Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language
Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice
We welcome Estyn’s report Peer on peer sexual harassment in education settings and we thank Estyn for reviewing this issue so sensitively, enabling and empowering young people to share their experiences.
We want to say thank you to all the children and young people who took part, we appreciate the bravery required to open up in this way. It is only through honest conversations that can work together to tackle this issue.
The report makes for difficult reading. It highlights the uncomfortable truth about the prevalence of peer on peer sexual harassment in our schools with children often choosing to share their experiences with friends rather than their teachers. This leads to a lack of awareness of the true scale of sexual harassment in schools, as the true extent is not reported.
We were also dismayed to learn that our LGBTQ+ pupils have substantial personal experiences of verbal homophobic harassment, and that this is the most common type of harassment in many schools. Any form of bullying is completely unacceptable, including harassment and bullying due to a person’s sexuality or gender identity, and we remain committed in our support for LGBTQ+ young people.
We are already considering the changes we need to make to our anti-bullying guidance, Rights, Respect, Equality in relation to racial harassment and bullying in schools, in line with the Race Equality Action Plan. This will include ways to ensure robust and consistent reporting, recording and data collection of peer on peer sexual harassment, as well as homophobic harassment and bullying.
The report acknowledges the importance of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) which is a statutory requirement in the Curriculum for Wales Framework and is mandatoryfor all learners.
Helping learners to form and maintain a range of relationships, based on mutual trust and respect is the foundation of RSE. Schools and settings have an important role to play in creating safe and empowering environments in supporting learners’ to enjoy fulfilling, healthy and safe relationships throughout their lives.
Whether learners are formally under the current Personal and Social (PSE) curriculum or the new code in the coming years, we are determined that the new RSE guidance, professional learning offer and resources support practitioners teaching under both. There is much learning from the new RSE code and guidance that readily supports practitioners teaching existing PSE and that learning needs to be embedded across all schools and phases.
But we know we need to think wider than the school day. Violence against women and girls is far too common. This is a societal problem, which requires a societal response.
The VAWDASV National Strategy was published for consultation on 7 December. This strategy sets out how the Welsh Government and its partners will work together to increase awareness in children and young people of the importance of safe, equal and healthy relationships and that abusive behaviour is always wrong.
The prevalence of peer on peer sexual harassment taking place online or outside of school is also acknowledged within the report and we are in no doubt of the vital role education must have in tacking this behaviour. Educating children and young people about the importance of respectful behaviour and attitudes is crucial online.
Our Digital Resilience in Education Action plan for children and young people outlines a number of commitments we have taken forward to date and our continuing resolve to tackle online sexual harassment.
Access to resources and materials that address online sexual harassment in an age-appropriate and sensitive way is critical. That is why, working with Childnet International we have published bilingual teaching toolkits, ‘Step up, Speak up’ and ‘Just a Joke?’. Informed by international research, these toolkits, include a series of lesson plans and activities that help engage learners in conversation and discussion. Recognising the need for greater integration of discussions about online sexual harassment across school and home contexts, ‘Just a Joke?’ includes a powerful film and information to support parents and carers.
It is essential that schools are equipped to respond to any reports considerately and effectively. That’s why, in October, we published a new training module on Hwb to support schools and settings with developing procedures to respond to incidents involving sharing nudes as part of their safeguarding arrangements. This supplements our guidance 'Sharing nudes and semi-nudes: responding to incidents and safeguarding children and young people’.
It is important to recognise some of the good work that is happening in our schools to keep our learners safe. The report sets out: how effective schools develop and maintain a strong safeguarding culture that promotes respect and the importance of healthy, positive relationships; and how strong leadership and proactive approaches encourage and empower pupils to trust their teachers, stand up to their peers, and report all forms of sexual harassment.
It was pleasing to see such a positive response to the work of the Wales Police Schools Programme, with pupils saying how much they value this provision. We will continue to work closely with Welsh Police and Crime Commissioners and Police forces to ensure the safety of our learners.
We must also remember that children and young people who act in an abusive way should be considered as children first and that adults have a responsibility to do more to model safe, equal and healthy relationships. This means understanding what is behind the unacceptable behaviour and providing appropriate support.
We know that through education, children and young people can learn to understand why certain behaviours are not acceptable and can be supported to treat their peers with respect.
Once again we would like to commend the bravery and honesty of all the children and young people who opened up and shared their experiences with Estyn as part of this review. We would strongly urge children and young people to report any incidence of sexual harassment and abuse to a trusted adult. Our Keeping learners safe guidance outlines the procedures for reporting any safeguarding concerns.
Finally, we would like to end by reminding of the range of support for victims of sexual harassment and abuse. We have several Welsh Government funded helplines already established, specifically Childline Cymru, Live Fear Free and the MEIC service.
Live Fear Free
0808 80 10 800
0808 80 23 456