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Peer-on-peer sexual harassment among 16 to 18-year-old learners in further education


In June 2023, we published our thematic on peer-on-peer sexual harassment among 16 to 18-year-old learners in further education colleges across Wales. Our report draws on findings from in person visits to all 12 further education colleges in Wales. We held workshops with learners, spoke to leaders, teachers and support staff in colleges and looked at a wide range of documents relating to existing processes involving potential incidents of sexual harassment.

Our recommendations

Further education colleges should:

  1. Ensure that all learners benefit from opportunities to take part in learning activities and discussions about forming and maintaining healthy relationships
  2. Develop strategies to prevent and tackle misogynistic attitudes and cultures developing among groups of learners
  3. Ensure that all relevant staff members undertake professional learning that enables them to confidently recognise and respond to sexual harassment as well as help learners develop their understanding of healthy relationships
  4. Ensure that all learners feel safe and comfortable in all areas of college buildings, grounds, virtual spaces, and transport
  5. Record, categorise and analyse instances of sexual harassment, assault and abuse in a consistent way that enables leaders to identify trends and take appropriate measures in response

The Welsh Government should:

  1. Make clear which aspects of Welsh Government education guidance relating to sexual harassment apply to further education colleges and clarify any differences between requirements in schools and further education colleges
  2. Provide appropriate guidance to colleges to help them adopt a co-ordinated and consistent approach to recording and categorising instances of sexual harassment

What our thematic review said

We found that the issue of peer-on-peer sexual harassment among 16 to 18-year-old college learners is complex and widely underreported, with many learners choosing not to, or being unsure how to, report incidents of sexual harassment for a variety of reasons. Colleges have well-established learner disciplinary policies and processes and most deal effectively with the most serious reported cases of alleged peer-on-peer sexual harassment.

College systems for accurate recording and analysis of sexual harassment among learners are underdeveloped. Too often, incidents of sexual harassment are recorded and categorised within generic classifications of bullying. Many staff told us that they lack confidence and feel that there is a need for more professional development and updates in relation to sexual harassment.

Where colleges have held specific training sessions on addressing sexual harassment, these have helped staff to recognise incidents and address them appropriately. Overall, there is also a lack of further education specific resources to support college staff in dealing with the issue of peer-on-peer sexual harassment. Collaborative work to address these concerns has begun recently but it is too early to evaluate its effectiveness or impact.

Our discussions with learners and staff suggest that learners identifying as female, LGBTQ+ and learners with additional learning needs may be more likely to experience sexual harassment. Sexual harassment incidents involve a mix of face-to-face and online issues.

Full report