Extra support to tackle sexual abuse in schools and colleges

The government has said that teachers and school leaders will be better supported to recognise sexual harassment and abuse and teach confidently about issues of consent, online pornography and healthy relationships.

With strengthened safeguarding guidance to be put in place, the Department for Education says that school and college leaders will be encouraged to dedicate inset day time to help train staff on how to deal with sexual abuse and harassment among pupils and how to deliver the government’s new compulsory Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum (RSHE).

The new guidance will seek to boost teacher confidence in identifying and responding to these issues, as well as supervision to dedicated members of school and college staff in up to 10 more local authorities, whose role it is to identify safeguarding concerns among pupils, with a specific focus on sexual abuse.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Sexual abuse in any form is completely unacceptable. No young person should feel that this is a normal part of their daily lives – schools are places of safety, not harmful behaviours that are tolerated instead of tackled.

“Ofsted’s review has rightly highlighted where we can take specific and urgent action to address sexual abuse in education. But there are wider societal influences at play, meaning schools and colleges cannot be expected to tackle these issues alone. By reflecting young people’s real experiences in what they are taught, I hope more people feel able to speak up where something isn’t right and call out activity that might previously have been written off as ‘normal’.”

The measures follow Ofsted publishing the findings from its thematic review into sexual abuse in education, commissioned by the Education Secretary in March following testimonies posted on the Everyone’s Invited website which highlighted cases of sexual abuse and harassment of children and young people, including in education settings.

Ofsted’s inspectors visited 32 state and private schools and colleges and spoke to more than 900 children and young people about the prevalence of sexual harassment in their lives and the lives of their peers. Approximately nine in 10 of the girls we spoke to said that sexist name calling and being sent unwanted explicit pictures or videos happened ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes. Inspectors were also told that boys talk about whose ‘nudes’ they have and share them among themselves like a ‘collection game’, typically on platforms like WhatsApp or Snapchat.

The review recommends that school and college leaders act on the assumption that sexual harassment is affecting their pupils, and take a whole-school approach to addressing these issues, creating a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated.

Worryingly, Ofsted found that children often don’t see the point of challenging or reporting this harmful behaviour because it’s seen as a normal experience.

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