Ofsted’s chief inspector has warned against a culture of “victim blaming” amid reports that primary schools have told girls to wear shorts under skirts.
Amanda Spielman said schools should find solutions in addressing any problems that could be making young girls feel “uncomfortable” when doing somersaults or cartwheels in the playground.
Her comments follow reports that some schools have asked children to wear shorts under dresses amid concerns that their underwear would be on show.
Tom Hunt, Conservative MP for Ipswich and a member of the Education Select Committee, questioned Ms Spielman about the reports and asked whether she believed Ofsted’s inspection framework can detect this “misogyny” in schools.
Ms Spielman responded: “I think it’s really important that we don’t slide into a sort of national culture that is essentially victim blaming.”
“In a primary school I would very much hope that we can find solutions in addressing any cultural problems that could be making girls feel uncomfortable doing normal things that every child should be doing in the playground. Doing somersaults or cartwheels or what have you.
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Mr Hunt – who said teachers had told girls to wear shorts under their skirts “to prevent boys upskirting” – said: “I think it’s very concerning that that sort of question would be asked and that kind of does verge on victim blaming from what I can see.”
Ms Spielman appeared before MPs on the Education Select Committee following the publication of Ofsted’s major report on sexual harassment in schools, which found that around nine in 10 girls reported incidents of sexist name calling and being sent unwanted explicit pictures or videos.
Ofsted inspectors were told that boys are sharing “nudes” among themselves like a “collection game” on WhatsApp and Snapchat, while some girls have experienced “unwanted touching in school corridors”.
Ms Spielman said she spoke to a sample of girls who had left schools within the past two years and only one of them was able to say that they had never been sent a photograph by a boy of their naked body.
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“Most of the girls laugh that off and think it’s contemptible. They would not want to be pulled into safeguarding procedures by reason of being sent a photograph that they think is simply contemptible,” the Ofsted chief told MPs.
She added: “In sexual misconduct of every kind, there is a spectrum from the truly evil and appalling at one extreme, all the way down to things which are essentially clumsy explorations of emerging adolescent sexuality.
“And one of the things that we noticed in doing this work was that it was really difficult for schools to find a good way of thinking about and representing that gradient and understanding where the right place to draw the line was in terms of deciding what was the cause of a serious concern, and what was simply a matter of education where the messages that reinforced (a) culture that helps boys and girls understand what oversteps the mark, and helps them understand the importance of respecting that.
“So there is one piece that’s about cultural education, and one piece that is about the point at which you invoke formal proceedings of any kind, whether it’s safeguarding or criminal.”