Schools set to make curriculum and policy changes amid women’s safety movement

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·3-min read

Schools are planning to make curriculum and policy changes in the wake of growing calls to tackle violence and harassment against women and girls.

One school is considering introducing self-defence classes for younger pupils, while another is now allowing girls to wear strappy tops on non-uniform days.

Students and their families are demanding change from schools in the wake of Sarah Everard’s death.

Julie Keller, head of Nottingham Girls’ High School, told the PA news agency that older pupils feel like they have a “call to action”.

Students have been opening up in school about women’s safety – and sharing their own experiences – following the death of 33-year-old Ms Everard.

“I think there’ll be a new wave, a new movement of this discussion about women and their safety. I think it’s really important,” Ms Keller said.

She told PA that the school is looking at starting self-defence classes from Year 7 after parents called for the training to be offered earlier on in school in light of the recent events and discussions.

“Parents are aware their daughters are talking, and they do want things, they want support, they want help, and they do want their daughters to feel safe when they’re out of school,” Ms Keller said.

She added: “We are saying, ‘Yes, we will put things in place like self-defence’, but more important than that is having the conversation about what is appropriate and what is not, and educating boys and girls about respect, consent and all those things.”

Her comments come as allegations of a “rape culture” in a number of private schools have sparked concern among politicians and sector leaders.

Thousands of testimonies have been given on the Everyone’s Invited website, where people can anonymously share experiences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault.

Jane Prescott, headmistress of Portsmouth High School, said a Year 8 pupil raised concerns about the school’s uniform policy after she read a testimonial online about women being criticised for their dress.

She told PA that some girls had suggested that the rules for non-uniform days were “quite old-fashioned”.

The rules had first been introduced to “keep it smart”, but that was then interpreted as “keeping it decent”, she said.

Mrs Prescott told PA: “I’ve adjusted it in light of what they have said because I think it’s quite important that we listen to their experiences and how they think we should be reacting.”

She said: “We had a rule where you can wear a pair of jeans but they mustn’t have rips in them. All designer jeans have rips in them now so why do we have that? I mean I think it’s a hangover from the past so we’ve got rid of that.

“There were other ones about wearing sleeveless tops that have too thin straps. Again it’s irrelevant now so we’ve got rid of that.

“And we just have a statement now that says that this is a work environment and they must dress appropriately.”

Mrs Prescott, president of the Girls’ School Association (GSA), said: “I think the girls that are in our schools are quite aware of what’s going on in the world.

“They like to have a voice and they like to effect change and if they can help anyone through their actions then they will do, if they can promote change.”