Sexist and sexual bullying

Guidance and resources to help you tackle sexist and sexual bullying


Sometimes called biological sex, anatomical sex, or physical sex, sex is comprised of things like genitals, chromosomes, hormones. Typically people are assigned female, male, or intersex at birth. Sex is not the same as gender.


Gender is about how we feel, rather than just our bodies. The gender spectrum typically ranges from feminine to masculine, with some gender identities sitting outside of this. Gender is expressed by social or cultural distinctions and differences, rather than just biological ones.

Gender identity

Your psychological sense of self. Who you, in your head, know yourself to be, based on how much you align (or don’t align) with what you understand to be the options for gender.

Gender expression

The ways you present gender through your actions, clothing, demeanor, and more. Your outward-facing self, and how that’s interpreted by others based on gender norms.


Prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender.

Definitions adapted from The GenderBread person.

‘Sexism can be a belief that one sex is superior to or more valuable than another sex. It imposes limits on what men and boys can and should do and what women and girls can and should do. The concept of sexism was originally formulated to raise consciousness about the oppression of girls and women, although by the early 21st century it had sometimes been expanded to include the oppression of any sex, including men and boys, intersexual people, and transgender people.’

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What type of behaviours could constitute sexual bullying?

The type of behaviours within a school environment that could constitute sexual bullying, or could contribute to an environment where sexual bullying is more likely to occur includes:

  • Sexual comments, taunts and threats
  • Inappropriate physical contact that makes the recipient feel uncomfortable or scared (this can include hugging and kissing)
  • Distributing sexual material (including pornography); sending photos or videos of a sexual nature
  • Making phone calls and sending texts or messages of a sexual nature
  • ‘Games’ with a sexual element that may make a child or young person feel uncomfortable or scared (e.g. taking clothes off, kissing or touching games)
  • Pressure to spend time alone or apart from others with another person, or people, that makes the person feel uncomfortable or scared (e.g. behind school buildings, in the toilets or changing rooms, in the field)
  • Pressure to be in a relationship with another person, or to engage in a sexual act with another person – both inside and outside of school
  • Sexism in all its forms; pressure to conform to particular gender ‘norms’ (e.g. pressure on boys to have multiple partners, or pressure on boys and girls to be heterosexual)

Discussing any type of bullying behaviour can be challenging, but the subject of sexual and gender related bullying can be particularly sensitive. With sexual bullying it’s especially important to consider whether behaviours are age appropriate, or whether they may be illuminating the need for exploration and intervention by professionals. Brook’s Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool can be a really useful starting point and applies to children aged 0-17. If you have any concerns about sexual bullying amongst children that you work with then we would recommend that you seek specialist support.

Local guidance and resources

National guidance, resources and links

There is now a new section in Ofsted's EIF, specifically about sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence (paragraphs 306 - 310).

Paragraph 306 sets out how inspectors will handle allegations and instances of sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence by checking that the school has:

  • appropriate school-wide policies in place that make it clear that sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence (including sexualised language) is unacceptable, with appropriate sanctions in place 
  • school’s policies are reflected in its curriculum 
  • staff with appropriate knowledge of part 5 the government’s ‘Keeping children safe in education’ guidance 
  • all pupil concerns are taken seriously and they are supported to report concerns about harmful sexual behaviour freely 
  • that comprehensive records of all allegations are kept

Inspectors will expect schools to be alert to factors that increase vulnerability or potential vulnerability such as mental ill health, domestic abuse, children with additional needs, and children from groups at greater risk of exploitation and/or of feeling unable to report abuse, for example, girls and LGBT children.

This is essential reading for SLT and DSLs.

Equality Act 2010  

Under the Equality Act 2010, schools must not discriminate.  In their teaching of Relationships Education and RSE (Relationships and Sex Education), schools should ensure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met, and that all pupils understand the importance of equality and respect. Schools must ensure that they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010, under which sex or gender identity are amongst the protected characteristics.

The Statutory Guidance on RSE highlights that provisions within the Equality Act allow schools to take positive action, where it can be shown that it is proportionate, to deal with particular disadvantages affecting one group because of a protected characteristic. A school, could, for example, provide additional support to students affected by sexist or sexual bullying, and can provide additional education to all to challenge attitudes and behaviours.


Intersectionality theory (Crenshaw, 1989) highlights that people are often disadvantaged or privileged by individual characteristics, which ‘intersect’ with one another and overlap: their race, age, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, religion and other identity markers.

Many of these intersections include protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010; which must be considered in regard to the intention and impact of the behaviours, and additional vulnerabilities.

While just one individual characteristic can make somebody more susceptible to discrimination, intersectionality allows us to recognise that some will have overlapping and cumulative vulnerabilities.  

UN Convention on the Rights of a Child

The UN Convention on the Rights of a Child states that:

  • The Convention applies to every child without discrimination, whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status, whatever they think or say, whatever their family background (Article 2 – non-discrimination)
  • Governments must protect children from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation (Article 34 – sexual exploitation)
  • Every child has the right to an identity (Article 8 - protection and preservation of identity)
  • The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children (Article 3 - best interests of the child)
  • Every child has the right to an education. Primary education must be free and different forms of secondary education must be available to every child. Discipline in schools must respect children’s dignity and their rights (Article 28 – right to education)
  • Education must develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full (Article 29 – goals of education)


Ofsted expect schools to be environments where commonalities are identified and celebrated, difference is valued and nurtured, and bullying, harassment and violence are never tolerated.   

Oxfordshire County Council – Committed to addressing inequality

As a county council, we have an important role to play in this. Each day we work hard to tackle inequality, protect the vulnerable, and help support the life chances of the many communities that live in Oxfordshire.

By listening to people’s concerns, taking on board feedback and suggestions, and putting in place a range of actions and interventions, we will work hard to ensure that equality and inclusivity are embedded into our policies, practices and service delivery and, most importantly, into our organisational DNA.  

Local support

  • The Oxfordshire County Council youth website provides lots of information on a range of themes and includes links to national and local support. 
  • SAFE! Project support for young people who have been victims of crime, including bullying in relation to sex and gender identity. SAFE! is a charity providing support in the Thames Valley area including Oxfordshire. 
  • For guidance and resources to help you tackle homophobic, biphobic or transphobic (HBT) bullying, click here.

Mental health support

If you are concerned that a young person is at risk of or experiencing mental health problems, it is crucial that they are referred for mental health support when appropriate. Please contact for more information and to make a referral.