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FGM: We must talk about it in primary schools, says Holloway head

‘Leaving it to secondary school is too late. There’s a real missed opportunity here’

01 March, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Barrie O’Shea, who has been in charge at Duncombe Primary School for 30 years

A HEADTEACHER be­lieves the government has “missed an opportunity” in the battle against female genital mutilation (FGM) as government guidelines published this week do not give any direction to primary schools.

Barrie O’Shea, who has been in charge at Duncombe Primary School in Holloway for 30 years, said guidance to make classes on FGM compulsory for secondary school pupils only was too late to help as a preventative measure.

“If a child undergoes FGM it usually happens either at primary-school age or the period between primary and secondary school,” said Mr O’Shea. “Talking to young people about it in secondary school is too late. There is a real missed opportunity here.”

He said the new guidelines, released by the Department for Education on Monday, were a chance to urge teachers to engage parents who might consider putting their daughters through the ritual cutting or removal of external genitalia.

At his school, Mr O’Shea hosts Friday coffee mornings where parents discuss issues they are concerned about. Every two to three years he will host a discussion on FGM.

“They are always very well attended,” he said. “It’s something they seem to want to talk about, whether it has happened to them or not.

Hibo Wardere

“We make them aware of the fact it is illegal and give them support if they are being pressured by anyone outside in the community.

“We have a lifelong policy of support and collaboration. So when we talk about FGM, parents are very open. They know we are looking out for their best interest.”

The United Nations has set a target of eradicating FGM by 2030. Renowned anti-FGM campaigner Hibo War­dere, who underwent the procedure when she was a girl, has agreed with Mr O’Shea, and argued that FGM education should be compulsory in primary schools.

“What is the point in making it compulsory in secondary school when most of the time procedures happen before the age of 10?” she said.

“The government has to be braver in tackling this issue. Education is the key to ending FGM.”

Ms Wardere, who has written a book, Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today, has committed her life to stopping the practice.

She underwent the most severe FGM, called “type 3”, as a teenager in Somalia. “FGM is a lifetime of problems. Infections, diseases, infertility, pain. It’s devastating,” she said.

A DfE spokesman said: “We trust teachers to be sensitive and alive to the issues that affect their communities.

“While FGM is a sensitive matter and an important matter in some communities it’s also not an issue that affects other communities.

“As such, compelling teachers across the board to speak to parents about FGM wouldn’t be appropriate.”

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