Teachers vote to press Government for compulsory lessons about sexism

·5-min read
(Martin Keene/PA) (PA Archive)
(Martin Keene/PA) (PA Archive)

Teachers have debated how to tackle the growing problem of “incel” culture in schools, as seven in 10 said they have experienced misogyny at work.

At the NASUWT teaching union’s annual conference in Birmingham, teachers voted to lobby the Government to recognise misogyny as a hate crime, and for it to be compulsory for schools to teach pupils about sexism.

The motion originally called for the union to consider the incel movement – which stands for “involuntary celibate”, whose followers promote hatred of women online – to be recognised as an extremist group.

Union member Claire Ward said singling the movement out in the motion would “give them the attention they crave – they aren’t special”.

A survey of more than 1,500 teachers by the union ahead of the conference found that 72% said they had been a victim of misogyny at their school.

Of those who had experienced sexism at work, nearly six in 10 said this behaviour had come from a pupil, while 43% reported that other teachers had been sexist towards them.

Another NASUWT member, Elaine Paling, said: “If we just got a group of something like teenage boys to deal with, we could deal with them,” adding that sexism from other teachers was more difficult to handle.

Teachers also reported that some pupils had used the term “simp”, derived from incel culture, as a term of abuse for other boys who were respectful of women.

Some teachers said these issues should be covered much earlier through the primary curriculum.

Primary school teacher Nik James said sexism and misogyny should be taught to young pupils before “they hit puberty, when they will speak sense on the matter, when they haven’t been affected by their older peers, or even, dare I say it, their parents”.

In total, 45% of respondents in the survey had experienced misogyny from their senior leadership team, while 31% said their headteacher had been sexist towards them.

Nearly nine in 10 had experienced verbal misogyny, while 60% said they had experienced non-verbal sexist behaviour, such as through body language.

Teachers reported they had been intimidated or undermined at work, while others said the misogyny came in comments about their clothing, body, intellect, abilities and teaching style.

About 9% of teachers had been threatened with physical violence while 3% had experienced physical violence, and 3% had been a victim of sexual violence.

Half of the teachers who had been subject to sexist comments or behaviour did not report it to senior management, and for those who did report a problem, 45% said no action was taken by their school.

A third of cases were resolved informally, while a fifth of teachers said they were not believed when they reported abuse.

One teacher said pupils made comments such as “Is it your time of (the) month, miss?” as well as sexualised remarks about other teachers’ appearance.

Another respondent said pupils had exposed themselves during a lesson, and had made sexual gestures and sex noises in the classroom to intimidate them.

“On a daily basis I feel boys are disrespectful towards me as a teacher,” one respondent said.

“I constantly hear sexist remarks from students.

“I see boys grab girls and say sexist comments. The girls are just used to it and brush it off.”

Teachers reported that pupils had derogatory attitudes towards equal rights for women, with some saying feminism equated to a desire to “kill men”, and one teacher said pupils had called them a “feminazi”.

Another teacher said: “A male student looked me dead in the eyes and asked if I’d ever been raped.”

Staff also reported that other teachers had made derogatory comments towards them.

One said their head of department had claimed they were a “real problem” when they were pregnant.

Another reported their colleagues had been “complaining about mothers taking time to look after such children, saying, ‘My wife does that for our family’, not understanding that we are the wives”.

Respondents who were pregnant or had had a child said male colleagues and female colleagues without children made belittling comments about their chances of promotion or capacity to take on extra responsibilities.

When teachers reported issues such as upskirting, colleagues made comments such as “I am not surprised, have you seen what the teachers are wearing? No wonder”, or “If they don’t want this to happen they should wear trousers – boys will be boys… they can’t help themselves”.

One teacher said: “A member of male staff brushed his groin across my buttocks whilst I was at the photocopier.

“A male student took a photo of my bottom, when I was helping another student.”

Kathryn Downs, a secondary school teacher from Leeds, proposing the motion, said that in the last year, “we have also seen cases such as the murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and the shootings of five innocent people in Plymouth by a member of the incel community”.

“A study in October 2021 suggested that there was a 6.3% chance of being suggested an incel-related video by YouTube within five ‘hops’ of a non-incel related video,” she saidy.

“Clearly this shows the dangers of failing to support and improve the mental wellbeing of boys within schools.

“Language and stereotyping attitudes such as ‘cry like a girl’ or ‘fight like a boy’ means that boys as well as girls still struggle to express their own difficulties with their mental wellbeing or feel like they need to suffer in silence.”