Ofsted reveals plans for review into sexual harassment in schools and colleges

Ofsted will visit schools and colleges facing allegations of sexual abuse after thousands of testimonials were posted on a website that allows students to share their experiences anonymously.

Last week, the Government announced that the watchdog would look at safeguarding policies following the deluge of reports made to website Everyone’s Invited.

Ofsted has said it will talk to headteachers and students on the issue first-hand and it will visit a sample of schools and colleges where cases have been highlighted.

The review is intended to establish whether institutions have effective safeguarding measures in place, and whether they have strong mechanisms to deal with allegations swiftly and effectively.

It will also look at how well school are teaching the new relationships, sex and health education curriculum, which covers sexual abuse, cyber-bullying and pornography and consent.

Amanda Spielman (pictured), Ofsted’s chief inspector, said: “Like so many others, I have been deeply troubled by the allegations of sexual abuse posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website.

“Many of the testimonies reveal that girls have not felt able to report incidents of sexual abuse to their schools.

“We hope that by listening to young people’s experiences first-hand, this review will provide much needed insight into what these barriers are and how they can be overcome.”

She added: “We will consider how schools can support and encourage appropriate behaviour, from the lessons in the classroom to the culture in the corridors.

“And when children do speak up about their experiences, it’s vital that schools have the support and structures in place to take them seriously and respond appropriately.”

Ofsted said the review will look at whether current inspection programmes are robust enough on the issue of sexual abuse.

It will also consider how well education institutions are coordinating with other safeguarding organisations such as social services.

The review is intended to establish:

  • If there is sufficient guidance for schools and colleges on how to deal with sexual harassment and violence allegations.
  • If schools and colleges understand the guidance and implement it well.
  • If coordination between schools and colleges and agencies such as social service, the police, health service and other support services needs to be improved.

Ofsted said the review would look at broader barriers prevents children from reporting sexual abuse, and how well institutions listen to and support those reporting abuse either within or outside schools.

The watchdog said it would review a sample of recently reported sexual violence involving pupils in schools and colleges of concern.

It added the review would not report on individual schools or cases, but build a picture of good and poor practice across the country.

Ofted said it would consider the “range, nature and severity” of the allegations, and the institution in question’s knowledge of specific incidents and more general problems.

It will also gather evidence from a reference group made up of victims’ representatives, health and social care workers, safeguarding experts and representatives from schools and colleges, Ofsted said.

Children’s charity the NSPCC hailed the announcement as a “watershed moment”, describing the testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website as “extremely upsetting”.

An NSPCC spokesperson said: “This review is an important opportunity to understand what needs to change to challenge harmful sexual behaviour in and out of school.

“Understanding what support schools need to deliver a high-quality RSE (relationships and sex education) curriculum will help them promote healthy relationships and challenge harmful peer cultures and misogyny.

“However, schools can’t tackle this by themselves and the review must look at how local safeguarding partnerships can work together more effectively to understand and respond to risks children face in their communities, no matter what school they attend.”

The NSPCC has set up an independent helpline for children, parents and professionals to seek advice and safely report abuse in an education setting. The helpline number is 0800 136 663.

The review is due to conclude by the end of May 2021.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Caroline Graham / Preschool Learning Alliance / PA.