As many of us are well aware, our school days stay with us for life.
From the teachers who inspired us to the fellow students who taught us what a friendship looks like, every experience we have within the school gates leaves an imprint on us that we rarely shake.
For that reason, there can be few bigger failings than allowing sexual abuse and sexual violence to go unchecked in schools.
Parents send their kids to school assuming that they will learn, make friends and be kept safe from harm.
The consequences of breaking that contract of trust are severe, the consequences of letting sexual abuse go unchecked are life-altering.
Last week Ofsted announced the findings of their report into sexual abuse in schools. These findings were stark, and quite frankly, appalling.
According to the inspection body, sexual harassment has become routine in schools.
Around 9 in 10 girls reported sexist name calling and being sent unwanted explicit pictures.
Teachers are not equipped or supported to respond, reinforcing children’s view that it’s not worth reporting.
Labour has consistently pushed for urgent action to tackle sexual abuse in schools.
Our recently published strategy on violence against women and girls includes clear, structured policies to tackle misogyny and sexual abuse in schools – from embedding this within teacher training to national guidance on incident recording, and reviewing the inspection process for safeguarding.
Labour has a plan. The Conservatives – despite being in power for a decade – do not.
The fact that government has known about this abuse for years and refused to act, makes this an absolute scandal.
In 2016 the Women and Equalities Committee of MPs reported on sexual abuse in schools and pushed the government to act – yet on key measures such as consistent data collection, they refused.
Guidance for teachers was only updated after a young girl took court action against the Department for Education, and in 2019 my colleagues Jess Phillips MP and Emma Hardy MP were forced to write directly to headteachers to raise awareness.
The government’s inaction belies two depressing realities. Firstly, their lack of focus on tackling sexual harassment.
Misogyny finds root in a culture where it is accepted – and for too long, it has been accepted at the top of government.
Secondly, the low priority they afford to children and education. Gavin Williamson recently claimed in Parliament that his department had a ‘laser-like focus’ on delivering for pupils.
After a week in which sexual abuse was found to be rampant in schools, and in which his government offered just £50 per child a year in catch-up funding (32 times less than in the US), his claims will ring hollow to parents across the country.
Unlike the government, education is Labour’s number one priority.
Not only have we developed a clear plan to deal with school sexual abuse, but in recent weeks we’ve published a comprehensive Children’s Recovery Plan demonstrating our ambition for children right across this country.
Labour knows that protecting and investing in children’s futures cannot wait.
After systematic failures on school sexual abuse and their miserly recovery plan from the pandemic – it’s now time for the government to reach the same conclusion.