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Harassment normalised among children, warns Ofsted

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Today, Ofsted have published a report summarising their findings and recommendations as a result of their review into safeguarding policies and practices relating to sexual abuse in state and independent schools and colleges. The review was prompted following anonymous accounts of sexual abuse being published on the website ‘Everyone’s Invited’.

The review included visits to 32 schools and colleges, at which they spoke to over 900 children and young people about the prevalence of peer-on-peer sexual harassment and sexual violence. The review revealed that sexual harassment and online sexual abuse is much more prevalent that adults realise. Nearly 90% of girls, and nearly 50% of boys said being sent explicit pictures or videos of things they did not want to see happens a lot of sometimes to them or their peers. Children and young people told them that sexual harassment occurs so frequently that it has become ‘commonplace’.

Ofsted found that some teachers and leaders at the schools and colleges underestimated the scale of the problem. They either did not identify sexual harassment or sexualised language as problematic or they were unaware they were happening. However, Ofsted also identified that school and college leaders are increasingly having to make difficult decisions that guidance does not equip them to make.

Finally, Ofsted found that there are improvements that can be made to ensure that training and, inspection handbooks and inspection practices are strengthened to improve inspectors’ ability to inspect how schools and colleges are tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Ofsted intend to provide a series of webinars and events for schools and colleges to discuss the findings of the review. In addition, the report sets out recommendations for schools and college leaders in order to create culture where sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are not tolerated, and where they identify issues and intervene early, to better protect children and young people.

There’s no doubt that this will form a large focus point for inspections of schools and colleges moving forwards and as such, it’s important that leaders absorb the recommendations in the report along with any other guidance and content issued by Ofsted as a result. Leaders will need to ensure they cover and implement the recommendations robustly and that they are able to demonstrate the effectiveness of these at any inspection.