Gender based violence in schools working group: terms of reference

Terms of reference for the working group.


The overarching purpose of the short life working group is to develop a national framework to prevent and respond to harmful behaviour and gender based violence in schools and ensure that this work aligns to the programmes outlined in Annex A and other key current policy drivers. 

We will draw on the expertise and knowledge of members to develop new, and strengthen existing, teaching resources for primary and secondary schools which focus on prevention but also help support children and young people who are experiencing harmful behaviour and gender based violence within a school environment. The group will also highlight examples of effective practice currently underway in schools that can be included on Education Scotland’s National Improvement Hub and in the PSE Toolkit (when completed). The outputs of the group will also inform the development of a National Approach to addressing incidents of harmful behaviour and gender based violence in schools. The National Approach will provide schools, in particular, with clear guidance and approaches to prevent incidents of harmful behaviour and gender based violence – drawing on the new online Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood teaching resource. The new resource will link closely to the work being taken forward by the PSE Lead Officers network to address the issue of sexual harassment in schools and equipping school staff with the skills to recognise gender based violence. 

The National Approach will be accessible for all organisations working with children and young people. 

The group will be asked to be a contributor and reviewer of the National Approach as it is developed in conjunction with the Scottish Government. 

This work will also inform the Task Force, chaired by the Deputy First Minister, that has been set up to take forward one of the recommendations from the 2018 report of the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls to:

‘Establish a Commission on Gender Equality in Education and Learning, covering Early Years, Primary and Secondary Education and Learning tasked with providing bold and far-reaching recommendations on how gender equality can be embedded in all aspects of learning (from teacher training, to school behaviours/cultures, to the curriculum and CLD practice).'

In the development of this Terms of Reference it has been recognised there are a number of levels on which we need to address gender based violence within a school environment. This work will therefore be taken forward within a framework of three ‘pillars’.

Pillar 1 – primary prevention 

Development of work under this pillar will support: 

  • local authority and school leadership
  • staff professional learning to include all those involved in the lives of CYP
  • implementation of whole school approaches to prevention and positive relationships (drawing on existing work by Zero Tolerance and Rape Crisis Scotland)
  • universal lesson plans and teaching resources
  • effective engagement of key stakeholders e.g. children and young people, parents/carers/school staff
  • consideration of ongoing monitoring within a school environment

Pillar 2 – early intervention 

Development of work under this pillar will provide targeted support to enable:

  • confident school staff to intervene when “lower- level” or everyday inappropriate behaviours or incidents occur 
  • empowered learners who can call out abusive behaviour and support and inform appropriate school actions

Pillar 3 – focused intervention 

Development of work under this pillar will support: 

  • responses to incidents of harmful behaviour and gender based violence
  • highlighting of effective safeguarding practice and policy that meets GIRFEC and legislative requirements

As well as the review of existing resources and development of new resources for each of the three pillars, the group will also seek to identify examples of effective practice in each of the pillars. The group will initially seek to identify effective practice in schools in Scotland, however, examples in other countries can be included if they provide relevant and complimentary experiences for a school in Scotland. 

Sub groups may be established to take specific pieces of work forward. Other relevant organisation can be invited to join the sub groups. 


The Working Group will: 

  • undertake an audit of existing resources available through the National Improvement Hub and the ES website to assess their effectiveness and use, to inform inclusion within an online framework for schools and assess any gaps identified
  • identify effective practice in Equally Safe at Schools local authority pilot areas, identify gaps, lessons learned, what would be useful for primary/secondary schools on a national level, what could be scaled up to a national model and practical activities to promote in order to support early response and the best way for this to be delivered
  • deliver an online framework through the National Improvement Hub, for all schools to draw upon that provides all available resources, existing, revised and new, to support schools to prevent and address harmful behaviour and gender based violence
  • inform the development of a National Approach to Addressing young people who initiate or perpetrate harmful behaviour and gender based violence in schools (primarily focus on schools but could be used in other settings) that could also inform effective practice in other organisations and institutions working with children and young people 
  • informed development of Career Long Professional Learning (CLPL) for teachers which will look at staff capacity and capability and consider ways to increase profile, visibility, accountability – e.g. including policy drivers, inspection and monitoring and
  • consider data currently available and include advice on how schools record and monitor incidents of GBV
  • engage with key stakeholders including children, young people, parents and carers to ensure their views are captured
  • undertake a review of the impact of the new training and resources. Timelines to be agreed by group


It was estimated that it would take around 12-18 months for the group to deliver the actions outlined above.

The first meeting took place early 2020. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of this group was placed on hold. Meetings started again in December 2021 and will be held monthly, with the final meeting due to take place in 2023.

Scottish Government officials will ensure that the Deputy First Minister, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Minister for Equalities and Older People and Counsellor Parry are kept up to date with progress of the working group.


The Secretariat for the group will be provided by officials from the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate. 

The working Group will be jointly chaired by the Scottish Government and Zero Tolerance/Rape Crisis Scotland. 

Membership will include representation from:

  • Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Scottish Government Equalities Teams
  • Scottish Government Child Protection 
  • Education Scotland – Equality and Inclusion team and/or health and wellbeing team
  • Education Scotland - Improving Gender Balance and Equalities
  • Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Scottish Women’s Aid
  • Zero Tolerance
  • Rape Crisis Scotland
  • Teaching unions
  • Glasgow Caledonian University

Correspondence members

  • Children and Families, Scottish Government
  • Safer Communities Division, Scottish Government
  • Education Scotland
  • Education Scotland

Learning Directorate 
Scottish Government
March 2020

Context and background

Equally Safe:

A Delivery Plan for Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls (2017-2021) provides a framework to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls. It sets out a vision of a strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and protected, and where women and girls live free from all forms of violence and abuse – and
the attitudes that help perpetuate them. The aim of the strategy is to foster collaborative working between key partners in the public, private and third sectors to achieve this vision. Equally Safe includes a number of commitments around education:

  • pilot the development of a ‘whole school’ approach to tackling gender based violence
  • through the Developing the Young Workforce programme, develop a holistic approach towards addressing gender stereotypes and norms in schools and education settings
  • promote prevention programmes within the wider context of positive relationships and behaviour in schools, and encourage the harmonisation of prevention approaches across local authorities

In addition, through the 2019 20 Programme for Government, the Scottish Government is committed to taking forward a range of actions aimed at developing mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships amongst children and young people encompassing the Equally Safe delivery plan, the Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy, and the work of the Expert Group on Preventing sexual offending involving children and young people. This will contribute more widely to this Government’s work to end violence against women and girls. In addition, this work is closely linked to Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) and the ongoing work at Education Scotland through improving education and training in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). 

There are a range of inspection activities undertaken with a focus on gender equality alongside other aspects of equality amongst learners. This is linked to Quality Indicator (QI) 3.1- Ensuring wellbeing, equality and inclusion. Inspectors consider two key strands and principles when looking at QI 3.1. These are:

  • how effectively a school is narrowing any achievement gap between groups of learners and
  • how effectively a school actively promotes equality and diversity and tackles discrimination

In addition, Education Scotland is leading work around Improving Gender Balance and Equalities programme at Education Scotland which the working group will consider during its lifetime. 

In November 2018, the Everyday Heroes consultation published a call for action on gender-based violence and gender equality from children and young people. The programme was funded by the Scottish Government to inform and influence the Equally Safe actions. The programme consulted children and young people across Scotland, including 125 children and young people through engagement sessions, 439 young survey participants and 71 young abuse survivors. Of the participants:

  • 50% of children and young people had experienced domestic abuse
  • 31% had experienced gender-based violence
  • 10% had experienced rape or sexual assault and
  • 7% has experienced sexual abuse

The Young Women’s Lead Committee has also undertaken an investigation into sexual harassment in schools, and developed a range of recommendations around sexual education, reporting mechanisms, and support in schools. These recommendations are being considered as part of the review of Personal and Social Education (PSE) which was published in January 2019. Action 16 of the review of PSE was:

'Education Scotland will convene a PSE Lead Officers network to develop resources to support all school staff and pupils, initially to focus on resources to address the issue of sexual harassment in schools, and develop a dedicated section on an appropriate online resource to support the consistent delivery of HWB/PSE.'

This network has met on several occasions over the course of 2019, considering the recommendations of the Young Women’s Lead Committee as part of their work to develop resources to support all school staff and pupils. This work will contribute towards the overall work of this group and will inform the development of the National Approach.

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