An end to sexual harassment

Written by: Chris Keates | Published:
Chris Keates, general secretary, NASUWT

Over the past months, revelations about sexual harassment in the workplace have shocked society and sparked a movement for change. Unfortunately the classroom is not immune from incidents of harassment, says Chris Keates

No-one can have escaped the recent headlines about sexual harassment in the workplace which has become a high-profile issue nationally and internationally.

A light has been shone on the appalling nature of how some individuals abuse their power, with examples aplenty in the FTSE boardroom, the Hollywood cutting room and the House of Commons tea room.

Unfortunately the classroom is no exception.

Last year, NASUWT undertook a survey which exposed the scale of the harassment and sexual objectification being experienced by teachers.

One in five teachers said they had been sexually harassed at school by a colleague, manager, parent or pupil since becoming a teacher. Nearly a third of those had been subjected to unwanted touching, while two-thirds experienced inappropriate comments about their appearance or body.

More than half had been subjected to inappropriate comments about sex, and over a fifth had been sexually propositioned. Three per cent said they had suffered upskirting or down blousing.

The examples described by women teachers of what they have suffered were simply shocking.

More than four out of 10 teachers who experienced workplace sexual harassment said they had suffered loss of confidence and more than a third had experienced anxiety and depression.

Nearly half felt they had to make changes to their daily routine to avoid the harasser, while more than one in 10 changed jobs or moved to a new school. Nearly a fifth felt the incident had had a negative impact on their career progression.

What is more, nearly half did not report the incidents of sexual harassment, with the majority saying that this was because they did not feel anything would be done about it or because they felt they would be blamed. Even where harassment was reported the majority of teachers reported either no or very limited action being taken against the harasser.

Teachers, like other workers, have a right to be treated with dignity at work. Their employers have a legal duty of care and an obligation to provide a safe working environment.

The NASUWT is determined to protect the right of teachers to dignity at work and to challenge the practices and cultures which blame the teachers, rather than the perpetrator, when issues arise.

Championing the cause of teachers facing sexual harassment in the workplace, supporting them and empowering them to challenge such behaviour is at the heart of our current campaign.

Our National Executive’s recent statement on sexual harassment makes a number of pledges including that the union will take all complaints seriously and act upon them.

We are committed to ending the blame culture in which teachers reporting sexual harassment are variously told that highlighting the problem will only make it worse, that harassment or abuse is part of the job, that it would be better to let it all blow over, or even that maybe “teaching is not the job for you”.

We must not shirk from shining a light on the employers whose policies and practices fail to support their staff and confront these issues.

Government must also take a greater responsibility for ensuring that schools are safe environments for all staff. Statutory provisions are urgently needed to require schools to record all incidents of sexual harassment and bullying of staff and to have a robust policies to deal with such incidents.

There have been some important steps forward over the last year in other industries to highlight and deal with sexual harassment and abuse. Government and employers across the education service must act now.SecEd

  • Chris Keates is the general secretary of NASUWT.

Further information

Details about NASUWT’s work in this area and its anti-sexual harassment campaign can be found at www.nasuwt.org.uk/sexualharassment


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