Teachers welcome advice on spotting and tackling FGM

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A fear of stereotyping particular communities and a lack of universal understanding that the practice constitutes child abuse are two key barriers to tackling female genital mutilation (FGM), teachers have said.

They are now hopeful that new guidance to be issued by the Department for Education (DfE) will share best practice and advise on their role in tackling this harrowing issue.

It comes after a petition was started by 17-year-old Bristol student, Fahma Mohamed, calling on the DfE to write to schools before the summer – a time when many school girls are taken abroad by their families to undergo FGM.

Education secretary Michael Gove met with Fahma last week and shortly afterwards announced that guidance on “keeping children safe” is being prepared and will be sent out by Easter. 

A 2007 study by the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development estimated that 66,000 women residents in England and Wales had undergone FGM and 23,000 girls under the age of 15 were at risk.

FGM is defined by the World Health Organisation as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.

The families of victims in Britain are usually originally from countries in Africa such as Somalia, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Nigeria, but FGM is also practised in Indonesia and Malaysia and some of the Middle East.

A study last year for the NSPCC meanwhile found that 83 per cent of teachers had not had child protection training about girls at risk. The new DfE guidance will include advice on:

  • Indications that a child may have been a victim of FGM.

  • What we know about the prevalence of FGM in the UK and abroad.

  • Factors which heighten the risk of a child in the UK becoming a victim of FGM.

  • Statutory safeguarding duties of teachers and other school staff in relation to FGM.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, welcomed the guidance and warned that the first step was to tackle some people’s perception of FGM.

She said: “There is not yet universal understanding that this is child abuse and a child protection issue, so this is the place to start. Each school has child protection procedures for reporting concerns and concerns about girls at risk of FGM must be reported. FGM should never be excused, minimised or ignored.

“Evaluations of community-led interventions have found that some schools are not confident in discussing FGM, because they are wary of stereotyping particular communities. 

“Guidance and sharing of good practice will be really beneficial in raising confidence about how to report concerns and safeguard girls at risk. Guidance is one way to share useful learning and encourage reflective practice.” 

Mr Gove said: “I was very pleased to meet Fahma. She has been running an inspirational campaign. Fahma and her supporters have done fantastic work in raising awareness of female genital mutilation. It is a truly horrific crime. We must do everything we can to end it.”

The government guidance will also include links to external expert advice on specific safeguarding issues from the NSPCC. 

Mr Gove added: “I will write to all headteachers to draw their attention to the updated schools safeguarding guidance and to reiterate that all teachers should familiarise themselves with it.”

   


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