According to a poll of 1,290 teachers by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), one in five British teachers has been subjected to either verbal or physical sexual advances by colleagues, managers, pupils or parents.
Nearly a third of female teachers who have been sexually harassed have also been subjected to unwanted touching, with over half complaining of inappropriate comments about their appearance and body. Many said they had been victim to such acts as ‘upskirting’ – photographs taken up women’s skirts without their consent – and ‘downblousing’ –cameras secretly aimed down women’s tops to capture pictures of their cleavage.
Half of the harassed teachers said they’ve been subjected to inappropriate comments about sex, with one in five being sexually propositioned. And it’s not all down to students – some teachers reported being groped or propositioned by their colleagues whilst they were trying to teach a class.
“[The headmaster] would send lewd texts to me,” one teacher told the organisation. “He would visit me often in my classroom when I was teaching and grope me in front of students.” Another primary school teacher added: “I had a little girl sat on my lap as she was crying; the head came in and commented he wished he could sit on my lap, in front of a class of six-year-olds.”
If that wasn’t disturbing enough, one Head of Department was reported to have made explicit comments to a female teacher in front of a class of male teens: “I feel that I am bullied and sexually harassed by my [Head of Department]. He has made comments such as ‘nice tits’ and has used the chat up line ‘you plus me, subtract your clothes, divide your legs and let’s multiply’ in front of a class of 30 year ten boys.”
Another teacher recalled how she has been “slapped on the backside by several male members of staff” and had comments made about “my breasts [and] sex life,” and was told that “I need to ‘go get a ride’ to calm down”.
Shockingly, most teachers who reported the harassment saw little action taken. One in five incidents saw no action taken against the harasser, while 40% of harassment victims said the harasser was spoken to about their behaviour, but weren’t reprimanded in any way – which didn’t appropriately match the seriousness of the harassment.
As a result, 43% of survey respondents reported that they had suffered loss of confidence due to the harassment. Meanwhile, 38% had experienced anxiety and/or depression; 14% changed jobs or moved to a new school; and 18% felt the incident had a negative impact on their career progression.
One teacher, who remained anonymous to protect her identity, told the Guardian that one of her female colleagues had her phone stolen by pupils with little repercussions: “[They] rang her dad and said: ‘We’re going to rape your daughter outside school.’ She wasn’t supported [by the school] at all, no one was interested.” She saw another pupil tell a PGCE student (a trainee teacher) that “he wanted to anally fist her”. And despite reporting it, no action was taken.
The anonymous teacher believes the harassment of her and her colleagues by their male colleagues has “rubbed off” on the pupils. “You could see how women at the school were perceived,” she said. “There was only one woman in a leadership role in the whole school and she was bullied out of her position. I think that kind of atmosphere trickled down.”
Unfortunately, as with many cases of sexual harassment, female teachers are often told to take preventative measures, putting the onus on them to prevent harassment rather than placing the blame on the harassers. Another anonymous teacher told the Guardian that during her teacher training she was “taught to expect” such harassment as it was “normal boys’ behaviour”. “I remember being told to be careful not to reveal any cleavage,” she said. “As it’s very difficult for boys to concentrate when teachers dress like that”.
In recent years, the sexual harassment of female students has also been gradually exposed – a 2016 study showed that 59% of British girls had experienced some form of harassment in school or college in the past year, but this latest report reveals that this toxic culture is far more pervasive.
In light of the new study, General Secretary of the NASUWT, Chris Keates, said, “Too often teachers are being exposed to sexualised comments and abuse from colleagues, managers, parents and pupils. While the scale of the sexual harassment is deeply disturbing, equally disturbing if the scale of failure to act on the incidents that were reported.
“The NASUWT believes that statutory provisions are urgently needed to require schools to record all incidents of sexual harassment and bullying and to have a policy to deal with such incidents”.