Government ignores calls for sex education targeted at boys to tackle harassment

The government’s refusal to commit to a new strategy in schools on issues of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, specifically aimed at engaging boys and young men, despite calls from the Women and Equalities Committee, raises concerns about addressing these critical issues effectively.

The committee’s inquiry highlighted disparities in the current relationships, sex, and health education (RSHE) curriculum, which appears to be less engaging and applicable to boys than girls, even though boys and men are often responsible for harm and abuse.

The government’s response, which emphasises that the review of statutory guidance on RSHE is still “underway” and will undergo a “full public consultation,” lacks clarity on what to expect in the updated guidance.

The committee had made several recommendations in its report, including providing additional resources for schools and mandating RSHE in post-16 education, which are currently under government consideration. However, the response to these recommendations remains uncertain.

Ofsted’s response, stating that investigating the level of abuse experienced by female teachers and staff is not a “specific inspection focus,” may disappoint those hoping for stronger action in this area.

In the higher education sector, progress in tackling sexual harassment is acknowledged, but there is disappointment that neither the government nor the Office for Students has endorsed compulsory bystander intervention programmes on campuses. These programmes are designed to teach students how to intervene if they witness harassment, and the committee had pressured the Office for Students to strengthen the expectation it places on universities in this regard. Committee Chair, Caroline Nokes MP, said:

“Education is a powerful and necessary tool in preventing violence against women and girls. Relationships, sex and health education that continues past secondary school and that engages proactively with boys and young men is crucial to combat harmful attitudes in both educational settings and society at large.

It is disappointing the Government is refusing to take a position on many of the issues raised in our report until it publishes its long-awaited RSHE review. What we see today is a lack of urgency and frankly women and girls have already waited long enough for those in positions of authority to stand up for them.”

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