2019 Autumn Term 1


  • Strength in numbers
    Geoff Barton welcomes members to a new academic year and says over the next 12 months, ASCL will continue to evolve into a trade union fit for the 21st century, setting the education agenda, and representing and listening to the views of members across the UK. More
  • The forgotten third
    Chair of ASCL's Commission of Inquiry on The Forgotten Third, Roy Blatchford CBE, presents the commission's findings on why a third of 16 year-olds leave school without a 'standard' pass and the impact this has on their futures. More
  • A friend in need
    Emma Moss's world was turned upside down when she became gravely ill. Support from the ASCL Benevolent Fund has helped Emma and her family deal with the practical and personal fall-out ever since. More
  • Stop the rot
    Former ASCL Specialist Anna Cole explains how schools and colleges can harness the power of the #MeToo movement to help keep students safe. More
  • Time for T
    The first three T level qualifications in digital, education and construction will become a reality from September 2020 but just how prepared are providers for delivery? NFER's Suzanne Straw investigates. More
  • Leading women
    An ambitious programme designed to empower, inspire and support women into leadership has been launched by a partnership between ASCL, the Leading Women's Alliance and Leadership Live. Carol Jones and Gwen Temple explain the rationale. More
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Former ASCL Specialist Anna Cole explains how schools and colleges can harness the power of the #MeToo movement to help keep students safe.

Stop the rot

#MeToo has become a global phenomenon. Women and girls across the world are speaking out, often for the first time, about their experiences of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

How can we in education harness this inspiring example in our schools and colleges? How can we ensure that all our students feel safe, secure and comfortable?

There are many great examples of innovative work by schools to tackle sexist attitudes and prevent harassment and violence.

This ranges from thinking about the stories younger children read (such as Sleeping Beauty put into a drug-induced coma by a wicked witch and woken by a princely kiss), to challenging and subverting stereotypes and calling out sexist language in the playground.

It is also about breaking down cultures of ‘toxic masculinity’ and valuing and celebrating kindness and vulnerability, particularly in boys.

School feminist societies across the country are leading campaigns and running assemblies to raise awareness of the issues, and changing cultures by winning the hearts and minds of staff and students.

One school I know of is running student-led teacher training on the issues facing girls and recently won a social action award to work with other local schools to cascade its approach.

The issue

Without central data collection it’s hard to get a definitive picture, but we know from surveys cited by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee in 2016 that an unacceptably high number of children and young people experience sexual harassment and violence at school:

  • 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.
  • Almost a third (29%) of 16–18-year-old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school.
  • 41% of UK girls aged 14 to 17 who reported an intimate relationship experienced some form of sexual violence from their partner.
  • 22% of young girls aged 7–12 have experienced jokes of a sexual nature from boys.
  • Nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16–18 year-olds (boys and girls) say they hear sexual name-calling with terms such as ‘slut’ or ‘slag’ used towards girls at schools on a daily basis or a few times a week.
  • 28% of 16–18 year-olds say they have seen sexual pictures on mobile phones at school a few times a month or more.

In its report, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in Schools (https://tinyurl.com/y5jy37j3), the committee said: “The evidence we have gathered paints a concerning picture: the sexual harassment and abuse of girls being accepted as part of daily life; children of primary school age learning about sex and relationships through exposure to hard-core pornography; teachers accepting sexual harassment as being ‘just banter’; and parents struggling to know how they can best support their children.”

The report was clear that while both girls and boys can be victims and perpetrators, the majority of victims are girls and the majority of perpetrators are boys.

It also found that when the issues are not dealt with adequately, it is victims who feel forced to leave school and that far too many girls are forfeiting their education as a result.

A whole-school approach

In response to the recommendations of the committee, the government issued guidance, Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment between Children in Schools and Colleges (https://tinyurl.com/y2awga8b), in December 2017, parts of which were included in Annex A of Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance last year.

ASCL Council was closely involved in making this guidance as useful as possible. It explains schools’ and colleges’ legal responsibilities, starts to define a whole-school approach to safeguarding and gives clarity on how schools should respond to reports. It also makes clear that where there is a serious allegation, before any finding of guilt is made, the school or college must make sure that the alleged perpetrator and victim are separated, and the victim’s routine kept as normal as possible.

The guidance says a whole-school or -college approach requires strategic leadership and close working between students and staff to look systemically at the issues facing them. It requires buy-in from the senior leadership team and must involve everyone, including the governing body or proprietor and all staff, students and parents/carers.

The values, ethos and policies of the institution, including pastoral support, must reflect this approach, be upheld across all aspects of school life and be backed by clear systems and referral pathways for when things go wrong.

Relationships and sex education

Teaching about relationships and sex is crucial in supporting everyone in the school community to develop relationships that are based on equality and respect.

Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) (see https://tinyurl.com/ y5sp3ple) becomes statutory from September 2020 with early adopters starting in September 2019.

The guidance says: “Schools should be alive to issues such as everyday sexism, misogyny, homophobia and gender stereotypes and take positive action to build a culture where these are not tolerated, and any occurrences are identified and tackled.”

In the section on RSE in secondary schools, it says pupils should be taught “what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual violence and why these are always unacceptable” and “the concepts of, and laws relating to, sexual consent, sexual exploitation, abuse, grooming, coercion, harassment, rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage, honour-based violence and FGM, and how these can affect current and future relationships”.


Ofsted’s new inspection framework (https://tinyurl.com/y2endkyw) says that one factor to be considered in the judgement on behaviour and attitudes is the extent to which: “Relationships among learners and staff reflect a positive and respectful culture. Leaders, teachers and learners create an environment where bullying, peer-on-peer abuse or discrimination are not tolerated. If they do occur, staff deal with issues quickly and effectively, and do not allow them to spread.” Safeguarding training for inspectors now includes specific content on how schools should deal with sexual violence and harassment.


Schools and colleges will have long been striving to prevent sexual harassment and violence from taking place, and to ensure it is dealt with properly and effectively when incidents occur.

What has changed is that the spotlight has now been turned on this issue by MPs, the government and Ofsted and the raft of recent guidance should help schools and colleges navigate what can be difficult territory.

But, perhaps most importantly, we should be encouraged by the example of the #MeToo movement and the way it is shining a light on the issue and empowering people to speak out.

Nobody should have to suffer sexual harassment or violence at any age, let alone when they are a child or transitioning into adulthood. By implementing a strategic whole-school approach to sexual violence and harassment, we can ensure fewer children and young people are affected by this in the future, and pave the way for a society in which it becomes a thing of the past. 

Schools are taking action, from thinking about the stories younger children read (such as Sleeping Beauty put into a drug-induced coma by a wicked witch and woken by a princely kiss), to challenging and subverting stereotypes and calling out sexist language in the playground.

Anna Cole
Former ASCL Parliamentary and Inclusion Specialist Anna Cole is a freelance consultant working on projects related to equalities and inclusion