How the #MeToo movement in schools highlights the importance of robust polices for raising concerns

15 July 2021 / Insight posted in Article

As the #MeToo movement gains more momentum within schools, the importance of having robust and well-communicated policies for raising concerns in the workplace cannot be underestimated.

The Sarah Everard tragedy prompted thousands of people to share their stories, thoughts and opinions on female safety within the workplace and in everyday life. The Everyone’s Invited website particularly focuses on the education sector and demonstrated how female students feel unsafe and unheard. Lessons can be learnt from these shared experiences and measures must be put in place to help employees and students raise their concerns confidentially, feel protected regarding whistleblowing and know that they will be listened to without judgement.

The more that can be done to encourage employees and students to speak up if they have concerns, can help promote the understanding that every voice matters. Employees and students must be able to raise any type of issue or grievance without feeling they might be penalised and should also be provided with the appropriate support to maintain their wellbeing throughout the process.

Clearly defined policies and procedures formalise the process that employees and employers are expected to follow and give both parties an understanding of their responsibilities throughout. Employees also have the opportunity to independently learn about the process before reaching out to the most responsible and relevant individual.

Several schools have introduced different initiatives to address concerns from students and parents in response to the movement. A lot of these initiatives involve educating students on topics such as consent, and casual and overt sexism. Other schools have explored different forms of listening, giving students the platform and space to hear and understand the experiences of others. It’s also viewed as important that these conversations include parents and help to provide reassurance for students that they can reach out to their teacher or parents for help at any time without fear of judgement.

For every voice to feel truly heard, leaders must take more of a holistic view that goes beyond policies addressing issues retrospectively. The following measures can be considered to proactively foster a culture where every voice matters:

  • Implementing multiple platforms of communication that promote two-way dialogue such as regular one-to-ones, appraisal meetings, staff surveys etc.
  • Ensuring that organisational policies, values and behaviours help to provide employees with a meaningful voice and make them feel safe to report offensive behaviour.
  • Providing senior leaders with conflict management training and to provide a toolkit to handling difficult conversations and improve their confidence in tackling these situations.
  • Encouraging consultation and partnerships with recognised unions.
  • Encouraging employee involvement in decision-making processes where possible.

(Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2021)

Equally, this approach can be applied to students – however, schools must ensure that teachers are able to listen effectively and act quickly as conversations arise, or when they notice a student might be struggling.

Consistently demonstrating ethical leadership and communicating openly and transparently with both employees and students builds relationships based on trust and allows individuals to feel comfortable that their experiences will be heard and considered objectively.

Nurturing a culture in schools that encourages both employees and students to raise concerns and promotes open discussion to remove taboos can help foster an ethos and atmosphere where teachers and staff feel listened to, and in turn, can help students find their own voice.