New study looks at teacher perpetrated sexual misconduct in post-primary schools in Ireland and the UK

Aug 29 2023 Posted: 10:39 IST

A joint study, led by the University of Greenwich with support from University of Galway, Massey University, and Brighton and Sussex Medical School, has collected anecdotal experiences of sexual misconduct in post-primary schools in Ireland and the UK.  


A total of 593 respondents from Ireland (224) and the UK (369) completed the survey. 


All respondents took park in the survey because they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or misconduct by a teacher during their time in secondary school.  


The study, which is the first of its kind in Europe, recruited respondents (who had to be over the age of 18) to participate via various social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. The study recruitment social media post read: “Did you experience any sexually inappropriate comments or behaviour from a teacher during your time in secondary school (or 6th form college (UK))? Anonymously share your experience in this 5-min survey”. 


The full report is available here 


Overall, sexist harassment by a teacher was the most commonly experienced form of misconduct experienced by both Irish (86%) and UK (95%) respondents, for example, being treated differently because of their gender. The second most commonly experienced was sexual harassment (72% and 85% in Ireland and the UK respectively). Common forms of sexual harassment included making offensive remarks about the student’s physical appearance or sexual activity, and making attempts to discuss sexual matters with the student.  


Kate Dawson, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Greenwich and lead author of the study said: “The findings indicate that some teachers need specific training regarding what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.  

“Reporting mechanisms also need to be put in place that enable students, or concerned school staff, to report misconduct without fear of repercussions. These preliminary findings need to be investigated further within a larger sample to find out how prevalent this issue is in UK and Irish schools.” 


Pádraig MacNeela, Senior Lecturer at University of Galway and co-author of the study; said: “This study sheds light on an important issue for the first time. It demonstrates that the culture change we need to support in our education settings is wide ranging. It includes supporting staff who work in post-primary schools to speak up and address staff-student harassment if they ever encounter it”. 


The responses collected highlighted a wide range of first-hand experiences: 


“The teacher took me to [private location] and lifted up my [shirt] to rub my breast and nipple ‘to help regulate my breathing’.”  (Age undisclosed, Female, Irish Respondent) 


“Constantly [flirting]. Friends said he was flirting but I wasn’t sure. When I left school [he] contacted me and asked me on a date.” (25-34, Female, Irish Respondent) 


“The female deputy head used to measure the length of our skirts and said they had to be a certain length ‘out of respect for male members of staff’.”  (18-24, Female, UK respondent) 


Among the UK respondents, 98% were female, 1.5% were male, and 0.3% identified as genderqueer or non-conforming. 65% of respondents were 25-34, at the time of study participation. 


Among the Irish respondents, the majority identified as a woman, 88%; 9% identified as a man; and 3.1% identified as genderqueer or non-conforming. Most respondents were age 18-34, 31%; 26% were 25-34; and 21% were 35-44 at the time they completed the survey. The remaining sample were aged 45 and over.  


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