Last month the Department for Education (‘DfE’) updated Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment between Children in Schools and Colleges. The updated guidance is in force now and whilst non-statutory, all schools are expected to draw up their safeguarding arrangements in light of it. It should be read in conjunction with new Part 5 of the updated Keeping Children Safe in Education (‘KCSIE’) statutory guidance.
The main changes and additions are:
- Whilst the updated guidance focus is on children (defined as anyone under the age of 18), schools should still protect any adult students and engage with Adult Social Care, support services and the police as required.
- Whilst the criminal age of responsibility is ten, schools should nevertheless report incidents of peer-on-peer abuse involving children younger than ten to the police, where appropriate. They will adopt a welfare rather than a criminal justice approach in these cases.
- Schools should be careful when choosing terminology, such as ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’. The use of appropriate terminology will be for each school to determine on a case by case basis.
- Schools should recognise that staff can also be victims. They should have arrangements to protect staff, including clear reporting and appropriate support mechanisms.
- Information about handling incidents of abuse in SEND children and online sexual harassment.
- Acknowledgment that sexual violence and sexual harassment can be driven by wider societal factors beyond the school such as everyday sexist stereotypes and everyday sexist language.
- Additional guidance on the definition of ‘consent’, which includes reference to someone having the ‘freedom and capacity to choose.’ ‘Consent’ is a topic that should be included in the curriculum.
- The importance of the designated safeguarding lead (‘DSL’) (and their deputies) having a good understanding of harmful sexual behaviour is emphasised e.g. as part of their safeguarding training. Also a requirement that all staff, particularly the DSL, to take a contextual safeguarding approach to incidents.
- Appropriate information sharing and effective multi-agency working will be especially important where the children involved in allegations of sexual violence or sexual harassment attended two or more different schools or colleges.
- Emphasis that any report to the police will generally be made in parallel with a referral to Children’s Social Care. The updated guidance now makes clear that where the police take no further action in a case, the school should continue to engage with specialist support for the victim as required.
- DSLs should take responsibility to ensure that where a ‘victim’ moves to another educational institution, the DSL discusses with the ‘victim’ and, where appropriate, their parents or carers, the most suitable way of sharing any ongoing supports needs.
- Acknowledgement that a child abusing another child may have been abused themselves, and emphasising the need to support the alleged perpetrator.
Schools will need to:
- Review their safeguarding arrangements in light of the updated guidance.
- Develop pastoral systems together with updated staff training on managing sexual violence and sexual harassment in school and the importance of contextual safeguarding when responding to such incidents.
- Review their curriculum to ensure children are taught about consent in a way appropriate to their age and stage of development; taking particular care with SEND children.