UK Feminista and Unison survey highlights school support staff experiences of sexual harassment and sexism

Posted on 18.06.24

The findings of a major survey of school support staff conducted by UK Feminista and Unison provide further evidence that sexism and sexual harassment are widespread in the education system.  

According to the survey, 1 in 10 female support staff in secondary schools have experienced sexual harassment, mainly from male pupils but also from male colleagues. Many reported shocking incidents of sexual harassment, for example, one female member of staff described how a male student tried to kiss her and pushed her head into his crotch.  

Worryingly, a large proportion of those surveyed (42%) said that they had not reported such incidents, which suggests a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of reporting systems.  

The survey results also show that female staff are subjected to sexist, sexualised or objectifying comments, with a third of school staff (34%) reporting having heard sexist language used in school in the last five years and a further 15% having personally experienced sexist language in the last five years. A female Higher Level Teaching Assistant reported having been called “…a bitch and a C word by male pupils for upholding school rules.” 

Both male and female staff reported having witnessed or experienced gender stereotyping, with 16% of female support staff and 36% of male support staff reporting having personally experienced gender stereotyping in the last five years. Men reported being expected to do more manual jobs and women expected to do jobs involving cleaning or caring.   

Read more about the survey findings

Nina Humphries, Deputy Director of UK Feminista says:

“It is deeply concerning that misogyny is so normalised in schools. This fuels violence against women and girls and limits the aspirations of all young people. These joint survey results contribute to the abundance of evidence that sexism and sexual harassment are rife in the UK education system. Staff and students alike face this unacceptable behaviour. More must be done to make schools and colleges safer.

“UK Feminista supports schools and colleges to involve the whole school community in combating sexism and sexual harassment, by providing training and resources. It is crucial to involve all staff, students, parents and governors in action against sexism, to create genuine and sustainable change. We are pleased to be working with Unison to ensure that support staff are supported in their integral and wide-ranging roles in education settings. 

“However, schools and colleges cannot combat this problem alone. The government must effectively hold online companies to account for exposing children to pornography – and the Department for Education must provide teachers and support staff with the resources necessary to drive real change in the education system.” 

UK Feminista is delighted to be working in partnership with Unison to provide support staff with training and resources on tackling sexism and sexual harassment in their educational settings.  

The first of two training sessions exclusively for support staff took place on Wednesday 5 June, with one attendee commenting that the session had made her feel ‘very empowered’. The second training session is due to take place on Tuesday 8 October.  

UK Feminista has also developed a ‘top tips’ resource, specifically for support staff, offering practical ideas on challenging sexual harassment, sexist language and gender stereotyping.  

Download UK Feminista ‘tips for support staff’ resource.

Download UK Feminista and Unison’s survey findings.

Read Unison’s press release.