A poll conducted by the education union NASUWT reveals a shocking reality. 58% of female teachers regularly face sexual comments and lewd gestures in the classroom from their own students. And 45% report that no action has been taken by management when complaints have been raised.
In the wake of the horrific murder of schoolgirl Elianne Andam last month, it has become painfully clear that we must address the sexist attitudes that are deeply entrenched in class society.
The scale of the problem should not be trivialised or underestimated. From my own experiences, and from anecdotal reports I’ve heard from other staff, it is clear that this is a major issue in British schools.
I’ve witnessed teachers’ faces being superimposed on pornographic images. Female colleagues of mine have been on the receiving end of aggressive, sexual remarks from students. And school leaders have refused to take meaningful action in response to any of this.
Pupils are frequently exposed to misogynic behaviour and beliefs at school. 45% of female staff report that they have experienced sexism from school bosses. Students frequently see female teachers being undermined by male colleagues. As a result, male students are more likely to ignore the instructions of female staff.
The prevalence of sexism in capitalist society leads to abusive behaviour and language becoming normalised amongst students. 71% of secondary-aged children regularly hear derogatory terms like ‘slut’ or ‘slag’ being used towards girls. And 59% of female students have faced some form of sexual harassment at school.
Even primary schools have reported incidents of sexual harassment. 17% of primary teachers have witnessed such behaviour. Most concerning is that children are not reporting these incidents, given how consistent and widespread they are.
Given the alarming scale of this issue, schools often find themselves ill-equipped to tackle sexism head-on.
Budgets for external speakers and resources are already stretched. The Department for Education is implementing further cuts to per-pupil allowances. School buildings are literally crumbling.
Many teachers, burdened by heavy workloads, lack the necessary training to confidently deliver lessons that discuss social questions and challenge sexism. In most cases, these are delegated to non-specialist staff.
Even when such sessions can be provided, their limited standalone impact is evident. One primary school in the south of England, for example, claimed that even following workshops on misogyny, following a violent incident within the school, several boys still said they could not see any problem with the reactionary views espoused by Andrew Tate.
Many students are disgusted by the wave of misogyny they see around them. And the same is true of education workers. What is lacking is organisation and a clear socialist alternative.
As individuals, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of rampant sexism. But on the basis of organisation and united action, these problems can be tackled head-on in the classroom.
Communist students should get organised – agitating and explaining to their peers where these toxic ideas really come from, and how the struggle against sexism is linked to the fight against capitalism.
As part of a communist cell, students could organise meetings, campaigns, and protests on school grounds against these poisonous attitudes, pointing to how they’re perpetuated by the ruling class in order to divide us.
Such student groups could also reach out to teachers and other staff, organised in unions. The aim should be to forge a united front between students and workers, in order to fight against all the attacks that schools are facing due to capitalism’s crises.
A united movement of student-staff solidarity, fighting for bold socialist demands, would strengthen teachers in their struggles against management. And it would draw in other students, shaking the consciousness of those who might previously have held backward beliefs and prejudices or sexist habits.
This is how we can not only tackle sexism in schools, but raise a new generation of sincere and courageous class fighters.