Exclusive: Wave of pupil sex abuse 'violating' teachers

Tes' #TeachersToo survey shows one in four female secondary teachers has been sexually harassed or abused in past year

Claudia Civinini

Sexual abuse and harassment in schools: Teachers 'violated'

The extent of classroom sexual abuse and harassment that some students are subjecting teaching staff to has been revealed by a new Tes survey.

More than 1,200 female teachers and teaching assistants responded to the poll, which shows that one in five had been sexually abused or harassed by a pupil in the past year.

This rose to a quarter when just secondary female teaching staff were considered.

Teachers reported being targeted with “exceptional crude comments”, and feeling “sick and unsafe” in their classroom.

They told Tes about having photos with their head photoshopped on to the body of a stripper dancer being circulated among pupils, being asked for their phone number, and having their body commented on while teaching.


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The most common type of harassment that teachers reported was verbal sexual harassment. Staff also said they had been subjected to sexual assaults, "upskirting" and requests for naked pictures.

Teachers suffering sexual harassment and abuse in schools 

“I was sexually assaulted by a male pupil,” one of the comments to the survey reads. “A Year 11 boy entered my room at the end of the day, and forcefully grabbed my bottom. Then left the room. School handled it really well, but I still feel sick and unsafe in my own classroom at times.”

Another respondent said: “One of my students made disgusting sexualised images of me as a stripper dancing for five of my male colleagues. It was my head superimposed on to a body but it made me feel as vulnerable and exposed as if the picture was real.”

One teacher shared her story of being harassed on Facebook. "I was sent a message," she said. "I didn't realise this was a pupil. I clicked on it and it had several exceptionally crude comments about what they would do to me.

“It also had a half-naked picture of a pupil which had been shared amongst themselves. This was dealt with exceptionally well by senior staff and the police but NOT by the LA [local authority], who put the pupils back into my school, although on condition she stayed away from me.

'I felt filthy and violated'

“I actually had to teach another one of the pupils who was lesser involved. To say I was upset is an understatement...I felt filthy and violated

Another teacher revealed how she was subjected to cyber sexual bullying by pupils during the pandemic.

I received torrents of abuse from a Year 10 boy who circumvented the security system which requires pupils to login with their email addresses, and instead used an anonymous name, 'Fagot [sic]', and after trying to remove him, returned with 'Fat Cock', from which he sent messages such as, 'ur a milf', along with sexual innuendos and crude penis-related language," she said

"I was receiving these messages whilst teaching a live lesson, and when I was clearly shaken (yet trying to retain composure), he messaged, 'shush ur waffling'.

“A few weeks later, whilst teaching a Year 9 live lesson the same thing happened, but worse. I received messages from a boy (who I was later able to identify), saying, 'ur a whore', 'fat bitch', 'I’m gonna leak your address online', 'it won’t be funny when I leak your address online', 'I will stab you', 'I will kill your entire family'.”

The teacher added that they went to the police, but the school failed to act for over a month and when school returned, they had to teach the boy face-to-face.

Covid has made the problems worse

Jennifer Moses, equality officer at the NASUWT teaching union, said the pandemic had made the problem of pupil sexual harassment worse for some teachers.

"The fact that they were working from home, the isolation that comes with working from home, and if you have any online abuse from a pupil or a parent while some schools have reporting mechanisms, the actual effect and impact of it while you are isolating are kind of exacerbating the problem," she said. 

"So we had quite a number of women reporting that that, for them, made the matter worse.”

Some respondents to the Tes survey reported not feeling supported by their school after the incidents occurred.

“I was groped twice by a Year 9 pupil in my last school," said one teacher. "I was an NQT and was made to continue teaching that student for the rest of the year.”

And another said:A pupil in one of my classes exposed himself to me in the classroom. He was excluded for four days and the police were not contacted by the school.”

'Boys will be boys'

Other teachers highlighted how harmful gender stereotypes meant that the problem was not being taken seriously.

Unfortunately, I have experienced harassment on numerous occasions by male students in different year groups, in different schools," one said. "I have been made to feel like it is something I have to 'deal with' because 'boys will be boys' and what should I expect as a 'young female'? This was a very disappointing response and I definitely felt embarrassed and that I shouldn't have raised this as an issue.”

Another teacher said she had been the object of “disrespectful behaviour that some pupils never show/display to male colleagues”.

Dame Alison Peacock, Chartered College of Teaching chief executive, said the survey findings were "very worrying".

"When I think back over my career, when I was a newly qualified teacher,  I remember experiencing sexual harassment from boys in the secondary school where I was teaching," she said.

'Just not acceptable'

"At the time I also experienced that sense of other males on the staff particularly not really taking it seriously. So...I think we have to be about shifting the culture within schools, both within the wider staff group and governors and children and young people, because that’s just not acceptable."

Dame Alison added: "I remember feeling, somehow, because I was a young teacher, somehow I just needed to sort of get over it, it was fair game almost, because there wasn’t much of an age difference between myself and the boys, as if it’s your fault somehow. I think all of these things are unacceptable." 

Geoff Barton, the Association of School and College Leaders' general secretary, said: “Sexual harassment is always unacceptable and should never be dismissed or minimised."

Commenting on the figures, a Department for Education spokesperson said:“In no circumstances should teachers be subjected to abuse in any form, simply for doing their jobs and we are taking forward ambitious plans to improve behaviour and discipline in schools.

“This includes our £10 million behaviour hubs programme designed to model and share exemplary practice, making behaviour management a core part of early teacher training and improving our guidance for schools to ensure it is clear and consistent. We are also providing better support to schools and colleges to help recognise sexual harassment and to teach confidently about issues around consent and healthy relationships. “

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Claudia Civinini

Claudia Civinini

Find me on Twitter @claudiacivinini

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