Standard demands new pupil exclusion category that covers sexist abuse, harassment and violence against girls


Listen here on your chosen podcast platform.

Today the Evening Standard is calling on the Government to move with the times and create a new category for excluding pupils that encompasses sexist abuse, sexual harassment and violence against girls — so that it can be measured and tracked.

There are 16 categories under which a headteacher can suspend or permanently exclude a child from school, but sexist abuse and violence against girls is not among them.

Exclusion categories have been set up to record “racist abuse”, “abuse relating to disability” and “abuse against sexual orientation and gender identity”, but if a boy is suspended for using sexist language or for using violence against girls, that is recorded under one of the generalised catch-all classifications such as “verbal abuse”, “bullying” or “physical assault”.

Suspensions from state secondary schools have surged by 95 per cent in the last five years — with more than 232,000 secondary school children excluded in the spring term of last year, the highest on record for a single term in a generation — but how much of this is due to rising violence against girls?

The Department for Education hasn’t a clue — because it does not measure it. Since 2021, the Government has added five further reasons for exclusion to the list — among them “inappropriate use of social media” and “transgression of protective measures to protect public health”, a response to Covid — but sexist abuse did not get a look in.

In the 12 months to spring 2023, precisely the time that misogynist influencer Andrew Tate started to have an impact on boys, suspensions countrywide shot up by 33 per cent. The long tail of Covid and the cost-of-living crisis are clearly implicated with rising exclusions, but schools have also been hugely concerned by Tate-inspired misogyny with many holding special assemblies to counter it.

Why does the Government not regard violence against girls as an abuse worth measuring separately? The Department of Education confirmed: “If someone behaves abusively towards a female pupil, it gets recorded under other categories like ‘verbal abuse’, ‘inappropriate use of social media’, ‘physical assault’ or ‘sexual misconduct’, but misogyny is not separately recorded, there is no category for it.”

The Department of Education later issued an official statement that said: “Misogynistic language or behaviour is never acceptable. All children deserve to grow up in a safe environment and we have clear guidance to help schools create strong behaviour expectations. When schools are recording incidents, such as misogynistic behaviour, these should be recorded in the category that is most relevant.”

But campaigners — and the Evening Standard — say this is not good enough. We need a new category for excluding pupils that encompasses sexist abuse, sexual harassment and violence against girls — and it should be created immediately. With the police recently announcing an 81 per cent rise in incidents reported to them taking place on school property, and only 40 per cent of pupils telling a government-funded survey they feel safe at school, tackling these incidents is a priority — and that will require capturing the data.

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “In the aftermath of the Everyone’s Invited movement, we have learned how widespread sexual violence and harassment is in schools, and I would like to see much better recording and reporting of such incidents. Robust data collecting is crucial if we are to understand the scale of the challenges affecting children and propose sensible, evidence-backed solutions.”

Wednesday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)
Wednesday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)

But Dame Rachel added that the category needs to be clearly defined and teachers properly trained to avoid confusion. “I am concerned there may be possible unintended consequences for categorising incidents and exclusions as ‘misogyny’ without a clear and agreed definition. It puts the onus on teachers to identify it correctly and could underestimate the prevalence of the issue. We need better training for teachers that supports them to have difficult and open conversations about emerging issues like misogyny.”

Jess Phillips, Labour MP and former shadow cabinet minister for domestic violence, said: “Why is it so hard for the DfE to expand the data categories they collect to include sexist abuse? But also, as the mother of two teenage boys, I don’t want to see a regime leading to mass expulsion of boys for sexist behaviour without also an intervention that educates boys as to what is appropriate and what is not. I think boys are desperate to talk about it. It’s scary for them and it comes with huge feelings of shame.”

At St Mary Magdalene Church of England school in Greenwich, assistant principal Jermaine Gayle said that the school had seen a significant increase in disclosures of sexist abuse in the last two years and had created an internal discrimination log to track it.

“Internally we have gone beyond the Government categories to make sure misogyny and sexual harassment is included in our system. It’s not just the extreme stuff. We’re having incidents like, ‘that boy slapped me on the bum and I didn’t like it and want to challenge it’. We recognise it is a form of assault and we want girls to know they will be supported — and for boys to know it won’t be tolerated.” Anne Longfield, former children’s commissioner and founder of the Centre for Young Lives, said: “The DfE has a responsibility to show leadership by making sure there are strategies to protect girls. Too often, when a girl is the victim of abuse, the school moves the girl out of the classroom to protect her while the boy is allowed to stay put, whereas it should be the other way round. Unless you measure something and put data on it, you don’t know the scale of the problem and you can’t measure if you are making progress.”

This failure to record the extent of violence against women goes beyond the DfE to other public bodies. When we asked the Metropolitan Police for the number of women in London killed or attacked by men with a knife in the last three years, a spokesman told the Standard: “We don’t have data that is formatted this way”.

A recent report by King’s College London Global Institute for Women’s Leadership highlighted the overall data capture problem and lamented a lack of reliable data on violence against women and girls. “There are significant problems that impede the collection of data regarding the reporting or disclosure rate of violence against women and girls,” the study said, presaging a “call to action” for all political parties, public bodies and statistical agencies to remedy this.