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Government ignores calls for sex education targeted at boys to tackle harassment

Government, Ofsted and Office for Students responses to the Committee’s report on attitudes towards women and girls in educational settings

The Government has today refused to commit to a new strategy in schools on issues of sexual harassment and gender-based violence that is specifically aimed at engaging boys and young men, despite calls in a recent report from MPs on the Women and Equalities Committee.

The cross-party group of MPs’ inquiry on attitudes towards women and girls in educational settings found that existing relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) in schools is less engaging and applicable to boys than girls, despite boys and men being most responsible for harm and abuse.

The Government’s response, published today, fails to engage with recommendations by the Committee regarding its ongoing review of the statutory guidance on RSHE, emphasising that it is still “underway” and will be followed by a “full public consultation”. However, there is no clear indication of what to expect in the updated guidance for schools, including no Government commitment to content on tackling violence against women and girls.

In its report, published in July, the Committee called on the Government to commit to a number of improvements to RSHE including additional resources for schools and mandatory RSHE in post-16 education, a recommendation which is now under Government consideration.

Also published today are Ofsted and the Office for Students responses to the Committee’s report. Responding to MPs’ recommendation that Ofsted investigates the level of abuse experienced by female teachers and staff, Ofsted has said that this is not a “specific inspection focus” and that others are better placed to address the issue. 

While the Committee welcomes the progress made in the higher education sector in tackling sexual harassment, both the Government and Office for Students have failed to back bystander intervention programmes as a requirement on campuses. 

The Office for Students faced pressure from the Committee to ensure universities provide compulsory bystander intervention programmes, teaching students how to intervene if they witness harassment, by strengthening the expectation it places on universities. 

Committee Chair, Caroline Nokes MP, said:

“Education is a powerful and necessary tool in preventing violence against women and girls. Relationships, sex and health education that continues past secondary school and that engages proactively with boys and young men is crucial to combat harmful attitudes in both educational settings and society at large.

“It is disappointing the Government is refusing to take a position on many of the issues raised in our report until it publishes its long-awaited RSHE review. What we see today is a lack of urgency and frankly women and girls have already waited long enough for those in positions of authority to stand up for them.”

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