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Scale of sexual harassment between pupils not recognised by schools says education chief

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Young people say that peer-on-peer harassment happens mostly online and outside school, but want teachers and school staff to understand how common it is.

In a report published today by Estyn, pupils said that they want teachers to take proactive and preventative steps to deal with it.

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In focus groups with 1,300 pupils aged between 12 and 18, around half said they have personal experience of some form of peer-on-peer sexual harassment.

Twice as many girls than boys say they have been subject to either face-to-face or online harassment, including being criticised for their appearance or asked to share nude photos.

Schools generally deal well with serious incidences, but because pupils often don’t feel able to report instances to school staff, this limits their understanding of the extent of the issue.

Sexual harassment is a societal problem and schools often deal with issues that originate from outside of school. Estyn found that secondary schools in Wales need to engage more effectively with pupils to recognise and proactively prevent sexual harassment from happening between pupils. 

Claire Morgan, Estyn Chief Inspector, says,“Every single pupil who shared their experiences with our inspectors took a huge step forward in bringing these issues to light. I want to thank them for their openness and bravery in engaging in difficult conversations. I’m extremely concerned by our findings, and I know that teachers, parents and pupils will also be worried. 

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“There’s a lot to do – more staff training, adopting a preventative approach across all schools and tackling issues on a national level. The report will be particularly important to schools as they prepare for the Health and Wellbeing aspects of Curriculum for Wales and, in particular relationships and sexuality education.” 

Inspectors heard that pupils value well-delivered personal and social education (PSE) lessons but don’t have enough opportunities to discuss sexuality and healthy relationships. 

The report also found that the most effective schools promote a strong ethos of respect and celebrate diversity across all areas. Leaders in these schools proactively create a whole-school approach to prevent negative and harmful peer-on-peer behaviour and make it easier for young people to report negative experiences.

Featured in the report are anonymised snapshots of good practice that schools can use to reflect on their own approaches. Estyn has also published resources to support schools in planning their provision for the Health and Wellbeing aspect of the Curriculum for Wales.

Claire Morgan continues, “I value the positive response from headteachers and school staff to this important review. They engaged well with us during a challenging time. I am optimistic that today’s report will mark a turning point and help schools to better support young people to have healthy peer relationships, free from sexual harassment.”
 

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