Government ministers from the Department of Education have rejected proposals for legislation requiring all schools in England to develop a whole school approach to tackling sexual harassment.

The BBC reports that the proposals had been made by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee in September this year.

The Department for Education published a formal response on Tuesday.

It said the existing legal framework dealing with issues of equality, safeguarding, curriculum and behaviour was “strong”.

Acknowledging that more could be done to clarify how the framework applied to sexual violence and harassment, the DfE indicated that legislation would not be appropriate saying:

“Instead, we propose a holistic school-based approach, which will support schools to tackle this issue.

We will do this through three new areas of work: supporting schools to produce their own new codes of practice, building our evidence base, and setting up an advisory group.”

The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) had also called on the government to make sex and relationships education (SRE) become a statutory subject in schools.

On this matter, the DfE noted the existing guidance had last been updated in 2000 and the case for action was “actively under review, with particular consideration to improving quality and accessibility”.

Speaking on the sexual harassment issue, Conservative former cabinet minister Maria Miller, and chair of the WEC, said:

“The scale of the problem of sexual harassment in schools demands a robust and urgent response from those who take responsibility for our children’s safety when they are at school.

Schools are responsible for fostering the best environment for young people to learn; fear of sexual harassment, or worse, should not be part of that.

We will continue to scrutinise action in this area and work with others to hold those responsible to account for any failure to ensure that all our children are safe and can thrive at school.

In particular the government needs to prioritise action to ensure sex and relationship education reflects the realities of the 21st Century rather than the pre-smartphone age, when guidance was last updated.”