Schools are not as safe for children as they should be and children’s interests do not always come first when allegations of sexual abuse are made, a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has found.
The Inquiry heard evidence about ineffective safeguarding in schools during the past 20 years and the testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website demonstrate that currently, for children in some schools, sexual abuse and harassment between peers remain endemic.
Chair to the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay said: “Schools play a central role in the lives of almost nine million children in England and half a million in Wales. They should be places of learning where children are nurtured by trusted teachers and are able to flourish in a safe environment. This is in contrast to the many shocking instances of child sexual abuse detailed in this report. They represent the opposite of everything that a school should be.”
The Residential Schools investigation report is based on evidence received by the Inquiry about incidents of child sexual abuse, harmful sexual behaviour between children and other safeguarding concerns which arose at 13 schools, as well as evidence about eight schools which are no longer operating.
The report highlights that while there has been numerous changes and improvements to safeguarding over the past two decades, some children continue to experience sexual abuse and sexual harassment in schools. Schools need to accept that ‘it could happen here’, and in the case of harmful sexual behaviour between pupils that ‘it probably is happening here’.
The investigation found:
The impacts of abuse for many victims and survivors have been profound and lifelong. Many of those in positions of authority and responsibility have not been held to account for their failures of leadership and governance while many perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
Professor Alexis Jay added: “Poor leadership frequently left staff unaware of how to respond to concerns about sexual abuse or too afraid of potential consequences to act. In some cases, it was clear that protecting the reputation of the school was prioritised over the protection of children from sexual abuse - this is a recurring theme in very many of our reports.”
The report makes seven recommendations including:
“Day and residential schools play a key role in keeping children safe from harm, but despite 20 years of enhanced focus on safeguarding they are not as safe for children as they should be. This must change. The seven recommendations in this report must be implemented to vitally improve the current systems of child protection in schools,” concluded Professor Alexis Jay.
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