95.There is currently no centralised data collection of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. Together with under-reporting and a lack of consistency in schools reporting sexual assault to the police and other authorities, this makes it hard to establish definitive data on levels of sexual violence and harassment in schools. Furthermore, accurate data is necessary for developing effective solutions to this problem.
96.We heard from parents about schools ignoring or avoiding recording and addressing incidents of harassment and sexual violence. One parent told us:
I would regularly speak to the school about the bullying but nothing ever seemed to change. We had no idea that the sexual abuse was taking place, she hid it from us for a long time. So when all of this came to our attention we were shocked, especially knowing we had spoken to the school regularly about the bullying.
One family, whose daughter attempted suicide aged 16 after she was raped by a peer when she was 13 and subsequently kept in the same class as him at school, raised their concerns about how information was recorded:
Record keeping of incidents, disclosures, and decisions taken by [our] school is extremely poor. There are many records which we would expect to have been created which do not exist.
97.In her research into responses to peer-on-peer abuse, Dr Carlene Firmin found that schools do not always refer incidents of sexual harassment to external agencies. She argued that their reluctance to report such incidents is largely driven by two factors:
(1) schools have tried to refer concerns regarding harmful sexual behaviour and have been informed that there is no service available to support them in addressing the issue
(2) schools being unsure about where on the spectrum of sexual violence they should move beyond traditional sanctions and draw in external agencies.
98.In research on schools where rapes had occurred on their premises, Dr Firmin also found a reluctance to address an overall culture of sexual harassment. Instead, schools tended to focus their response on specific, individual cases.
There is little evidence that schools…sought help prior to the abusive incident. Most schools wanted support to manage the behaviour of individual students… rather than to alter the school environment itself.
99.Claire Savage, the BBC journalist who gathered the 2015 data on the number of sex crimes recorded in schools, warned that in her experience:
Schools were not aware of their statutory duty in referring these incidents to the police or the relevant safeguarding agency. This safeguarding officer [that I spoke to] was also of the opinion that some schools did not want to report these alleged crimes in case it deterred parents from sending their children to school.
100.Many organisations told us that there was great variation between schools in how and whether they recorded incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. In their work, Rape Crisis South London observed that:
There are large discrepancies and inconsistencies both within and across schools, in the recording and monitoring of sexual harassment and sexual violence. There is a lack of guidance for schools on what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual violence and how this should be recorded and responded to.
101.The lack of consistency in how schools record incidents creates problems for the police, as explained by Chief Constable Simon Bailey of the NPCC:
[It] practically leads to difficulties when seeking to ascertain prevalence, share data and ultimately understand/respond to ongoing threats and emerging trends. It also presents gaps in [police forces’] understanding on how effective concerns are being dealt with by schools, [especially for cases] below the criminal threshold [that] do not come to our attention.
102.A lack of clear national guidance and rules on data collection was seen as a significant problem by a number of organisations, including the NPCC, the Everyday Sexism Project and the Children’s Society. The End Violence Against Women Coalition noted that current Preventing and Tackling Bullying guidance:
Provides no framework for monitoring equality issues and instructs schools to “exercise their own judgment” with regards to the recording of bullying incidents (even acknowledging that some schools “do not want to keep written records”).
This makes it is very difficult to monitor schools’ performance in these areas.
103.The importance of a multi-agency approach in recording and responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence was emphasised by several expert witnesses, including Rosamund McNeil from the NUT, and Gareth Edwards, Policy and Performance Officer, NPCC. As Gareth Edwards explained:
We would like to have more opportunities to have discussions with schools, other partners and inspectorates about concerns…alongside more serious incidents that require police intervention or safeguarding interventions outside school. We think there is definitely a lot of scope for looking at this in a bit more detail.
104.Gareth Edwards went on to describe the work of multi-agency safeguarding hubs which have shown evidence of being successful in this area:
They are multi-agency teams, often representing children’s services and police, and in the better areas they will also have education, and possibly voluntary sector and health around the table. Effectively, they act as a front-door mechanism for child protection referrals and pulling together multi-agency information in that space, so that you can build up a robust assessment and decide what needs to be done.
105.Police sexual assault figures are recorded under these Home Office Offence Categories: Rape; Penetration; Sexual Assault; Sexual activity with a child; Exposure and Voyeurism. These categories only account for physically violent forms of sexual misconduct; harassment may amount to a criminal offence, but if it does not (sexual harassment often does not) then it is unlikely to be recorded by the police.
106.Claire Savage noted that police data does not currently record incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence according to whether they occur in a school or elsewhere.
107.We recommend that police data record the incidence of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools specifically. This would allow for better analysis of the prevalence and increase/decrease of this problem.
108.During the course of this inquiry we heard a number of suggestions regarding how to improve data collection in this area. These included:
109.One potential model for schools is the Government-initiated Taskforce on Sexual Harassment and Violence in Universities, which is due to report in the autumn. According to the EVAW coalition “many UK universities are moving towards specific monitoring of sexual harassment and assaults, and the Taskforce[…]is likely to recommend such monitoring for universal adoption.”
110.Understanding the scale, location and relative incidence of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is key to addressing it. However, current data collection has been shown to be inadequate. Schools need better guidance on what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual violence; and how incidents should be recorded and reported. There is scope for improved cooperation between schools and other agencies, like the police, working in this area.
111.As part of the whole school approach guidance we have recommended, the Government should ensure all schools receive clear definitions of what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual violence. Schools also need information on how to record, monitor and respond to incidents, including when to report them to the police. All schools should collect this data. It should be collated nationally and published annually.
112.In September 2015 a new common inspection framework for all maintained schools and academies, non-association independent schools and further education and skills providers was introduced. Ofsted points out that “the framework states that [education providers] should be supporting children and learners’ understanding of how to keep themselves safe from risks such as abuse, sexual exploitation and extremism, including when using the internet and social media.”
113.The school inspection handbook also stipulates that, when visiting a school, inspectors will want to see evidence that young people possess an “…age-appropriate understanding of healthy relationships and are confident in staying safe from abuse and exploitation.”
114.As discussed in Chapter 2, Ofsted does not refer directly to sexual harassment or sexual violence in its current guidance to schools or inspectors. We welcome the Government’s assertion, discussed above, that Ofsted should reassess this guidance. However, as the NASUWT note, further training for inspectors in this area is also needed:
There are opportunities for Ofsted to inspect for effective policies and strategies that address sexual harassment and violence, however inspectorates need to be knowledgeable and fully trained on identifying good practices and gaps in provision.
115.With the correct training, it would be possible for Ofsted to inspect schools on the basis of a whole school approach, as Rape Crisis England and Wales suggested:
Inspectors should be looking at how schools monitor and record incidents, whether they have adequate policies in place, whether they work with specialist agencies such as Rape Crisis Centres to deliver training, workshops and to provide support to survivors and crucially whether children feel safe at school and in the school environment. Ofsted can scrutinise school exclusions and disciplinary actions in relation to both perpetrators as well as to victim/survivors who may be punished for behaviour problems as a result of assault.
116.Some concerns have been raised about Ofsted’s ability to inspect schools adequately in this area. These included:
117.It should be noted that, despite shorter inspections, under the new Ofsted inspection regime the effectiveness of safeguarding will always be assessed.
118.We agree with the majority of experts we heard from that Ofsted should be monitoring State-funded schools’ actions in preventing and tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence and supporting survivors. It is already tasked with inspecting how adequately schools are safeguarding pupils and has a well-established school inspection regime in place.
119.In order for Ofsted to successfully monitor schools’ progress in this area, it must update its training and guidance by September 2017 so all schools are inspected on how effectively they are preventing and dealing with sexual harassment and sexual violence.
120.ISI is a government-approved body which inspects independent schools. It says that:
Safeguarding is at the heart of all ISI inspections. This involves checking whether schools are compliant with the minimum standards required, not only in terms of policies and procedures but, importantly, in what they do. Liaison with the local authority safeguarding leads and the DfE about safeguarding issues is a key feature of our work.
121.New standards for independent school inspections came into force in January 2015 following a serious case review into allegations of peer on peer abuse at an independent residential school in Hampshire in 2013. The Government said:
The revisions strengthen the standards on pupil welfare, health and safety, to focus on outcomes rather than processes. For instance they require that the proprietor promotes good behaviour amongst pupils by having a written behaviour policy that is effectively implemented, and that bullying is prevented in the school, as far as reasonably practical, by drawing up and implementing an effective anti-bullying strategy.
122.Under the new standards the Department for Education (DfE) can also take direct action against schools if children’s welfare is not being promoted, including “applying to a magistrate’s court for the immediate closure of a school if a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.”
123.We welcome the new standards the Government has implemented for safeguarding children’s welfare in independent schools. However, these changes do not directly address the continuum of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.
124.The obligation on schools to prevent and address sexual harassment and sexual violence that we called for in paragraph 94 must include independent schools. Inspection of this requirement would fall to ISI.
95 Anonymous written evidence submission (SVS0011)
96 Anonymous written evidence submission (SVS0074)
97 Firmin, C.E. (2015) University of Bedfordshire, and Firmin et al (Forthcoming, 2016) MsUnderstood Phase 1: University of Bedfordshire
98 Firmin, C.E. (2015) University of Bedfordshire,
100 (SVS0076) para 2.10
101 (SVS0092) para 14
109 (SVS0058) para 3.9
110 All State-funded schools in England are inspected by Ofsted. Independent schools are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI).
112 Ofsted September 2015
113 (SVS0072) para 9
114 (SVS0059) para 4.4
115 accessed 31 July 2016
116 (SVS0088) para 12
117 Ibid para 13
8 September 2016