Sexual abuse and sexual harassment - the place of PSHE

Sexual abuse and sexual harassment - the place of PSHE - image

I have a niece who will shortly be in Year 10. In a recent conversation with her she asked me if we were writing any teaching materials about women’s safety, sexual harassment, abuse and misogyny. It’s unusual for her to ask me anything about my work, so clearly the heightened profile of this has resonated with her and her peer group.

She went on to tell me that there is a culture of misogyny within some male student groups in her year, and while this is actively addressed by some teachers, others have an attitude that it’s just ‘boys being boys’. This example emphasises why Ofsted in partnership with the Independent Schools Inspectorate are in the process of conducting a thematic review into these matters, following over 15,000 anonymous reports by students to the ‘Everyone’s invited’ website after the murder of Sarah Everard.

Some schools take a siloed approach and think sexual abuse, and harassment are purely safeguarding issues, however the curriculum also plays a significant part of a school’s safeguarding policy and practice. Schools who aren’t teaching about these themes may find themselves being asked some difficult questions during their next inspection, especially as statutory Relationships, Sex and Health Education has been introduced in England, and this explicitly includes safety in relationships as a compulsory element. Other UK nations already teach these topics, but critics suggest these curricula are out of date, and the teaching may not go far enough for today’s students.

Being ex-teachers ourselves, and PSHE Subject Leads, we’ve seen the fear in colleagues’ eyes when we’ve asked them to teach a sensitive topic. This fear can be a barrier as to why some students, like my niece are not being taught about sexual abuse and harassment. No matter how sensitive a topic might feel, experience shows that once teachers have gained confidence and have supportive teaching materials to use, these lessons are never as ‘scary’ as first imagined. But how do you get teachers over this barrier and into this headspace?

Staff training is crucial, and that’s why we were delighted to be approached by the training company, TrainingSchoolz to write some training for teachers about sexual abuse, harassment and misogyny as part of their safeguarding training modules for schools.

In addition, we know our teaching materials, written for the non-specialist teacher, provide plenty of engaging activities alongside detailed teacher notes, to empower staff. We’ve just released some free activity packs (for a time limited offer) from our comprehensive premium resource library to illustrate these ‘tricky topics’ can be taught well, and they’re not that scary! Schools can download these resources by creating a free account on our website or by logging in if they already have an account with us.

Given the momentum of a number of current social issues; racism, sexism, hate crime, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, to name a few, it’s likely that schools will be expected, and rightly so, to include these in student Personal Development /PSHE teaching programmes. Perhaps the days of firefighting the latest issue that needs to be taught to students in PSHE is disappearing in favour of a comprehensive and progressive PSHE/ wellbeing programme that serves students better? We can but hope; as students like my niece are aware of their needs and are entitled to a curriculum that addresses vital PSHE knowledge and skills as they move toward adulthood. If some 'boys are being boys', then they also need to be taught that sexism and misogyny is disrespectful, harmful and potentially illegal. If we want to change harmful societal attitudes, then this has to start in school, and PSHE is the subject that can make this difference.