Female teachers are being subjected to a rising tide of sexual harassment in the classroom, union leaders warned this week, as details of a shocking episode emerged.
A young design and technology teacher has used the TES community forums to reveal how male students used their mobiles to take “upskirt” photos of her during a lesson.
The 23-year-old – who said she felt “violated” and “threatened” – was concerned that the images would be shared across social media (see box, below).
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said: “This is a very shocking case. It couldn’t be more serious. It’s using sexism to undermine her authority as a teacher and it’s degrading her as a woman.
“I get the sense that things are going backwards. Sexual harassment in too many places has become acceptable. These actions can ruin lives.”
Unions argue that more needs to be done to tackle the sexual bullying of teachers in schools. They say:
- Space must be found in the curriculum to teach students about inappropriate behaviour.
- Teachers and school leaders should be properly trained on equal opportunities.
- Phones could be turned off in class to prevent such incidents.
- Schools should have clear policies when it comes to sexual bullying.
They fear that pupils’ frequent use of mobile phones and social media to view and share sexually explicit pictures could be exacerbating the problem by endorsing sexualised gender stereotypes.
A report published last month by the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee highlighted the “shocking scale” of sexual harassment and violence in classrooms across England.
In evidence to the MPs’ inquiry, the ATL said teachers, especially young women, were often the target of sexist comments and sexual innuendo, particularly by teenage boys.
This week, Rosamund McNeil, head of education and equality for the NUT teaching union, told TES that mobile phones were posing a new challenge for schools, as most secondary school students were exposed to explicit images on these devices.
“We know that young boys are viewing a lot of material online where women are not treated well,” she said. “So we need to unpick that in the curriculum.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s not unusual for secondary school teachers to encounter sexism. They encounter young people displaying fixed ideas about men and women, or sexual ideas about women.”
Simply not acceptable
Ms McNeil believes these issues should be talked about openly at school – from as early as primary – to ensure that young people understand sexual bullying is not acceptable.
“It’s an issue for schools to make sure they have clear policies and they make it explicit that teachers should report anything they are worried about,” she said. “The senior leadership team should be monitoring incidents.”
Unfortunately, I think it’s not unusual for secondary school teachers to encounter sexism
Earlier in the year, a survey by the NASUWT teaching union highlighted how social media had been used by pupils to sexually harass teachers.
One teacher received comments on their social media accounts saying “You’re so sexy”, “I’d do you”, and “Hot damn that’s a fine ass”.
In another school, pupils had started a website called “teachers we want to f**k”, with photos of female teachers.
Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: “Women teachers’ lives are blighted by regular incidents of online sexual harassment and threats of violence, with the inevitable deleterious impact not only on teachers’ mental and physical health but also compromising their ability to carry on doing their job. There is overwhelming evidence that the abuse of teachers is still not being dealt with effectively.
“Three-quarters of the teaching profession are women, and, as is the case in wider society, some of the most personal offensive, vitriolic and threatening comments are directed at women teachers.”
The NASUWT survey, of more than 1,300 teachers, found that only a quarter of schools had an internet or social media policy making specific reference to protecting staff from such abuse.
Dr Bousted said: “I think the sexual harassment of women teachers has increased. It’s a great cause of concern. Women teachers are having a hard time at the moment.”
She believes schools need to create a climate where this behaviour is seen as unacceptable by educating young boys and removing mobile phones from the classroom.
“It’s very difficult to stop children having mobile phones but they should be off in school,” she added.