Government has failed to tackle sexual violence in schools

Report finds alarming inconsistency in how schools deal with harassment and a lack of guidance and support for teachers

Ashley Cowburn
Tuesday 29 November 2016 01:25 GMT
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The committee said sex education in schools was inadequate
The committee said sex education in schools was inadequate (Getty)

Schools are being let down in the fight against sexual harassment and sexual violence by the Government, a committee of MPs have warned.

It comes after MPs on the Women and Equalities Committee in Westminster concluded earlier this year that sex education in schools was inadequate and exposed widespread sexual harassment and violence in schools.

In a report they found an “alarming inconsistency” in how schools dealt with harassment, and a lack of guidance and support for teachers to deal with these issues effectively. After hearing evidence MPs claimed that almost a third – or 29 per cent – of 16-18 year-old girls said they have “experienced unwanted sexual touching at schools”.

While the Government took some “welcome steps” to understand the severity of the problem following the report, the committee members urge officials to “go much further”.

In response to one recommendation – to make Sex and Relationship (SRE) a compulsory subject – the Government had replied: “We are conscious that the existing SRE guidance was last updated in 2000 and the case for further action on PSHE and SRE delivery is actively under review, with particular consideration to improving quality and accessibility.” Maria Miller, the former Culture Secretary and now chair of the Women and Equalities Committee in Westminster, 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”

Ms Miller added: “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.

“We will continue to scrutinise action in this area and work with others to hold those responsible to account for any failure to ensure that all our children are safe and can thrive at school. In particular the Government needs to prioritise action to ensure Sex and Relationship education reflects the realities of the 21st century rather than the pre-smartphone age when guidance was last updated.”

“The Committee will hold a follow-up inquiry on the Government’s response to its report. It will examine what progress has been made in tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools and open for evidence in the summer of 2017.”

Commenting on the Government’s response to the report from the Women and Equalities Committee, Sarah Champion MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities said: “The Tories’ response to the concerns laid out by the Select Committee is inadequate and the Government have been called to task by the Chair of the Committee, herself a former Conservative Women and Equalities Minister.

“The Government can no longer bury its head in the sand on acting to ensure that there is up-to-date, statutory, age-appropriate relationships and sex education. The Government must bring in legislation to ensure every school takes action to prevent and respond effectively to sexual harassment and sexual violence. The findings of the Committee demonstrate that the Government’s failure to do so is putting children and teenagers in the way of physical and psychological harm.

“The Women and Equalities Committee is now the fifth House of Commons Committee to call on the Government to introduce high quality, age-appropriate relationships and sex education. The Government can't continue ignoring this expert advice.”

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