The findings of OFSTED’s inquiry into the disturbing revelations from the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website have been published and reveal that, despite significant changes to Government Guidance and the Ofsted inspection regime following the Women and Equalities Select Committee Report on Sexual Harassment in Schools in 2016, Ofsted school inspections have not identified schools’ ongoing failure to identify and tackle high levels of peer-on-peer sexual harassment and abuse in schools across the country.
MP Maria Miller, who Chaired the Women and Equalities Select Committee during its 2016 inquiry, said,
“One of Ofsted’s roles is to inspect schools to ensure they are safe places for children to learn. This report shows Ofsted have fundamentally failed in this duty. The Women and Equalities Select Committee report in 2016 led to the Government issuing new guidance on peer-on-peer sexual harassment to schools and requiring significant changes in the Ofsted Inspection framework, specifying the need for Inspectors to look at school’s recording of sexual harassment and abuse incidents. When just 6% of schools inspected indicted any incidents of peer-on-peer abuse, Ofsted accepted this without challenge. Yet Ofsted’s own work now shows in reality 8 in 10 girls have experienced peer on peer sexual harassment and abuse in our schools, leaving them feeling unsafe. This systemic failure at a school and Inspection level means children, especially girls, see peer-on-peer sexual abuse as a normal part of their life. The review also found that children don’t feel safe reporting the peer-on-peer sexual abuse they experience at school and fear not being taken seriously or even blamed for the incident.
It is deeply disturbing that this Ofsted review echoes the findings and recommendations that were made five years ago by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee report, and that the actions taken following that report have not been properly followed through. That peer-on-peer sexual harassment and abuse continues be normalised in schools - as was identified in 2016 - is completely unacceptable. It is a gross failure of child safeguarding in our schools that Ofsted has not built a more accurate picture of the scale of the problem until prompted to do so by a group of young people who set up a website. As a result children have continued to experience this degrading, confidence-shattering abuse.
What is more alarmingly clear in Ofsted’s review, is how sexual harassment and violence is increasingly manifested online, and in social media, as well as in person. Sadly, this is the ugly evolution of sexual violence: nowadays, women and girls experience a continuum of violence and harassment online and offline.
Going forward, Ofsted must take seriously its responsibility to identify cultures of peer-on-peer sexual abuse in schools, understanding that students have low trust in reporting abuse to teachers and that the scale of the problem is far greater than school data indicates. It should also reinstate deep dives and thematic reviews into specific issues such as peer on peer sexual harassment and abuse, to establish greater depth of expertise amongst its inspectors so that safeguarding policies and practices relating to sexual abuse are given sufficient oversight in inspections.”
The findings and recommendations made by Ofsted’s review repeat several of those made by the Women and Equalities Select Committee (WESC) nearly five years ago, in its 2016 report ‘Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools’.
Recommendation made by Ofsted include moving to an assumption that sexual harassment exists in every school, even when there are no specific report, and a whole-school approach must be put in place to address this, in order to challenge the ingrained culture of peer-on-peer sexual harassment, through zero tolerance policies, more trusted reporting mechanisms and better RSE (Relationship and Sex Education).
Ofsted were ordered by the Government to conduct a rapid review into safeguarding policies and practices on sexual abuse in schools and colleges in March this year, after thousands of student testimonies of sexual harassment and abuse were published on the campaign website ‘Everyone’s Invited’. The Government took immediate action to tackle the issue of sexual harassment and violence in schools following WESC’s 2016 report by updating advice and guidance to schools and school governors. The Government at the time also instructed Ofsted to amend its School Inspection Handbook to require Inspectors to make written judgements of the effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements for pupils for all inspections.
Note to editors:
- Ofsted review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ofsted-culture-change-needed-to-tackle-normalised-sexual-harassment-in-schools-and-colleges>
- House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee 2016 report ‘Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools’ < https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/91/9102.htm>
- Government response to House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee 2016 report <https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/826/82602.htm>