Caroline Jordan, headmistress of Headington School and vice president of the Girls' Schools Association, explains why the #MeToo trend on social media cannot be ignored in education.

IT'S hard to pinpoint what opened the floodgates.

What led to the outpouring of allegations and accusations of sexual harassment, assault and worse; followed swiftly by apologies, admissions and recriminations.

Look at the media and you would think that everywhere, all men are assaulting and abusing and no woman is safe.

The #MeToo campaign has seen women – and men too – opening up for the first time about how they have been the victims of this kind of behaviour.

In many prominent cases we are talking about serious allegations of abuse of power.

In others, it is the low level, day-to-day comments which many women feel ill-equipped to deal with and can have, in some cases, a cumulative effect which makes for a highly-toxic working environment.

As a headmistress of a girls’ school, how do we deal with this?

I lead a school of more than 1,000 girls aged between three and 18 from a wide variety of backgrounds.

One of our key messages and goals is that they can become anything they want, pursue any career or dream, and that their gender does not have to hold them back.

The message coming thick and fast from every other corner is completely contradictory – because you are a woman, this will almost certainly happen to you.

So why bother trying? Why aim for the corridors of power if you will be belittled, harassed or worse, just because you are female?

This is why it is so important why we address this in schools before these young women enter the workplace.

I am not going to stand up in assembly and say #MeToo.

It wouldn’t be true and, to be honest, it wouldn’t help.

Instead, we need to continue to equip our girls with both the information they need about the true realities of the workplace – no rose-tinted glasses but no jaded picture of hopeless despair.

The fact is, at some stage our girls will probably be treated differently because they are women. There are also people out there who will take advantage of positions of power.

But the vast majority of people – evidenced by the huge global reaction to the current campaign – do not think this kind of behaviour is acceptable.

Our girls will be part of the solution which means that no-one laughs off unacceptable behaviour in a professional or personal context – that people are held accountable for their actions and we all take steps to change attitudes so these things are taken seriously.

I truly believe young women from this generation are far less likely to be a victim than women from previous generations – and, critically, far more likely to be believed.

The founder of Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates, has already visited our school to talk about these kinds of issues – the wolf-whistles, the inappropriate comments, the patronising behaviour, and she will be visiting again in the New Year to talk to our sixth formers.

We are also inviting representatives from the Rape Awareness Project to lead personal, social and health education, (PSHE), sessions with this age group on consent.

The PSHE programme offers us lots of opportunities to offer age-appropriate guidance, advice and information to our girls on a wide range of subjects.

These can be difficult and challenging topics and we need not to shy away from them because of that. We need to prepare our girls for the real world and empower them.

I would like to hope that my counterparts in boys’ and co-ed schools are having the same discussions with their boys – we need to educate everybody about sexism and consent, not just those who are statistically more likely to be victims than perpetrators.