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More support for schools and colleges to tackle sexual abuse following Ofsted review

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.

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).

Strengthened safeguarding guidance will also be introduced 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.

The measures come as Ofsted publishes 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.

“I am supportive of these new measures to ensure our teachers and school leaders receive improved training to confidently recognise the signs of sexual abuse and to have an increase awareness of online pornography, consent and healthy relationships.

“School is where our children and young people spend most of their time and we need to ensure that they feel safe as well as supported enough to tell an adult if they are a victim of sexual harassment. When a child or young adult does come forward, it is vital that the right help and support is provided immediately and that the incident or issue is tackled there and then.”

PCC Mark Shelford

“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’.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

In its 8-week review, Ofsted looked at safeguarding measures in schools and colleges, as well as assessing whether extra support is needed for teaching about sex and relationships, working alongside social care, police, victim support groups, education leaders and the Independent Schools Council.

Ofsted’s findings demonstrate that incidents of harassment and abuse have been ‘normalised’ by their frequency, with the majority of the more than 900 children and young people surveyed experiencing some kind of unsolicited images or sexist comments – whether in person at school or college, or online or via mobile phone.

To address this, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden have asked the Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza to join a roundtable discussion in the coming weeks with tech companies, law enforcement, children’s charities and schools to talk about preventative measures ahead of legislation on age restrictions for app downloading and sharing, and how to support parents and children to make more informed and safer choices online.

Building on the work that the Government has set out on the Online Safety Bill, it follows a joint letter to Dame Rachel from Mr Williamson and Mr Dowden last month asking her to support the Government’s drive to protect children from harmful online content and to ensure the voices of children are heard and represented in this work.

This will include working with schools, parents and charities to support them around building strong social norms against underage access to pornography, around children using the internet safely and educating those groups on the impact that some internet content can have on healthy sex and relationships.

The Online Safety Bill will enshrine in law a ground-breaking new system of accountability and oversight of tech companies, where companies will need to prevent children from accessing minimise inappropriate content, such as pornography and online bullying.

Responding today (Thursday 10 June), the Department for Education has confirmed it will take forward work to strengthen the RSHE curriculum so that teachers are clearer on when different elements should be taught, such as sharing images online and consent, as well as updating statutory guidance to ensure that the definitions used are in line with what pupils understand and experience.