Today (5th February 2019) the Education Select Committee held an ‘accountability hearing’, where they questioned Ofsted chiefs Amanda Spielman and Sean Harford on the new draft education inspection framework, Ofsted’s annual report, and how safeguarding arrangements in schools are inspected.
Emma Hardy MP opened her questions reminding the room that it is sexual abuse and sexual violence week, and went on to ask a series of questions about how Ofsted are able to properly assess how well a school is safeguarding its pupils from sexual violence. It’s clear from the answers that Ofsted have not placed this issue at the top of their priority list. Over two years on from the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s report into sexual violence in school shocked MPs and parents, reporting that more that 200 girls a year are raped by someone in school, it doesn’t seem that our schools’ inspectorate has understood the scale of the problem or the harm it does.
The truth of this failure is exposed when a school that has forced a girl to go back into the classroom with the boy who raped her, despite bail restrictions being in place, loses a human rights case brought by the girl, but is judged as “good” on safeguarding by an Ofsted inspector. How can a school which breaches its own pupil’s human rights be winning at safeguarding?
Emma Hardy was tenacious in her questioning, and Amanda Spielman’s lack of knowledge (and interest?) was exposed. Spielman was quick to insist the police, and not schools, should deal with complaints of sexual violence, and claimed that schools couldn’t be expected to make decisions to remove someone from a classroom, even though their being there means a girl who has been raped may be unable to go to school. The suggestion is that she should forfeit her education if she can’t cope. But this goes against the new safeguarding guidance the DfE issued last September, which makes it clear that schools shouldn’t wait for a police inquiry before acting to protect rape victims, victims who definitely shouldn’t be expected to share a room with the person who raped them. It is also very different from the experience of a child who is harmed by an adult – in that context they would not be expected to carry on as if nothing had happened – or for that matter an adult in any workplace. Ofsted are inspecting schools to ensure they are safeguarding our children against this standard, yet seem reluctant to accept the guidance on sexual violence committed by other children.
Our children deserve better than this. The lack of urgency or commitment shown by Ofsted today and the Department of Education generally on this issue is shocking. There is still no proper data collection, so it’s hard to get a clear picture of how many children are sexually assaulted by other children at school. Safeguarding guidance has been updated, but there has been little in the way of communications and training for teachers specifically on this issue. Ofsted’s apparent lack of interest is sending the message to schools that this doesn’t have to be a priority. EVAW published All day, every day (a legal briefing) in 2016 highlighting the Government’s, Local Authorities’, Schools’ and Ofsted’s responsibilities on this. We are still waiting for them to understand the issues and do their job.