Girls should not have to wear shorts under their uniform to protect against upskirting, the Education Select Committee has heard, as Ofsted’s chief warns it fuels victim blaming.
Female pupils are being wrongly encouraged to take steps to ensure that their male peers are unable to take pictures of their underwear without them knowing, Conservative MP Tom Hunt told the meeting on Tuesday.
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools, responded that encouraging girls to take steps to cover themselves rather than clamping down on those who upskirt is putting blame at the doors of victims rather than perpetrators.
"I think it’s really important that we don’t slide into a national culture that is essentially victim blaming," said Ms Spielman.
"At primary schools, 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 any child should be doing in the playground – somersaults, cartwheels, or what have you."
Mr Hunt added: "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."
Nine in 10 girls report incidents of sexist name calling
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.
"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.
Layering shorts under school dresses has become popular particularly in secondary schools, where teenagers say it protects them from upskirting.
The UK’s leading police officer for child protection earlier this month expressed support for primary schools that introduce "modesty shorts" for girls as young as four.
‘The culture in schools has got to change’
Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, said: "My view is that anything that can be done to ensure that young girls feel more secure has got to be good news, even modesty shorts, but the culture in schools has got to change at the same time.
"The culture has to tackle the misogyny and the sexual harassment and the sending of nude photos. We have to look at the impact the porn industry is having on the way young men are now developing and exploring their sexuality."
The Education Select Committee also heard that tackling the problem of young people viewing adult content on their mobile phones, and the cultural obsession with social media, is fuelling the issue.
Ms Spielman said banning phones in schools would only go so far in tackling this.
"It would certainly give young people some hours a day away from social media but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem that the things happening are happening out of school at least as much and possibly more as in school," she said.
"So giving people a bit of respite is great but it doesn’t solve the problem."