'We are trying to shift a culture': ending harassment of Hackney school pupils

EMBARGOED TO 0001 TUESDAY NOVEMBER 30 Undated file photo of female students walking along a corridor

Hackney Council have followed up after Hackney pupils shared their stories of harassment online - Credit: PA

Shocking experiences of sexual harassment reported by pupils across the country acted as a real “wake-up call”, Hackney’s education bosses have said.

Pupils from two local schools shared their stories on the Everyone’s Invited website, which hit the headlines last year.

They are among 54,000 testimonies on the site, including many from students who have attended 385 London schools and colleges.

Everyone’s Invited was set up in 2020 as “as safe place for survivors to share their stories”.

Hackney Council followed up on concerns raised by pupils at the two schools in the borough.

The children and young people’s scrutiny commission looked at the work done to combat sexual harassment.

Hackney’s director of education Annie Gammon, who is a former headteacher, said: “It was hiding in plain sight that girls were feeling harassed or indeed abused.”

She said most of the incidents did not happen at schools and were away from adults, at parties, parks and other outdoor areas.

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However, she said: “There was definitely a strand of harassment in schools.”

Local education bosses held a meeting with headteachers and had support from the police to help follow up some concerns, to encourage a culture of respect and to ensure children know what to do and who to talk to.

Education watchdog Ofsted published a report last June into sexual abuse in schools and colleges and recommended that schools ensure they have a culture where sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are not tolerated.

Stoke Newington School headteacher Zehra Jaffer told the scrutiny commission: “Last May, we were taken aback one break time.

"A group of about 20 young girls had staged a protest about sexual harassment and the way a couple of incidents had been managed within the school where things had not happened, in a way that they felt their voices weren’t heard.

“It was really important to give them the space and time and not to shut down that conversation.”

Ms Jaffer added that girls felt they were not being heard and felt some spaces were not safe for them. It led to gaps in the stairwells being boarded up to prevent people looking up skirts.

She said: “We are trying to shift a culture, it’s a strategy that we need to have for the next few years about changing language, changing speech and empowering staff to know how to tackle these issues.”

The school looked at uniform and asked the girls to suggest appropriate language and solutions.

“That was a really empowering moment for the whole school to come together," added Ms Jaffer.

The school participated in a BBC 3 programme about rape culture and Everyone’s Invited.

Hackney Youth Parliament member Sudenaz Top told councillors relationships education starts too late.

She recalled her first lessons started in Year 9 sand felt they should begin in Year 7.

“There should be classes every year,” she said, and suggested schools look at the content of classes.

“Sometimes PSHE can be a little bit outdated. Schools don’t want to think about students sending nudes of each other, harassment outside of school or taking pictures of each other.”

File photo dated 12/09/18 of students eating their school dinner from trays and plates during lunch.

Staff at schools like Stoke Newington School are working with students to change things for the better - Credit: PA

Hackney’s head of wellbeing and educational safeguarding Chris Roberts said: “No-one was naïve to think these things didn’t happen but the size and scale came as a revelation.”

He said pupils were not telling the authorities what happened to them.

Hackney is working to make sure schools and staff were aware and holding meetings with others involved in safeguarding and keeping parents informed as “they may not be aware of what their children are up to on social media”.

Schools were also looking at their relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) programmes to include issues such as sharing nudes and harmful sexual images.

The commission also looked at the support available to LGBTQ+ students to ensure their voices are heard, and help for children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).

Education bosses are also involving Young Hackney to help discuss the issues affecting pupils.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, cabinet member for education, children’s services and young people, said that with the plethora of inappropriate images and behaviour children may hear about, it was crucial to “help children understand that what they think is normalised behaviour shouldn’t be”.