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The key findings of Ofsted’s survey on sexual harassment in schools

Watchdog says that most girls and half of boys have been sent explicit pictures

Sexual harassment and online sexual abuse have become “normalised” among schoolchildren, according to a report by Ofsted.

The schools watchdog’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman said she was “shocked” by the scale of the abuse happening in schools and colleges, which has led young girls to feel “they have to accept sexual harassment as part of growing up”.

“Whether it’s happening at school or in their social life, they simply don’t feel it’s worth reporting,” she said.

Of more than 900 young people quizzed in focus groups, 90% of schoolgirls and half of all male pupils said that being sent explicit pictures or videos, known as “nudes”, happened “a lot” or “sometimes”, according to Ofsted’s review

Inspectors were also told that boys talk about “nudes” they have and share them among themselves “like a collection game” on social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Snapchat. 

Schoolchildren reported to Ofsted that sexual harassment and name-calling had become “commonplace” and that adults often didn’t realise the prevalence of it both inside and outside school; teachers didn’t know the “reality” of their everyday lives, said some. 

Pupils in many schools said that harmful sexual behaviour also happened at house parties and parks where there was no adult supervision and where drugs and alcohol were often present.

Some school governors spoke of a culture of “affluent neglect” and how some parents bought alcohol for their children to have parties while they were away. But the report also said it was “important to note” that “incidents of harmful sexual behaviour or unhealthy cultures were certainly not confined to ‘affluent’ children or young people”.

Some girls reported feeling “frustrated” that there wasn’t clear teaching on what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and many had turned to social media to educate each other. “It shouldn’t be our responsibility to educate boys,” one female school student told inspectors.  

Indeed, the report found that many teachers didn’t feel prepared to teach outside of their specialism, or felt they lacked “knowledge on topics like consent, healthy relationships and sharing of sexual images”, while in other schools, little value was given to the teaching of RSHE (relationships, sex and health education). 

Ofsted inspectors visited 32 state and private schools and spoke to more than 900 pupils. Spielman highlighted that these reports of sexual harassment and abuse weren’t isolated to just a few schools, but “was in all of them”. 

The report recommends that schools assume sexual harassment and abuse is happening in their schools, even if they don’t think it’s an issue. Indeed, several local safeguarding partners – groups who oversee child protection and safeguarding in local schools – said that “sexual harassment was not a significant problem for schools and colleges in their local area”, a belief the report said “isn’t plausible”. 

The Ofsted review came after thousands of testimonies about abuse were recorded on Everyone’s Invited, a website founded by 22-year-old Soma Sara, which aims to “expose the prevalence of rape culture across all of society”. 

More than 15,000 testimonies have been shared on the site, many from current schoolchildren or recent leavers. Soma told Sky News that the report “reinforces the shocking reality that rape culture is everywhere, including all schools.

“The schools we should be worrying about are the schools not mentioned on Everyone’s Invited. Because it will be happening in those schools too, but they might not realise they have a problem,” she said. 

In April, ministers also asked the charity, the NSPCC, to run an abuse in education helpline, which remains available until October.

As of Monday, the helpline had received 426 calls and helpline staff have made 80 referrals to external agencies, including the police or social services, reports the BBC Spielman said the scale of the abuse was “a cultural issue”. “[I]t’s about attitudes and behaviours becoming normalised, and schools and colleges can’t solve that by themselves.

“The government needs to look at online bullying and abuse, and the ease with which children can access pornography.

“But schools and colleges have a key role to play. They can maintain the right culture in their corridors, and they can provide relationship, sex and health education that reflects reality and equips young people with the information they need.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Ofsted’s review has rightly highlighted where we can take specific and urgent action to address sexual abuse in education.

“But there are wider societal influences at play, meaning schools and colleges cannot be expected to tackle these issues alone.”

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