Despite being expected to play a key role in identifying girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM), four in five teachers have had no training whatsoever.
The NSPCC has warned that girls aged anywhere from four to 15 are at risk but is worried that teachers are not equipped to deal with this specific kind of child abuse. YouGov research involving 1,000 teachers found that 83 per cent had not had child protection training about girls 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”.
A 2007 study by the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development (Forward) 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.
The NSPCC-YouGov research found that 16 per cent of teachers do not know that FGM is illegal in the UK and has been since 1985. Taking children out of the country to have it performed was also made illegal in 2003.
Earlier this year, Ofsted said it will begin asking schools about their efforts to stop FGM. Despite this, the NSPCC research found that 68 per cent of teachers are not aware of government guidance on how schools should handle FGM.
One teacher told researchers: “This issue is something that I have neither heard of or had training around. I feel uncomfortable that I do not know enough about this to help protect the children I teach.”
Another added that when they tried to warn school management about an FGM case, their concerns were “dismissed as ‘unlikely’ by the school’s head of child protection”.
The NSPCC is now calling on schools and Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) to support teachers to deal with FGM.
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. It has no medical benefits and is usually motivated by cultural beliefs about adulthood or marriage. The most severe forms of FGM involve the total removal of the clitoris, labia and a narrowing of the whole vagina.
Forward says that thousands of British school girls are genitally mutilated every year during the summer holidays. Some are taken back to their country of origin while others are cut in the UK.
A year ago, SecEd reported on intervention work in Bristol which saw FGM lesson packs given to all PSHE leaders in secondary schools in the run-up to the summer break.
The issue is also prioritised at Lilian Baylis Technology School in London, where in 2011, a group of students produced a film Cut – Some Wounds Never Heal aimed at raising awareness among girls aged 11 to 17.
Lisa Harker, head of strategy at the NSPCC, said: “There are young girls in British classrooms who will be subjected to the agony and trauma of FGM and a life of pain. Teachers are on the frontline in the fight against FGM yet they clearly feel unprepared for this role. Schools and LSCBs must take responsibility for protecting these children by ensuring that teachers have the training, support and confidence they need. The secret world of FGM means that teachers may be the only professionals these children come into contact with.”
What can schools do?
The NSPCC says it is vital for schools to create a culture where children feel able to come forward if they or a friend is at risk or has been a victim of FGM. If a child approaches a member of staff, they must be able to act on this information. This means schools need a clear protocol in place for handling FGM concerns.
If a child has already undergone the procedure it should be reported so that the child is provided with appropriate care and support. Signs that could indicate a girl has had FGM include:
Being absent for a long time or during her period.
Going to the toilet more often than usual or for a long time.
Not able to cross her legs when sitting on the floor, trying to get out of PE.
Urinary tract infections, being in pain, clutching her body.
Sudden changes in behaviour (quiet/subdued/misbehaving).
You can download the current government FGM guidance from www.gov.uk/government/publications/female-genital-mutilation-multi-agency-practice-guidelines