SEXUAL harassment and assault, violence
and bullying against girls, and casual misogyny are all blighting
Scottish schools, according to the country’s leading teachers’ union.
The Educational Institute of Scotland
(EIS) is now to issue new guidance for teachers on how to address
growing concerns about the prevalence of sexism in schools.
The EIS will this week send out its new
teachers’ guide, Getting it Right for Girls, in response to research in
which teachers reported witnessing girls being “pushed, grabbed and
groped”, and being subject to sexist – and sometimes graphic – verbal
abuse. Staff claimed girls and young women were also objectified on the
basis of their looks, and that the attitudes of some boys towards both
female staff and pupils could be “dismissive and contemptuous”.
The guide to tackling misogyny
recommends that nurseries, primary and secondary schools, as well as
further and higher educational institutions need to develop policies
that specifically addresses gender equality and violence against women,
and detail strategies to challenge it.
Suggestions include school assemblies on
the issue, cross curricular work themed around violence against women,
as well as regular and open discussion with pupils on topics including
derogatory language and pornography.
The union is calling on the Scottish
Government to show leadership and put gender firmly back on the
educational agenda, claiming that due to the success of high profile of
female politicians, there has been a misguided sense of sexism having
It comes as a growing body of evidence
suggests that girls – despite holding on to a marginal lead in
attainment levels – are experiencing growing levels of violence in
school. According to a YouGov poll one in three girls had been groped,
while shocking statistics from England and Wales released under an FOI
last year showed more than 5,500 alleged sex crimes in UK schools were
reported to police in the last three years, including more than 600
Jenny Kemp, national education and
equality officer for the EIS, said: “Some of the casual misogyny that we
found was really quite shocking. We are taking steps to stamp out
racist language but sexist language has become quite normal. We found
that many girls were not pushing back against misogyny – there was an
expectation of being harassed, groped and grabbed.
“There has been a feeling that we have
reached sexual equality and perhaps that means it has fallen off the
agenda. It is time to put it firmly back there.”
There was a role for Education Scotland, the General Teaching Council and for the Scottish Government to do more, she added.
Caroline Yates, an EIS Equality Rep and
teacher at Edinbarnet Primary School in West Dunbarton, said that
misogyny, as well as gender stereotyping, was evident in classes of
10-12 year olds.
“Even at this age I pick up a sense that boys feel entitled in a way that girls feel less so,” she said.
Gender stereotyping meant that talented
girls were not allowed to play football within boys teams though no
girls one existed, she added, and the large concrete area of the
playground was used almost exclusively by boys for games.
She also claimed that she had seen boys
kicking their mothers when called in to speak to teachers about their
behaviour. “When this was challenged by staff, mothers said, “he does
that all the time”. We sometimes see this attitude carrying across to
younger female staff. “It needs to be addressed in initial teacher
training as well as within schools. We need to create a culture of
openness and develop training to look at how we narrow the gender
The EIS research is backed up by a
recent study by Girlguiding UK which suggested a fifth of girls have
experienced unwanted touching or unwanted sexual attention at school.
Katie Horsburgh, 16, a Girlguiding
Scotland member who has been campaigning on the issue, said: “Schools
should be safe and empowering places for girls to learn and reach their
full potential. No girl should ever leave home in the morning fearful of
facing harassment in the classroom or being subjected to sexist
behaviour and attitudes.”
Ceris Aston, information officer for
YWCA Scotland, a campaign organisation for young women, said girls
reported being cat-called and harassed on the way to school.
Laura Tomson, co-director of Zero
Tolerance, which campaigns to stop violence against women, said: “As
they go through school, misogynistic attitudes teach girls that they are
worth less than boys, that they have fewer rights and limited career
choices. Misogyny is not ‘boys being boys’ and it is never ‘just a bit
“Those working with children and young
people have a particular opportunity to both demonstrate and encourage
positive, respectful treatment of women and girls.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said
it had produced updated guidance which aimed to help teachers deal with
misogyny. “We want every child and young person in Scotland to develop
mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships with other
children, young people and adults,” she added.
‘In my school sexual harassment wasn’t treated as sexual harassment’
IT’S not just the way some boys leer at
you, according to Shannon Baird, 17, a former pupil of St Andrew’s
Academy in Paisley. It’s the graphic comments that go along with the
leering. “There were places at school where you would not want to walk
past on your own,” she said.
If the teachers had overheard the
comments, the boys would have got reprimanded, she acknowledged. “But it
was the girls who would be pulled up by staff for short skirts, which
“left little to the imagination”.
“Logically you knew it was ridiculous
that you should feel in any way like you were “asking for it” but that’s
how it could feel.
“When I was younger the boys would talk
about “slap an a*se Wednesday”. The boys did get into trouble but it was
not treated as sexual harassment, which it was.”
Sex education was limited, one teacher
at the Catholic school promoted an “abstinence approach”, and to Baird
the conservative view of sexuality fed a misogynist culture.
“Girls are expected to be calm and
controlled. The girl should be the responsible one, even in things like
last day of term pranks” she said. “Boys aren’t dumb but if we preach
that they act irresponsibly because they can’t control themselves some
might start to believe it.”
A spokesperson for Renfrewshire Council
said: “Renfrewshire Council promotes a culture of dignity and respect
for all pupils and staff in our schools. Any pupil who is concerned
about being harassed or bullied for any reason should get in touch with
pastoral support staff.” Source
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