How schools tackle sexual image-sharing among pupils: Insights from a teacher

A boy and a girl in uniform, working in a classroom at school.

Dr. Tamasine Preece shares her experience of sexual image-sharing among pupils in schools.

Learn how schools currently manage the issue, and see her advice for improving existing policies.

What leads children to sharing nudes?

The making, sending, sharing and storing of child-generated sexual images – or nudes – is one of the current key issues impacting on schools in terms of child safety and wellbeing.

All children with a smartphone or webcam-enabled laptop are at risk of involvement in this behaviour. However, my interactions with professionals and children suggest that there are a number of factors that may determine the nature of the child’s involvement and experience. These could include:

  • their sex;
  • social capital; and
  • vulnerabilities such as additional learning needs (ALN), adverse childhoose experiences (ACEs) or poor mental health needs.

This is reflected in government guidance published in February 2024 and issued to schools in England.

The literature on which sex is more likely to send nudes is varied, but my conversations with children suggest different perceptions towards sexting between boys and girls.

Many boys perceive sexting as a low-risk and low-consequence behaviour. However, many boys also use generic sexual images that they find online. As such, they are less likely to be identified or suffer social consequences should someone share the image further.

Images are often sent by boys as a way of gaining the girl’s trust; to make her feel that she has leverage should her image spread further. During discussions, however, children are generally able to recognise that, whilst a risky activity for both boys and girls, girls are most likely to suffer significant social consequences such as shaming, humiliation and ostracisation.

What school policies are in place?

Exact policies and protocols regarding the response of school leaders to incidents of making, sharing, sending or storing nudes will vary by local authority or academy trust.

For students under the age of 18, most schools must notify parents and carers. They must also report the case to the local safeguarding body. In some cases, school police liaison officers will also advise the school.

Training for relevant school staff will vary by region. Still, most professional training prioritises themes such as:

  • the legal implications of child-generated sexual images;
  • student wellbeing; and
  • assessment of the incident for factors related to safeguarding such as the relationship between the involved parties, coercion and age-disparity.

How could these policies improve?

Many policies, resources and interventions attempt to prevent the making, sharing, sending and storing of sexual images by children by focusing on communication related to not making and not sending.

To do so, however, is to misunderstand the power dynamic that often exists behind these activities.

Sexting sits alongside a number of other behaviours such as sextortion and ‘revenge porn’ that exist in cultural context. These things often normalise and glamorise sexual exploitation.

Messages about the legal and safety implications of child-generated sexual images are extremely important. However, teachers and other professionals who work with children and young people should include discourse about not requesting nudes.

Furthermore, they should create opportunities to explore the underpinning themes of exploitation and pornography, healthy relationships, and respect and care for others.

Resources for parents and carers

Learn about sexual image-sharing, exploitation and more to help start important conversations.

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