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Staff need to be able to identify and respond confidently to incidents of harassment and abuse in school. This ensures the messages children and young people receive around these issues are clear and consistent. Ofsted recommends embedding high-quality training as part of wider school ethos and long-term strategy for preventing abuse. Partnering with local, specialist organisations can enhance the effectiveness of any training and means staff and students have better access to expert support. You can learn more about partnering with external organisations here.

“I think having a specialist, who really knows about it and knows how to teach it and make it interactive…it would just help everyone out.”

Teaching Relationship and Sex Education (RSE)

“I think there’s a lot of pressure on a very few people to actually make it work.”

Research points to massive variations in the way Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) guidance is being developed, interpreted and delivered by schools. Teachers want accessible and in-depth training around these issues. When asked, only 58% of teachers agreed with the statement: ‘I have sufficient training to teach RSE effectively.’ A lack of training and confidence means that some topics (including FGM and coercive control) are being neglected in favour of others. This comes with serious safeguarding implications. Teachers report feeling underprepared and they want more time built into their roles to plan and deliver RSE. You can read the full report by SafeLives here

Developing Training  

Involving young people is a core component of a Whole School Approach (WSA) model, so we recommend talking to students about the current culture before developing training for staff. This ensures it is as relevant and impactful as possible. Surveys and focus groups (of students and staff) are good ways of establishing what you’re already doing well and where change is needed, including how staff relate to one another. Modelling gender equality within the staff team is foundational to changing the culture. 

Staff will probably be used to overhearing problematic language used by students but they might not consider it significant or know what to do about it. In the schools they visited as part of their rapid review Ofsted found that some teachers and leaders, ‘did not identify sexual harassment and sexualised language as problematic.’ Although casual sexism might seem minor, we know the impact it can have on young women and young marginalised people, and the longer term consequences of language going unchallenged. 

“There is a common misconception that those ‘minor incidents’ are minor – they’re not in the minds of those who experience them, they’re not.” 

This pyramid, sometimes referred to as the ‘rape culture’ pyramid, can support staff and students to understand the link between gender inequality and gender-based violence (GBV). 

Credit for this image to The Rosey Project. Racism should be present in bottom segment.

Challenging discrimination

Consistently challenging discriminatory language lets students know what is and isn’t acceptable and sets the tone. It is simple to understand and quick to implement and can initiate a significant shift in the culture of a school. It means that problematic incidents aren’t overlooked and shows young people, especially marginalised young people, that teachers are on their side. 

Staff should be encouraged to follow these steps: 

  1. Stop it. Stop what you are doing (e.g. teaching) to acknowledge the incident.
  2. Name it. Call it out for what it is (e.g. ‘that is an offensive and sexist term’).
  3. Explain it. Have a discussion with students about why it isn’t okay and its impact. 
  4. Follow up. Check-in with anyone affected and offer them support. 

Supporting young people around issues relating to GBV can be challenging and upsetting. You can read more about support for staff here.