The end of the spring term for schools has arrived, but the excitement of the return and the prospect of a well-earned break has been tempered by the appalling testimonies posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website. The accounts make for very grim, depressing and in places horrifying reading. Though the vast majority of the stories focus at present on a narrow range of schools, what has been said should make every school look critically at what they can do to help establish a culture of respect between students and tackle problems where they are identified. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are abhorrent features that are found in society at large sadly, but schools must do their bit to make things better. The position is laid out well in the recent statement from ASCL’s general secretary, Geoff Barton:
“The testimonies posted on the Everyone’s Invited website are utterly horrifying and the behaviour described is not only unacceptable but in many cases constitutes a serious sexual offence. Media reporting of these testimonies has focused on the role of schools. In fact, these testimonies involve young people, in schools and universities, in a wide variety of circumstances, often outside school premises in settings such as parties. This is not to minimise the vital responsibility of schools in tackling sexual violence and sexual harassment, and instilling good values in young people and respect for one another. Our experience is that schools work very hard on all aspects of safeguarding, and take these matters extremely seriously.
However, it is also clear that this is a wider issue than what happens in schools. Parents have a responsibility to talk to their children about how they behave towards others. Social media companies have a responsibility to take more care about how their platforms are used. The criminal justice system has a responsibility to show young people that it can be trusted to prosecute and bring to justice sexual offenders.
A great deal of work has already been done on the issue of sexual violence and sexual harassment in schools. Four years ago, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee investigated this issue and produced a report and recommendations. This led to new guidance from the Department for Education which was developed with the input of school and college leaders. We are very keen to involve a wide coalition, both within and outside the education sector, to help us in this process, and have begun to share thoughts with a number of organisations on how we might work together. We would also encourage the young people on Everyone’s Invited who are victims of sexual offences to report these matters to the police. These incidents are serious criminal matters and the perpetrators should be punished.”
At Bishop’s we will be inviting representatives from the Police to speak to our students about the meaning of consent during the Summer Term, and during the next academic year we will once again be bringing in an outside speaker to work with our boys and girls and so increase their understanding of these hugely important issues. As you would expect our PSHE programmes have content that is suitably focused, and I am confident that everyone here pulls in the same direction in developing a community where individuals are respected, confidence is built and tolerance and politeness are valued. Ultimately, however, it is only by working in partnership with parents that we can increase our students’ understanding and respect for one another and help them to see what can go wrong. The content of the Everyone’s Invited website is a terrible stain on British Society – but it doesn’t have to be that way.