A campaigner against female genital mutilation (FGM) has criticised Kingston headteachers for failing to read Government advice on combating the practice.
The Department for Education has sent guidance to schools helping to identify girls at risk of the illegal practice, which can include being taken abroad to be cut.
But a Freedom of Information request by the Evening Standard showed 23 of the 53 Kingston heads who received the email did not read the online guidance – and 20 did not even open the message.
Kingston resident Sarbjit Athwal, who campaigns against honour-based violence and forced marriage as well as FGM, said: “I think that’s appalling. Every teacher should be reading the email.
“There is no reason for them not to go ahead with it.
“The summer holidays are coming.
“It is when people tend to think, ‘It’s not our business’, that it gets really bad. Somewhere down the line we could save someone’s life.”
Siobhan Lowe, headteacher at Tolworth Girls’ School, said she was surprised at the figures, but said head teachers at a recent Achieving for Children conference had shown awareness of the issue.
She added: “There was a genuine knowledge among the team, but there were concerns about how to make sure girls are informed.
“We have to respect our parents, but also respect the rights of our girls to have independence and ma-ke choices for themselves.
“As soon as [the email] came I forwarded it to our protection team.”
Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to schools this year, after almost 250,000 petitioners called for more action.
New guidance specifically tells teachers girls might be at risk of being taken abroad to be cut during the summer holidays.
Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced new reforms around FGM awareness, and said Britain should “take a long hard look at what’s happening here” as well as helping end the practice abroad.
Former Lib Dem council leader Liz Green said: “It’s not something I particularly pushed from here.
“We don’t in Kingston have very major, large populations of girls that are at risk.
Liberal Democrat leader Liz Green
“That doesn’t mean to say we don’t have any girls at risk within the borough – we clearly do.”
Female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, is a cultural ritual involving partial or total removal of girls’ external genitals, including the clitoris and labia.
In extreme cases, it can include sewing up the vagina.
Health problems can include infections, chronic pain, complications during childbirth, and fatal haemorrhaging.
About 24,000 girls under 15 in the UK are thought to be at risk of the illegal practice, and the maximum sentence for performing the unnecessary surgery or helping it take place, including by taking girls out of the country, is 14 years in prison.
Close to 66,000 UK women and girls are thought to have been victims of the procedure.
The Government advises contacting the police if you think a girl or young woman might be in danger, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 020 7008 1500 if she has already been taken abroad.