Schools are looking at new initiatives and making changes after Sarah Everard’s death and testimonies of sexual harassment in education have sparked calls for more action to tackle abuse and support women’s safety.
One headteacher told The Independent students have set up a new society to tackle the narrative around harassment, while another school leader said self-defence classes could enter the curriculum for younger pupils.
The murder of Ms Everard, who disappeared while walking home on a main road in London earlier this month, has sparked conversations over women’s safety.
It comes as allegations of a “rape culture” in a number of private schools have sparked concern among politicians and sector leaders.
Young people have been sharing thousands of testimonies of sexual abuse on the website Everyone’s Invited, many including the name of the school or university where abuse happened, or where the perpetrator attended.
Jane Prescott, headmistress of Portsmouth High School, said a Year 8 pupil raised concerns about the school’s uniform policy after she read a testimonial online about women being criticised for their dress.
Some girls had suggested that the rules for non-uniform days were “quite old-fashioned”, she said.
The headteacher said the rules had first been introduced to “keep it smart”, which was then interpreted as “keeping it decent”.
“I’ve adjusted it in light of what they have said because I think it’s quite important that we listen to their experiences and how they think we should be reacting,” Ms Prescott said.
“We had a rule where you can wear a pair of jeans but they mustn’t have rips in them. All designer jeans have rips in them now so why do we have that? I mean I think it’s a hangover from the past so we’ve got rid of that.”
She added: “There were other ones about wearing sleeveless tops that have too thin straps. Again it’s irrelevant now so we’ve got rid of that.”
Ms Prescott said there is just a statement saying it is a “work environment” and students “must dress appropriately”.
Gareth Doodes, headteacher at the King’s School in Worcester, told The Independent that following Ms Everard’s death, he decided to address misogyny present in schools, encouraging “all pupils to change the narrative” and to “understand that although all men did not take part in such behaviour, by our collective inactions we were all to an extent culpable”.
“The subject moved from being taboo to being openly discussed in lessons and classes,” he added.
Following that, students set up a new society called Change the Narrative, with plans to hold talks, welcome guest speakers, share testimonies and hold meetings with the senior leadership team, he said.
Meanwhile in Durham, headteacher Andy Byers of the Framwellgate School told The Independent his school decided to do a couple of things to help “educate students” in the wake of Everard’s death.
As well as doing an assembly, he sent a letter home to parents on the topic of harassment and how to support women.
“It is important that all boys understand how their actions (as innocent as they are) can make others feel (walking too close to girls who are on their own, hanging about in groups, making comments or sexist remarks),” the headteacher said.
Others have opened up conversations for students and staff to share experiences of sexual harassment and encourage dialogue over women’s safety, with Leicester College livestreaming several female students and staff talking on the issue earlier this month.
Headteacher Julie Keller said Nottingham Girls’ School is looking at starting self-defence classes from Year 7 after parents called for the training to be offered earlier on in school in light of the recent events and discussions.
“Parents are aware their daughters are talking, and they do want things, they want support, they want help, and they do want their daughters to feel safe when they’re out of school,” she said.
She added: “We are saying, ‘Yes, we will put things in place like self-defence’, but more important than that is having the conversation about what is appropriate and what is not, and educating boys and girls about respect, consent and all those things.”
Geoff Barton from the Association for School and College leaders said a “great deal of work” has already been done on tackling sexual violence and harassment in schools, including new government guidance following report and recommendations from the womens and equalities committee four years ago.
He said his union “will be recirculating this information to our members today in light of the testimonies on Everyone’s Invited”.
“We will also be discussing what more can be done to support schools and colleges in this work and tackle the abhorrent behaviour described on the website,” he added.