Male teachers and boys must be taught about sexism to support women and girls facing sexual harassment and abuse, a union conference has been told.
The National Education Union’s (NEU) annual conference heard that a “toxic laddish culture” pervades the country’s secondary schools and sexism “stalks the corridors and classrooms”.
A motion passed at the conference said schools should have “robust sexual harassment and abuse policies” in place so teachers and students felt safe.
It noted the thousands of testimonials posted anonymously by students on the Everyone’s Invited website, documenting sexual harassment and assault in schools and colleges.
Amy Kilpatrick, from Newcastle, said: “It is absolutely the case that we need to address the overwhelming levels of sexism and sexual harassment in our schools.”
She added: “In order to achieve the drastic changes we want to see, then we must educate our boys, our male teachers and support staff.”
She warned the conference of a “toxic laddish culture that pervades” secondary schools.
Ms Kilpatrick added: “We need to ensure that no boy growing up now can say ‘but it was just banter’ and that starts with education and having men as allies.”
She said: “Let’s all work together to tackle this crisis in our society.”
The debate came after Ofsted said it would be visiting a sample of schools and carrying out a review into whether institutions had effective safeguarding measures in place following reports.
Delegates voted for male teachers and boys to learn about sexism and its roots – and to develop methods to challenge their peers – in order to “proactively support women and girls”.
Richard Rieser, from Hackney in east London, called on men to “own up and take responsibility” for sexism.
He told the conference: “It isn’t something where you can sit on the sidelines. You are either anti-sexist, anti-misogynist and do it as part of your professional work. Or, if you are silent, you are acquiescing to the dominant sexism that stalks the corridors and classrooms of our schools throughout this country.”
Mr Rieser added: “We have to make sure that the response in our schools is not just the women and the girls. It has to be the men challenging sexism and standing shoulder to shoulder with our sisters.”
Delegates called on the union’s executive to campaign for Initial Teacher Training to include learning about anti-sexist education.
They also called on the NEU to develop a model policy on sexual harassment in schools for students and staff before the end of 2021.
It came after Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman suggested that sexual abuse among pupils could be “happening outside of school” rather than being caused by a culture problem within institutions.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “It is overwhelmingly clear that sexual harassment and sexual violence is still normalised and widespread in our society and that it’s therefore commonplace in schools.
“We’ve got to find better ways to listen to girls’ voices and to talk actively in schools about sexism, because boys don’t ‘grow out of’ the sexist stereotypes pushed onto them.
“Sexism has real negative consequences for girls and for female staff, who disproportionately experience sexual violence and harassment. If we want different outcomes for girls, we need to start doing things differently.”
She added: “But schools cannot stop sexism and misogyny on their own. The Government must show long-term leadership and create a strategy to use the potential of education to address sexism and sexual harassment.
“Bringing in Ofsted to review safeguarding policies is not the answer, because high-stakes, tick-box pressure on schools is precisely what teachers say is squeezing out all the time and space for curriculum work on sexism, pastoral work and social skills.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “Schools should be places where all pupils feel safe and are protected from harm, which is why we have asked Ofsted to conduct a review into sexual abuse in schools and colleges.
“We have also launched an NSPCC dedicated helpline to support potential victims of sexual harassment and abuse in education settings.”
She added: “Where schools do not meet the strict safeguarding standards that we have in place, we will take swift action and we will always back headteachers to remove a pupil from the classroom where this creates a calm and disciplined environment.”