Ofsted review on sexual abuse in schools and colleges: Almost all girls report at least one form of abuse

Following publication of Ofsted review women’s groups call for urgent government taskforce to address dire scale of sexual harassment and online sexual abuse of young people in schools. Report finds sexual harassment in schools has become so normalised, particularly for girls, that most think it’s not worth reporting.

girl at school

The review found 9 out of 10 girls had experienced sexist name calling and 92% of girls had been sent unsolicited explicit pictures or videos, women’s groups say the government must take urgent action to reverse the normalisation of harmful sexual behaviour in all education settings.

Worryingly, the response by schools is found to be inconsistent with many teachers underestimating the scale of the problem or not being aware it is happening between their pupils, and feeling unclear on what is unacceptable behaviour.

You can read the report here: Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges

Women’s groups welcome the leading recommendation of the review, which they have campaigned for, that a ‘whole school approach’ is needed so that schools and college leaders can create a culture where sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are not tolerated. This includes training for all school staff on definitions of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and training for teachers on how to deliver relationships, sex and health education as well as giving both young people and staff the skills to respond to, challenge and prevent violence against women and girls within their establishment and the local community. Specialist women’s groups have been at the forefront of developing and delivering this work and their expertise should be actively sought in order to get it right, first time.

EVAW Coalition Director, Andrea Simon said:

“We have known about the scale of sexual harassment and sexual violence between young people for years and have repeatedly raised concerns with government, however it is shocking to learn it is now so commonplace that young people do not even see the point in reporting it to adults.

If this doesn’t spark an urgent response to a problem, we know very disproportionately impacts girls, we are severely failing another generation of young people and allowing the huge social problem we have with male violence against women and girls to persist. The cumulative impact of sexual violence which follows girls through their whole lives into womanhood can’t continue to be minimised.

It is essential to get the education young people receive in schools on healthy and respectful relationships right. So, it is very concerning that the new curriculum in this area is not giving young people the information they need. Whilst the government has made relationships and sex education teaching a mandatory subject, they haven’t equipped schools to deliver it confidently. Teachers have not received sufficient training and there is no dedicated funding for experts in the specialist women’s sector who are best placed to deliver training on issues like consent in schools.

The very significant problem of easy access to pornography, which is becoming the ‘de facto’ source of sex education, is highlighted in the review as setting unhealthy expectations of sexual relationships and shaping perceptions of women and girls. Upcoming new online safety legislation must aim to address this with better tech safeguards and a focus on digital education.”

The Department of Education issued safeguarding guidance on sexual harassment and sexual violence between young people at school in 2018 following relentless campaigning by women’s groups. This was a start, but on it’s own nowhere near enough to support schools with tackling the extent of issues affecting young people online and outside of schools.

Following this review women’s groups are asking Ministers to take this issue seriously by creating a taskforce that brings together leaders across government, education, and experts on violence against women and girls to advise on next steps and drive the rollout of a whole school approach that is relevant to the daily experiences and reality of young people’s lives.

There are also some crucial areas that the Ofsted review did not report on, Andrea Simon continues:

“The Ofsted review doesn’t cover which young people are most likely to be targeted for sexual harassment and/or violence or explore the impact of race, disability or other characteristics which can compound the abuse girls are subjected to on- and offline. This includes racialised sexual harassment experienced by girls from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds, who can be targeted by harmful gendered and racist stereotypes – or girls with disabilities or learning difficulties which other research finds are very disproportionately targeted for abuse.”

Notes to editors:

1. Ofsted was asked by the government to undertake a rapid review of sexual harassment in schools and colleges in April, after anonymous testimonials of sexual abuse were published on the website ‘Everyone’s Invited’. EVAW was a member of this review’s advisory group.

2. Letter to Education Secretary from End Violence Against Women Coalition in April 2021 called for the following actions to tackle sexual harassment and assault in schools:

  • 1. A resourced strategy and action plan at the DfE for wholescale improvement of the school response to sexual harassment and assault
  • 2. A ‘whole school approach’ becomes an explicit expectation in addition to the full roll-out of compulsory relationship and sex education (RSE)
  • 3. DfE collection, monitoring and reporting of disaggregated data on sexual harassment and sexual violence
  • 4. Sexual harassment and assault is closely monitored under school inspection frameworks, by trained inspectors
  • 5. The specialist VAWG sector is consulted as part of a review into school safeguarding arrangements for sexual harassment and violence

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Media information:

Spokespeople available for interview

EVAW Media line: 07960 744 502 Email: [email protected] / [email protected]

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