Everyone's Invited: Does shaming schools help anyone?

No one can deny the impact of Everyone’s Invited – but shame isn't a good driver for constructive change, says Anki Deo

Anki Deo

Sex abuse in schools: Does Everyone's Invited naming schools help?

Everyone’s Invited and its more than 16,000 testimonies have undoubtedly been crucial to the current focus on sexual harassment and abuse in schools. The platform aims to empower young survivors of sexual violence by allowing them to submit anonymous testimony of their experiences. 

As a result of the testimonies, schools have flown into crisis-management mode to control their images and hold themselves accountable to students, and Ofsted launched a review into sexual abuse in schools, with results published on 10 June. 

On the same day, Everyone’s Invited published a list naming almost 3,000 primary and secondary schools in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. What impact will the identification of individual schools have on schools’ responses to the findings in the Ofsted report?

Everyone's Invited: Is naming and shaming schools an effective strategy? 

On 23 March, in the wake of the Sarah Everard case, Everyone’s Invited stopped publishing the names of schools in testimonies, stating, “We want to ensure that the spotlight isn’t just on specific schools – but shone on all schools, all universities and all of society.”

However, in April, it published a list of 86 universities, followed by the list of schools on 10 June. When asked why it chose to name schools now, a spokesperson for Everyone’s Invited said that the list demonstrates the “shocking reality that rape culture is everywhere, including all schools”. 

They also said, “The schools we should be worrying about are the schools not mentioned on Everyone’s Invited.” This is because some schools prevent students from submitting testimony, in addition to the fact that sexual abuse and other forms of harassment are often widely underreported, meaning schools underestimate their prevalence. 

However, if we need to focus on 100 per cent of schools, is naming and shaming 10 per cent of them an effective strategy? 

A member of school staff from Sheffield was sceptical: “My school isn’t on the list, but I am expecting all schools to end up on it because of the widespread nature of the issue. If it’s only a matter of time, then all schools – named or not – need to be addressing the issue as highlighted.” 

A student from London, whose school was on the list, said, “Seeing it on the list was vindicating, but nothing has changed yet. I am unsure what the school will actually do.”

The publication of the list of schools on the same day as the release of the Ofsted sexual abuse report seems no coincidence. Naming schools could be a way of prompting them to respond quickly to the issues raised, which would make a change from the apathy with which a previous – and very similar – report on the same issue from the Commons Women and Equalities Committee in 2016 was met. 

While no one can deny the impact of the Everyone’s Invited testimonies, shame is never a good driver for constructive change. 

The Ofsted report emphasises a multipronged strategy, including “developing a culture where all kinds of sexual harassment…are recognised and addressed”. The pressure on schools to rush in policies could prevent the development of a successful long-term approach, where pupil voice is heard and the protection of pupils is prioritised over protection of reputation

Furthermore, the lack of government support, with funding for training teachers and policy development, is a significant obstacle, especially when many students report public sexual harassment away from the school site – for example, on public transport, in the street and in parks. 

Sexual harassment and abuse: What can schools do to prevent it?

With this in mind, what can schools do that works? Positioning themselves as protectors of students, first and foremost, is crucial. The Ofsted report mentions that students often see no point in reporting abuse, and that they are more likely to tell friends than an adult at school. 

Schools must show that survivors of sexual harassment will be believed, supported and taken seriously. They should also provide students with the skills to make sensitive disclosures of this kind. 

In a profession that acknowledges that students need to be taught simple things, like lining up, why are we leaving them to work out for themselves how to come forward about a traumatic incident? 

Striking the right note between safety in the present and the right to live freely in the future is crucial. It is too easy for the responsibility to be placed on girls and marginalised students (such as LGBT+ students) to avoid harassment, rather than tackling the root cause of harassment in the perpetrators. 

For example, schools should not treat students’ clothing as a mitigating factor in an incident, or question why students “put themselves at risk”. They can navigate the balance between pragmatism and hope by stressing that at the moment, the school’s duty of care means that they must encourage students to be careful, but eventually the school community is working towards building a world where girls and other marginalised pupils can live freely. 

The outcomes of the Ofsted report and the Everyone’s Invited list serve to raise awareness of a problem. But it is up to schools, the Department for Education and safeguarding organisations to tackle it by implementing solutions. 

All schools should be behaving as if they have been named by Everyone’s Invited, working to change so that survivors come forward, incidents are reduced and staff feel confident dealing with pernicious behaviour at all levels. 

Anki Deo is a trainee modern foreign languages and PSHE teacher. She works for the Our Streets Now campaign, which is pushing for public sexual harassment to be a criminal offence

For further information on Our Streets Now, including statistics and workshop resources from the campaign, click here. If you would like to be notified when Our Streets Now releases new PSHE and tutor-time lesson resources, join the mailing list here

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