The education secretary, Michael Gove, has written to every school in England warning them to be alert to the dangers of female genital mutilation (FGM) after a Guardian campaign to bring the issue into schools attracted the support of more than 230,000 people.

The petition calling on Gove to highlight the practice, which involves removing part or all of a girl's outer sexual organs and is carried out in many African countries as well as areas of the Middle East, received support from the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, as well as hundreds of thousands of concerned members of the public.

After meeting 17-year-old Brighton schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed, who led the campaign, Gove has sent a letter to all headteachers in England alerting them to new guidelines designed to keep children safe, which includes guidance on FGM. A spokeswoman for the Department for Education told the Guardian that the education secretary would keep up pressure on schools by flagging up the dangers of FGM again in his annual "back to school" letter in September.

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