Sexual harassment daily occurrence in schools, warns charity
- Credit: PA
Sexual harassment and misogynist abuse are an everyday occurrence for pupils at schools and colleges in Norfolk, a charity has warned.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has ordered Ofsted to urgently investigate how both state and independent schools deal with sexual harassment and assault among their pupils.
A dedicated hotline number, 0800 136 663, run by the NSPCC, has also been launched to support victims of abuse.
It comes after more than 10,000 harrowing reports of sexual assault were posted on website Everyone's Invited, where students can anonymously share their experiences.
Dan Mobbs, chief executive of the Norwich-based Mancroft Advice Project (MAP), which runs relationship, sex and sexual health programmes in schools, said they regularly had young people raise concerns about harassment, abuse and sexual insults.
He said: “This is the sort of thing we hear all the time. It is a common experience and at its extreme it can lead to something horrific like an assault or rape, but mostly its a day to day experience of sexualised and misogynist abuse.
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“It is regularly going on in schools and has been for a long time. It is just not called out enough. We hear all the time from young people about sexism and behaviour towards them, from teachers as well as other students.”
Norfolk chief constable Simon Bailey, who is the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for child protection, has warned the torrent of allegations and concerns raised about culture in schools could become the education sector's Me Too moment.
He said he was concerned that a "culture of misogyny and sexual harassment" had not been challenged in some schools.
Last week hundreds of Norwich students joined a violence against women event at the University of East Anglia with many highlighting violence, sexual assault and harassment they had faced.
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Pupils also staged a protest at Framingham Earl High School to highlight issues of equality and concerns about alleged comments made by another student.
A parent, who preferred to remain anonymous, said an older female student had talked to others about how to "stand up for themselves and help others".
She said: “I was delighted to hear that my daughter in year seven had the opportunity to look up to a responsible year 11 student and be thoroughly educated and allowed to have her voice heard.”
A spokesperson for the Sapientia Education Trust, which oversees the school, said the protest had been peaceful and supervised by staff.
“We would like to reassure all in our community that the issues raised in relation to the alleged comments are being investigated and appropriate processes followed,” they added.
The trust said it was “fully committed to the promotion of equality and diversity in all aspects of school life".
Mr Mobbs said MAP had seen a reduction in the numbers of schools taking up its sex and relationship programmes, which had left teachers “suddenly having to become experts in relationship education or talking about sexual assaults”.
“It is something we have taken our eye off the ball on as a society. When we see these things happen in school it needs calling out,” he said.
“Things like unwanted touching we hear a lot of in schools and it is just an absolute no no. Sexual insults are a really common thing too and it is not a social media thing.
“Most of this abuse does not just happen online it mostly happens in the school environment day-to-day, in the playground before and after school.
“As a society we are tolerating that too much. It is widespread.”
NSPCC chief executive officer Sir Peter Wanless said the Ofsted review and hotline were part of a “watershed moment thanks to those who have found the courage to speak out”.
“At least a third of sexual offences against children are committed by other young people and that must be addressed,” he added.
Former local head Geoff Barton, who is now general secretary of the ASCL headteacher union, said: “Robust safeguarding is the number one priority of state and independent schools, and we welcome this review of safeguarding policies in the light of the horrific experiences recorded on the Everyone’s Invited website.”