New guidance has been published to help teachers and other school staff identify possible victims of female genital mutilation (FGM).

The advice produced by The Home Office, the DFID and the Personal Social Health and Economic Education Association (PSHE) is part of the statutory safeguarding guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education. It urges teaching staff to report any suspicions that a girl has undergone the procedure or is likely to be subject to it.

“There is a range of potential indicators that a child or young person may be at risk of FGM, which individually may not indicate risk but if there are two or more indicators present this could signal a risk to the child or young person," the guidance says. 

“Victims of FGM are likely to come from a community that is known to practise FGM. Professionals should note that girls at risk of FGM may not yet be aware of the practice or that it may be conducted on them, so sensitivity should always be shown when approaching the subject.”

Commenting on FGM, a spokesperson for the PHSE Association said: “It is important that work in this area is seen as a whole school responsibility. The school’s sex and relationships education policy should include teaching about FGM and references should also be made within safeguarding and child protection policies. In addition, school staff should receive appropriate training so that they are able to recognise pupils who may potentially be at risk.”

Warning signs that FGM may be about to take place, or may have already taken place, can be found on pages 11-12 of the Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines issued in 2011. An updated version of these will be published later this summer. School staff are urged to urgently contact police and children’s social care services.

They include:
• Families making preparations for the girl to take perhaps an extended holiday, including arranging vaccinations
• A girl talking about a special procedure or ceremony that is going to take place
• Prolonged absence from school with noticeable behaviour change on return
• Possible bladder or menstrual problems
• Younger girls finding it difficult to sit still, looking uncomfortable, complaining about pain between their legs, or talking of something somebody did to them that they are not allowed to talk about.

FGM is illegal in the UK, with a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison for anyone found guilty of the offence. It’s also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM or to help someone trying to do this.

On 22 July the UK will host the first Girl Summit, aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end FGM within a generation - UNICEF will co-host the event.