Date updated:

On 10 June 2021, Ofsted published its findings from its thematic review into sexual abuse in schools and colleges. The full review can be read here.

A summary of the key findings and recommendations from the rapid review are set out below:

  • Sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are ‘commonplace’ amongst children and young people, and are normalised to the extent that young people do not see the point in reporting such abuse. 
  • Sexual harassment and violence typically happen in unsupervised spaces outside of school, but can also occur in school, for example in corridors between lessons. School bus journeys were also highlighted as a location where incidents occur. 
  • Many staff underestimate the scale of the issue.
  • Children are reluctant to report incidents, including due to concerns that: they will be ostracised by peers or get peers into trouble and/or be branded a ‘snitch’; they will not be believed, or indeed blamed; they felt embarrassed or shame; they did not know what would happen next; or that once they talk to an adult, the process will be out of their control. The confidential nature of criminal investigations also means some children and young people perceive that ‘nothing had been done’, and therefore they see little point in reporting abuse. 
  • The Relationship Sex and Health (RSHE) programme and curriculum provided too little information, too late to help children and young people navigate the reality of their lives.
  • Current guidance does not equip school and college leaders with the knowledge needed to manage incidents (particularly where there is police involvement), nor is it reflective of the language used by children and young people, nor does it adequately distinguish between different types of behaviour.
  • There are challenges in effective joint working with local safeguarding partners (LSPs).

What are Ofsted’s recommendations for schools and colleges?

Ofsted has advised that leaders should assume that sexual harassment and online sexual abuse is happening in their setting even when there are no specific reports. In light of this, schools and colleges should take a ‘whole school approach’. This should include the following, which we have grouped into themes:

  • RSHE:
    • Carefully plan and implement an RSHE curriculum that includes sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online.
    • The curriculum should include time for open discussion of topics that children said they find particularly difficult, such as consent and the sending of ‘nudes’.
  • Support for staff and training:
    • Provide support for designated safeguarding leads (DSLs), such as protected time in timetables to engage with LSPs. 
    • Provide high-quality training for teachers delivering RSHE.
    • Provide training for staff (and governors, where relevant), so they can better understand the definitions of sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online sexual abuse; identify early signs of peer on peer sexual abuse; and consistently uphold standards in their responses to incidents.
  • Record keeping:
    • Ensure routine record-keeping and analysis of sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online abuse, to identify patterns and intervene early to prevent abuse.
  • Pupil behaviour:
    • Implement a “behavioural approach”, including sanctions when appropriate, to reinforce a culture where sexual harassment and online sexual abuse is not tolerated.
  • Interagency working:
    • Work closely with LSPs so staff are aware of the range of support available to children who are victims or who perpetrate harmful sexual behaviour.

What else is covered in the review?

The review also sets out Ofsted’s recommendations for multi-agency partners; recommendations for the government; actions for the inspectorates (Ofsted and ISI); and its research and analysis in more detail.

What should our school do next?

Our August 2021 safeguarding briefing sets out our suggested safeguarding action points for schools for the new academic year, including action points arising from Ofsted’s review.