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‘School cuts have harmed battle to end harassment’

Candidate laments loss of pastoral roles

02 April, 2021 — By Helen Chapman

Guilene Marco

A WOMEN’S rights and education campaigner says funding cuts have helped create the “rape culture” at schools, as teenagers across the country came forward with accounts of sexual assaults and harassment.

Guilene Marco, a London Assembly candidate for the Women’s Equality Party from Islington, said there should be no “opt out” from sex education lessons in schools and that pastoral roles – often lost in savings drives – needed to be restored.

She was speaking as the government ordered an investigation into the scale of the problem illustrated by the Everyone’s Invited website, which has now published hundreds of testimonies from students recalling abuse.

Nearly all of the accounts relate to independent schools but detectives who have been asked to investigate whether any criminal proceedings should now be opened say the issue is not confined to the private sector.

At Highgate School, on the Haringey side of the borough border with Islington, an independent inquiry has been launched with an appeal court judge asked to lead it.

The incidents do not involve teachers and instead are described as “peer-on-peer” violence.

“I think what has been happening with this culture of misogyny, harassment and rape culture is normalised in school just as it is in our society – I don’t think it is any different,” said Ms Marco, who said funding cuts had led to a demise in safeguarding procedures in school.

With pastoral roles in schools reduced, duties are now taken up teachers instead.

Ms Marco said: “They have several hats which means they might have limited training or expertise, but also means they are overworked. This is something that is extremely important.”

She added: “Maybe safeguarding systems are not strong enough in schools and that is something that is extremely important to make sure that children are safe in schools. There need to be clear ways for children to be able to report cases of abuse, harassment or assault.”

The Women’s Equality Party is campaigning to have gender equality as assessment criteria by Ofsted.

“It is a whole system that is not built in a way to allow boys and girls to be equal,” she said.

“This kind of rape culture can be changed by proper policies, funding and training. I think we shouldn’t feel like there is no way to change it.”

Although schools provide sex education it is not mandatory and parents can choose for their children to opt out.

Ms Marco said: “I think some schools are working with consent workshop events and I think it is great to open up these kinds of discussions. Consent is going to be at the heart of many discussions to come and I think it is important they start in schools.”

She added: “We have been campaigning for sex education to be taught by specialists because what is often happening is it’s often a teacher that has another expertise, like a maths teacher.

“We also believe there should be no opt out. You can’t opt out of English and maths, so all children should also learn about consent, healthy relationships and how to relate to others.”

‘Safe spaces’ are available

Alan Streeter

A HEADTEACHER has said his secondary school is adapting its curriculum to include more sex and relationships education.

Alan Streeter from Beacon High Secondary School said it was working with Solace Women’s Aid to provide workshops.

“As a leadership team, we are very conscious that we need to make sure we are providing safe spaces within school if young women want to talk to us,” he said.

“Young people know where they can go to get help if there are any concerns. All schools I think are very aware of their responsibilities.

“Unfortunately some of these things don’t necessarily take place in school and then it is about how we help young people deal with those situations that may be outside of school and we have to support them in any way we can.”

Anyone who needs support or advice can call Solace on 0808 802 5565. In an emergency they can call 999, and stay silent and press 55 if they fear they are being overheard by an abuser.

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