Stratford teachers and students respond to shocking Ofsted report that finds sexual harassment 'routine' at schools
A DAMNING report into sexual harassment in England's schools has left educators across the Stratford district admitting: “We’ve got work to do.”
In April, Ofsted was asked by the government to undertake a rapid review of sexual harassment in schools and colleges, after anonymous testimonials of sexual abuse were published on the website ‘Everyone’s Invited’. The Ofsted report looked at the experiences of students at 32 schools and colleges in England. It concluded that sexual harassment had become a routine part of the student experience, with 90 per cent of the girls interviewed claiming sexist name-calling and unwanted explicit pictures or videos happened “a lot” or “sometimes”. Inspectors were also told that boys talk about whose “nudes” they have and share them among themselves like a “collection game”, typically on platforms such as WhatsApp or Snapchat.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “We found that children often don’t see the point of challenging or reporting this harmful behaviour because it’s seen as a normal experience. Pupils said adults often don’t realise the prevalence of sexual harassment that occurs both inside and outside school. They spoke of teachers not ‘knowing the reality’ of their lives.”
Former Stratford pupil Cai Kennedy, 19, who is studying theatre at Warwick University, is a co-founder of campaign group Protect Warwick Women. She told the Herald she was not surprised by the findings.
“I would love to sit here and say I’m truly shocked by the Ofsted statistics, but I’m really not. Having gone through secondary school, college and now university, I’m acutely aware of the culture that has been allowed to grow through a lack of education.
“I’ve seen so many of the women around me assaulted and been exposed to horrible mindsets from men since a young age, so unfortunately none of this is surprising.
“At school, because I spoke up and confronted some of the boys’ actions, pointing out what they were doing was wrong, they picked on me. They found being challenged hilarious and so they targeted me more. Girls are taught to be silent, deal with it and move on – or risk making it worse.”
The report noted that incidents such as groping, name-calling and other behaviours were so normalised they were simply not reported.
One 15-year-old in the Stratford district said she was frustrated with the inadequate way her school dealt with issues of sexual harassment and hate speech.
She said: “There have been numerous problems with girls being victimised and sexually harassed, but it’s swept under the carpet. Sexist, homophobic and racist language is bandied about unchecked. I get called a ‘dyke’ and a ‘faggot’ because I’ve got short hair and I stand up for myself, and my friend, who is mixed race, was called the N-word and told she was ‘dirty’. Yet all the school care about is that we wear the correct uniform – which they are obsessed by. Ultimately, it feels like they just care about appearances.”
Ms Kennedy added: “There needs to be a culture shift in the entire society. We need some sort of herd immunity: the change has to be cultivated all over to stamp out even these so-called small or normal incidences of sexual abuse.”
It is not just the schools that need to address the problems outlined.
Ofsted inspector Amanda Spielman said: “This is a cultural issue; it’s about attitudes and behaviours becoming normalised, and schools and colleges can’t solve that by themselves. The government needs to look at online bullying and abuse, and the ease with which children can access pornography.
“I hope policymakers, teachers, parents and young people will read the report and work together to change attitudes and put a stop to harmful behaviour. Sexual harassment should never be considered normal and it should have no place in our schools and colleges.”
The Herald invited schools to comment. Here are some of the responses.
King Edward VI School
Headteacher Bennet Carr said: “The main message of Ofsted’s sobering report is that we should start from the assumption that sexual harassment is a feature of every school, however proud we might be of our culture, our values and the day-to-day behaviour of our students.
“We, as a school, acknowledge the crucial role we will play in contributing to societal change and will continue to do our best to educate our students about the fundamental issues of respect and consent.
“We aim to teach our young people about sex and relationships in a structured way that is relevant, meaningful and has a lasting impact on them. We also seek to make continuous improvements to our safeguarding procedures with reporting systems and a behaviour policy that will bring about positive consequences should any issues arise. What has been exposed by Ofsted is a problem across society that affects us all and schools alone cannot fix it. We will require support from parents, government and big tech companies in ending the ‘normalised’ nature of pornography, sexual abuse and harassment.”
Stratford Girls’ Grammar School
Headteacher Jacqui Cornell said: “Sadly, in any given academic year, we will be in close support to students and their families who have either experienced the banter referenced in the Ofsted report, made themselves vulnerable on social media regarding sexualised imagery, or been the victim of sexual harassment or assault.
“Incidences of racism and homophobia are exceptionally rare at SGGS, but again our students do experience these behaviours outside school. All reported incidents are followed up tenaciously wherever possible, with the external agencies involved and duly recorded.
SGGS provides opportunities through our curriculum and PSHE provision to educate our students in protective behaviours and safe online use, all of which is supported by our experienced pastoral team.
We recognise how important racism, homophobia and LBGTQ+ issues are to our diverse community, and we are actively engaged with our student body with ongoing work in these areas. SGGS takes these issues extremely seriously, and it is important that we as an educational establishment both encourage and support their voice.”
“It is vital that schools listen and learn from their students experience if we are to foster and secure sustainable change, both within our school setting and in society more generally.
A spokesperson said: “The report states that children and young people, when asked where sexual violence occurred, typically talked about unsupervised spaces outside of school, such as parties or parks without adults present. Our priority is to continue to build on our culture of openness and honesty, and addressing the reasons why some students may feel unable to report these incidents. We are proud of our open and inclusive culture, and it is clear to all we do not tolerate any discriminatory behaviour against any groups of staff and students.”
Alcester Grammar School
Principal Clive Sentence: "Given the millions of personal interactions between children that take place every year in any secondary school, plus all those outside of school and online whilst in the care of parents, it’s inevitable that some of these interactions won’t be positive. Any school claiming that there are zero incidents of discriminatory or misogynistic behaviour is in complete denial. AGS, like the other schools in the South Warwickshire family, takes its responsibility for its ethos and climate with the utmost seriousness. We look forward to continuing our conversations with our students and parents in order to develop still further our culture of kindness, respect and consent.
There are of course wider issues around how easy it is for impressionable youngsters to access certain types of material online, and the potential this has to encourage and normalise unhealthy opinions and actions both in and out of school. The recent OFSTED report is a timely reminder that schools, parents and wider society have plenty of work still to do.
Shipston High School
Headteacher Gavin Saunders said: “The Ofsted report will give all schools cause to reflect. At Shipston High School, we know that educating students on social values is an important part of our responsibility. We give curriculum time to moral and social education through our personal, social, health and economic lessons, as well as wider support via pastoral colleagues.
“It is really important that students feel they can attend school safely, and that we help all students to foster positive and respectful relationships with their peers. This is collaborative work, with our young people fully involved, as helping them understand the value of respect is part of the crucial work schools do in preparing students for adult life.
“As a school, we will consider the report carefully so that we can continue to work with our young people to generate a positive, inclusive and respectful society.”