Sexual harassment ‘normalised’ in schools, Ofsted review finds

Joe Lepper
Thursday, June 10, 2021

Sexual harassment and online abuse have become normalised for children and young people in schools, according to an investigation by Ofsted.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman branded the review 'shocking'. Picture: Ofsted
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman branded the review 'shocking'. Picture: Ofsted

Nine out of ten girls said the sending of unwanted explicit pictures and videos, as well as sexist name calling, was happening.

Boys were found to be sharing nude pictures “like a collection game”, via private messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Ofsted also found.

The regulator found that the effectiveness of local safeguarding partners (LSPs) to tackle the issues was varied.

Some “were working closely with schools to understand children’s experiences”, said Ofsted.

But others told the regulator that "sexual harassment was not a significant problem for schools and colleges in their local area, which isn’t plausible”.

Ofsted said: “It was clear that effective joint working between LSPs and all schools and colleges was not happening consistently.”

For its review Ofsted inspectors visited 32 state and private schools and colleges, speaking to more than 900 pupils about the sexual harassment in their lives.

Other concerns raised include a lack of reporting with pupils not seeing “the point of challenging or reporting” sexual harassment or abuse “because it is seen as a normal experience”.

Teachers and school leaders “consistently underestimate” the scale of sexual abuse. This includes either failing to identify harassment as problems or lack of awareness that it is happening.

Pupils felt sex and relationship education in schools lacked an awareness of “the reality of their lives”. Teachers said they felt unprepared to teach the subject and lacked knowledge in issues such as consent, health relationships and the sharing of sexual images.

“This review shocked me,” said Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman.

“It’s alarming that many children and young people, particularly girls, feel they have to accept sexual harassment as part of growing up. Whether it’s happening at school or in their social life, they simply don’t feel it’s worth reporting.

Ofsted recommends that schools “act on the assumption that sexual harassment is affecting their pupils” and create “a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated”.

They should sanction pupils were appropriate and ensure there is enough time for sex and relationship education, including a focus on issues around consent and sharing images.

Teachers also need “high-quality training” around such lessons and there needs to be better partnership working around safeguarding.

Ministers are urged to develop an online hub with up-to-date safeguarding information and a specific guide for pupils to explain what will happen after they report harassment and abuse.

In addition, the government should launch a communications campaign around sexual harassment and online abuse.

“No child should ever feel that when they report sexual harassment or abuse, they will not be listened to or that issues will be swept under the carpet,” said Patrick Roach, NASUWT – The Teachers Union general secretary.

He added that “a joined-up approach is needed, locally and nationally, involving local authorities and other agencies working alongside schools to help foster the changes needed and to better support pupils who are at risk”.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said Ofsted’s review “must be a catalyst for change”.

He said: “In 2021, sexual harassment in schools must not be treated as inevitable part of growing up”.

Meanwhile, Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Charlotte Ramsden welcomed Ofsted's focus on the “crucial role” of LSPs.

“Calls for greater clarity around the joint responsibilities of LSPs and education settings is helpful, and we would particularly welcome a discussion with the Department for Education about the connectivity of independent schools to the local authority and local multiagency safeguarding efforts,” she added.   

Ofsted’s review was announced in March in response to mounting concerns around sexual harassment and abuse of children and young people in education.

This included more than 16,000 testimonies of sexual harassment and abuse through the Everyone’s Invited website, set up as a safe space for victims to share their accounts.

According to the website, almost 3,000 schools in the UK have been mentioned in testimonies it has received.











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