14th January 2015
Teachers are on the frontline on the fight against child sexual exploitation, Ann Coffey MP said in a lecture at Manchester University today.
The campaigning MP told 400 trainee and newly qualified teachers at an Inclusion and Social Justice Conference at the University:
“You can make a difference to children’s lives by helping to raise awareness of the issue and recognising the importance of changing attitudes and culture.
“As a responsible adult who has daily, sometimes hourly, contact with children you are in a unique position to really “see” and understand what is going on in their lives and to pick up on the many warning signs.”
“You, as teachers, can see which children are coming into school distressed, dishevelled or looking constantly tired and neglected.”
Ms Coffey was giving a lecture on the findings of her recent report: “Real Voices – Child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester” published in October last year.
The report said that child sexual exploitation was a ‘real and ongoing problem’ and had become a ‘social norm’ in some neighbourhoods of Greater Manchester. It called for a sea change in public attitudes away from a culture of blaming children and young people for bringing about their own sexual exploitation.
Ms Coffey, who herself qualified as a teacher, and later did an MSc in psychiatric social work at Manchester University before working as a social worker in Greater Manchester, outlined the main findings of her report. These included the revelation that in the past six years in Greater Manchester there have only been about 1,000 convictions out of 13,000 reported cases of major sexual offences against children.
Ms Coffey said schools are a universal provision and have a very important role in giving children and young people information about CSE so that they can protect themselves from getting involved in harmful, abusive and inappropriate behaviour.
They also have a key role not only in the early identification of concerns but in early interventions preventing CSE.
She said sexual exploitation of children and young people by other children and young people is prevalent and is a particular area where teachers can make a difference.
She said she would continue to campaign for Personal, Social and Health and Economic Education to be compulsory in all schools.
“Because PSHE is not compulsory, there is a piecemeal approach in Greater Manchester with a huge variation in the kind of information that individual schools are giving to children.”
“In the digital age children’s communication is not limited by the schools physical boundaries. Children have access to the internet and talk to children in other schools and across the conurbation and indeed around the world. Therefore it is important that every school properly gives its young people information on CSE which will enable them to form healthy relationships.”
She stressed the importance of listening carefully to children, and said:
“I was surprised that the problem or reality is not always what you think. Before I sat down with groups of children I thought the main threat they would tell me they faced was “online”. But many shrugged that off and said you can block it or delete it.
“Shockingly, a group of schoolgirls I visited said it was the real life approaches on the street they feared most. They told me of being regularly approached and harassed by older men in the street on their way home from school and urged to get into cars.
“This harassment was a revelation to the teachers present at our discussion even though there is a strong approach to safeguarding at that particular school. That indicated to me how important it is to hear from children directly about what is happening in their lives and not just to make assumptions.”
She added: “I am sure I do not need to tell you that school is not just about promoting academic success it is also about the safety and wellbeing of students.
“I was surprised how many children told me they would not go to their teachers for help. One who did pluck up courage told me: “No-one cared or listened. When I did try and tell the teacher she said she was too busy. She said ‘Shoo.’”
“Sexual exploitation is not a new phenomenon. It has been around for centuries. What has changed though is the knowledge about CSE and a growing debate about its causes.
“No one agency can tackle this alone. Neither schools, the police, the CPS, health or children’s services can tackle it in isolation. There needs to be a common understanding about what is meant by child sexual exploitation and a shared commitment to confront it in whatever form it takes.
“As teachers, aware of the issues and committed to tackling it, you are very much part of the solution.”