The Case for Publicly Ranking Safeguarding at UK Educational Institutions
Recently, as you may know, I have been very vocal about my experience with rape culture while attending Colchester Royal Grammar School (CRGS). Naturally, this made me think about what the school could do to improve the situation and how we can assess the extent to which measures they implement creates actual change.
All along the answer has been right in front of me. I used to work for a local mental health charity as the Research & Evaluation Co-ordinator – it was my role to decide how to measure the effectiveness of the programs provided in order to give feedback to funding bodies and change the programs if necessary, to make them more effective.
This same process would suit both secondary schools and higher education institutions in the UK. Ideally, students would be anonymously surveyed once a term (at least to start with, given the scale of the problem) to assess levels of sexual harassment, abuse, misogyny and assault. These statistics should be broken down by characteristics such as sex, gender, age bracket, ethnicity, and sexuality.
Further, given the evident notorious failure to effectively provide Sex and Relationship Education, these surveys should be carried out in such a way that avoids using broad terms such as ‘rape’ and ‘sexual violence'.
Instead, as demonstrated by Dr Jess Taylor of VictimFocus, it will be more effective to describe specific and clear acts (e.g., In the last term have you: received an unsolicited nude picture? Been forced or coerced to give or receive oral sex? Etc.) This is because many, myself included in my youth, may not realise such incidents amount to an assault.
Of course, with this survey, there will need to be stringent safeguarding measures carried out to ensure the safety of students disclosing such information and provide vital support, but this is something specialists can offer more insight into.
In my opinion, I believe schools care far more about public rankings than they do occasional poor media coverage. As such, it would be beneficial if findings were made public. An independent body such as Ofsted could carry out these surveys at secondary schools and it would help to pressure schools to understand and fix the issue at hand.
Surveying students at regular intervals would enable them to assess whether measures introduced are effective and if not, re-assess them and change them accordingly.
I believe this is also vital when it comes to higher education too. I attended the University of Warwick and there were a number of public scandals that occurred during my time there, including the rape chat scandal.
Currently, UK university league tables such as The Guardian and Times Higher Education base their results on topics such as ‘satisfied with course’. With this, there should be a score along the lines of ‘safety’ which assesses the level of sexual harassment, abuse, misogyny and assault students face to force institutions to care more and actively fight against it.
Given the fact these instances seemingly occur more at UK universities that top the league tables (e.g. the University of Oxford, mentioned 57 times in Soma Sara’s Everyone’s Invited initiative), the chance of dropping down the rankings will likely help force them into taking necessary and effective action.
I am by no means an expert on the topic but I have experience in longitudinal evaluation and am yet to hear something I believe would actually force educational institutions in the UK to change - so this is my offering.