Ofsted is to carry out an immediate review of safeguarding policies in schools after a website set up for victims to anonymously post their experiences of sexual abuse gained more than 11,000 posts, some from children as young as nine.
The review will look at the extent and the severity of the issue and ensure schools have appropriate processes in place to allow pupils to report concerns freely, knowing these will be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Sexual abuse in any form is abhorrent and it is vital that these allegations are dealt with properly. While the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward.
“This government is committed to ensuring victims feel supported to refer the most serious allegations to the police via the helpline, safe in the knowledge that everything possible will be done to bring offenders to justice.
“No child or young person should have to experience abuse. But if something isn’t right, they should speak to someone they trust to raise concerns, whether that’s family, a friend, teacher or social worker, helpline or the police,” he added.
The review will ensure that schools have adequate guidance on how to deal with sexual harassment and violence allegations, and whether the current inspection regimes in both state and private schools are robust enough to address concerns and promote the welfare of children.
Ofsted will work with social care, police, victim support groups, school and college leaders and the Independent Schools Council.
A new helpline to support potential victims of sexual harassment and abuse in education settings has also been established. Run by the NSPCC, the helpline will go live tomorrow to provide both children and adults who are victims of sexual abuse in schools with appropriate support and advice. This includes how to contact the police and report crimes if they want to and will also provide support to parents and professionals.
Both the helpline and review come after numerous anonymous testimonials of sexual harassment and abuse were submitted to the website Everyone’s Invited.
The review will conclude by end of May 2021 and will seek to establish where safeguarding arrangements and processes are good and have worked well and where improvements are needed.
Where schools are failing to meet strict safeguarding standards, the Department for Education will take action. Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate will inspect any schools where there are concerns and make sure they either improve their practices or are forced to close.
Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said: “Like everyone else, I have been deeply troubled by accounts of the sexual abuse and harassment young people have suffered at school and in the community. So I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement and the opportunity for Ofsted to lead this review.
“Schools have a crucial role to play in teaching young people about sexual consent and respect for women and girls. They must also be places where all children feel safe, and where they are able to report any incidents of abuse or harassment and be confident that what they say will be acted upon.
“We will set out the terms of the review shortly,” she concluded.