ATL strongly believes that mandatory age-appropriate sex and relationship education (SRE), taught by qualified teachers in time-tabled PSHE lessons, will help create that environment. These lessons must be taught in all schools, and academies and free schools should not be able to opt-out."

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