In 2021 the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website brought attention to some shocking examples of sexual assault that had happened in schools across the country. Following this, Ofsted spoke with 900 students to gain an insight into their experiences of sexual harassment and assault in schools and published a ‘Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and College’, which showed that sexual harassment in schools was widespread and prevalent, not only in secondary schools and colleges, but also in primary schools. Hitherto the scale of the problem had not been fully understood. Some of the key findings were that:
- Girls were disproportionately affected, though many boys were also affected.
- Many students interviewed had experienced sexist name-calling and being sent unwanted explicit pictures or videos.
- Sexual abuse, particularly online, was normalised.
- Girls and boys had different perceptions of what constituted acceptable behavior.
- LGBT+ pupils reported a big gap between their lived experience and staff’s understanding.
- There was a particular issue for boys too during this period of particularly heightened awareness of these issues, with many not knowing how to interact with their peers.
- Students stated that they were unlikely to report sexual abuse.
- Students often want to be educated on this, but felt that it should not be left to their peers to teach them what constituted acceptable behaviour in this regard.
No one should be the victim of either sexual harassment or sexual assault. Sadly though the findings of this Ofsted study indicate that these issues are so widespread that every school in this country should be addressing these issues. The horrendous outcomes from the Ofsted report have given us a platform to review our approach as a whole and we have the following aims:
- At Cansfield High School we want all of our pupils to feel safe and to be safe and to create a culture in which this aim is transparent and clear to all.
- We want to create a proportionate and reasonable approach to protecting children from sexual harassment and sexual assault that protects our students.
- We aim to work closely with external partners to ensure that this aspect of our approach to safeguarding is realised.
- The victim of any sexual harassment or sexual assault should know how to report such incidents, should feel empowered by the process and should feel supported throughout.
- Challenge and support for any alleged perpetrator should be put in place.
- Our Relationships and Sex Education curriculum should ensure that there are regular and meaningful opportunities for students to learn about sexual harassment and sexual assault.
- That all staff will be alert to low level safeguarding concerns of this nature that can be acted on.
- That the voice of students, their parents and staff is regularly heard, as well as our approach being in line with best practices as documented in research on this topic.
We are in the process of establishing an understanding of the lived experience of students, a clear vision for the group, an agreed approach to addressing these issues that encompasses assemblies, curriculum developments and reminders around the school about appropriate language and where to go for help.