Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced new steps to combat sexual abuse in schools.
The announcement follows numerous anonymous testimonials of sexual harassment and abuse being submitted to the website Everyone’s Invited.
The full announcement can be viewed here. The key steps are set out below.
The government, in partnership with the NSPCC, has introduced a dedicated helpline to support potential victims of sexual harassment and abuse in education settings. The dedicated NSPCC helpline number is 0800 136 663 and is now live.
The helpline is available to offer support to both children and adults who are victims of sexual abuse in schools and to provide them with the appropriate support and advice. The helpline may also support victims with contacting the police and reporting crimes, if desired. The helpline will also provide support to parents and professionals too.
The government has also asked Ofsted to undertake an immediate review of safeguarding policies in state and independent schools. The review will focus on the extent and the severity of the issue of sexual abuse in schools and will seek to determine whether schools have appropriate processes in place to allow pupils to report concerns freely, in the knowledge that these concerns will be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
The review will also consider whether there is sufficient guidance on how schools should deal with sexual harassment and violence allegations, and whether the current inspection regimes in schools are strong enough to address concerns and promote the welfare of children. The review also aims to establish what safeguarding arrangements are working well and where improvements are needed.
Ofsted will work with representatives from social care, police, victim support groups, school and college leaders and the Independent Schools Council in undertaking its review and will conclude in May 2021.
Impact for schools
The announcement seeks to remind schools of their responsibility in relation to safeguarding their pupils. The DfE will not hesitate to take action where standards fall short, and Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate will inspect any schools where there are concerns and will ensure practices either improve, or they will be forced to close.
We would encourage schools to make pupils and staff aware of the new NSPCC hotline. Schools may also wish to consider adding reference to the service to their existing safeguarding policy at the next review.
Schools must now provide relationships and sex and education to all secondary pupils and relationships education to all primary age pupils. Schools could therefore consider discussing the topic of sexual abuse in these RSE/PSHE lessons in the context of important issues such as personal privacy, respect and consent, both physically and online, to ensure that more young people have a better understanding of how to behave towards their peers.
We anticipate that publication of any formal changes to safeguarding procedures arising from the Ofsted review will be announced to coincide with the new edition of Keeping Children Safe in Education 2021, however, this has not yet been confirmed. We will, of course, keep schools updated as and when any changes are announced.