Misogyny and sexual threats against teachers rising but 'under-recorded', unions warn

28 March 2024, 14:03

EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley and Tara Woods, headteacher of Moffat Academy
EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley and Tara Woods, headteacher of Moffat Academy. Picture: LBC

By Rebecca Brady.

Teachers and union leaders across the UK have told LBC levels of misogyny and abuse of female teachers are rising, while official figures in Scotland remain low.

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Sarah - a supply teacher for 15 schools across London - says general abuse is escalating, but a lot of what she deals with is gender-based.

"This one boy had said 'I want to f*** your granny. Oh wait, she's probably dead. I'll get the devil to f*** her six feet under.'

"Lots of jokes about bending me over and things like that. Just really horrific, awful things like that and I've lost the number of times I've been called a b****."

Teaching representatives from the NASUWT, NEU, EIS and SSTA agree the problem is worsening across the UK - but in Scotland official figures don't reflect that.

Read more: Teachers 'must not talk to pupils about Andrew Tate' after spate of 'shocking misogynistic incidents'

Read more: Assistant headteacher tells LBC about equality sessions in school to tackle sexism among young people

Headteacher Tara Woods speaks to LBC about abuse of teachers

Only 96 pupils have been suspended for threats of sexual violence in Scotland in the decade since 2014. In the current school year, figures obtained by LBC show fewer than five pupils in have been suspended for the same reason. In England, more than 6,000 pupils have been suspended for sexual misconduct between 2022 and 2023 alone.

The general secretary of the EIS - Scotland's largest teaching union - has told LBC the low numbers don't reflect what teachers are experiencing.

"The use of highly sexualised, abusive language towards teachers right up to actual physical assault that is of a sexual nature," Andrea Bradley said. "Our members are somewhat reticent about reporting those kinds of behaviours. There is something of a taboo."

Several teachers in Scotland told LBC they won’t report because there are no repercussions for pupils under the ‘inclusion strategy’. It prevents teachers singling out a pupil – making detentions and exclusions effectively off-limits.

Union leader Andrea Bradley discusses abuse of teachers

The same policy is now being explored in London.

"There might be some schools in Scotland where their data and statistics are really, really low but I would say that's because they aren't actually recording that formally," Tara Woods, headteacher of Moffat Academy, said.

When asked what is fuelling the rise in misogyny and gender-based abuse, one name cropped up among teachers time and again: Andrew Tate.

The influence controversial social media figures have on children is widely documented, but unions are worried about the impact on teachers, too.

"The things that were said to me were truly kind of dark," Sarah said.

"I've definitely felt physically intimidated. Very often, actually, they're taller than I am. Even if it's not like they're physically bigger than you, the things they might say to you would absolutely just be classed as atrocious bullying if they were done to another pupil. It wears you down after a while."

Unions, teachers and pupils say tighter regulation of social media would help tackle these problems.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s schools should be safe learning environments for all – violence and abusive behaviour towards pupils or staff is completely unacceptable.

"The First Minister and Education Secretary recently launched the Gender Based Violence in Schools Framework as part of a commitment to eradicate misogyny in Scotland’s schools and the Scottish Government continues to take action to tackle behaviour in schools. Work is well underway to bring forward a joint National Action Plan with COSLA to set out the range of actions needed at both local and national level, which will publish this Spring."