From education to employment

‘Widespread’ sexual harassment in schools and colleges must be tackled, say MPs

A report published today by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee exposes the shocking scale of sexual harassment and sexual violence that is not being tackled effectively in British schools and colleges. 

The Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools report outlines evidence that:

• 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 said in 2014 that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year.[3]

• almost a third (29%) of 16-18-year-old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school, [1]

• nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16-18-year-old boys and girls say they hear terms such as “slut” or “slag” used towards girls at schools on a regular basis [2]

Despite calls from parents, teachers, and young people for action to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, the Committee found that neither OFSTED nor the Department for Education has a coherent plan to tackle this issue and to monitor the scale of the problem.

Maria Miller MP said:

“Our inquiry has revealed a concerning picture. We have heard girls talk about sexual bullying and abuse as an expected part of their everyday life; with teachers accepting sexual harassment as “just banter”; and parents struggling to know how they can best support their children. 

“It is difficult to explain why any school would allow girls to be subjected to sexual harassment and violent behaviour that has been outlawed in the adult workplace. The evidence shows it is undermining the confidence of young women. Failing to reinforce what is acceptable behaviour could well be fuelling the ‘Lad Culture’ that the Government has already identified as a problem in colleges and universities.

“Despite this, the Department for Education and OFSTED have no coherent plan to ensure schools tackle the causes and consequences of sexual harassment and sexual violence. “There are some examples of excellent work being done by schools and third sector organisations to prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence. But too many schools are failing to recognise this as a problem and therefore failing to act. 

“The Government must take a lead and make it clear that sexual harassment in schools is completely unacceptable and support schools, teachers, parents and young people to tackle this widespread problem. Our report sets out clear recommendations for how this can be achieved and we hope that the Government will implement them immediately.” 

I personally found the report really shocking and upsetting. The report covers schools and colleges, but not Apprentices in the workplace. My personal thoughts are that more should be done to stamp this out in schools before it progresses beyond school and into the college or potentially into the workplace.

It would be interesting to have a report completed about sexual harassment of Apprentices in the workplace, could this actually be lower than schools and college, due to the many laws and behavioural policies in place in the workplace? We would never know until a report such as this is completed.

 One thing that I found particularly alarming was that when we asked the sector to respond to the report, no one came back with a response. Maybe it was because within the report schools and colleges were lumped together, which I agree is not ideal. Schools and colleges are very different, but it doesn’t send out a positive and conclusive message on the subject.

 Our conclusion is that sexual harassment in FE is obviously a taboo subject. Surely a non-response, or wall of silence, echoes what many learners have experienced in the report findings.  If you ignore sexual harassment, it will not go away and in a way encourages those who are behaving inappropriately. When I have discussed the report with female colleagues and friends, they are not surprised at the findings, in fact, they thought the figures on sexual harassment would have actually been higher than stated within the report. I personally found this shocking.

Surely the FE sector can help re-educate people that sexual bullying and harassment is not to be tolerated.  

What do you think about the report? Do you have any suggestions on how to stamp out this inappropriate behaviour?


Gavin O’Meara, CEO of and 

[3] Girlguiding UK Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2014 December 2014

[1]End Violence Against Women Poll Results October 2010 

[2] End Violence Against Women Poll Results October 2010.  

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