Local authorities to help schools tackle 'normalised’ sexual harassment

Pilot of social workers supervising designated safeguarding leads in schools to be expanded as Ofsted says sexual harassment, including online sexual abuse, has become ‘normalised’ for children and young people.

14/06/21

Local authorities to help schools tackle 'normalised’ sexual harassment

A pilot programme where social workers and local authority safeguarding professionals provide supervision to schools is set to be expanded as Ofsted warns sexual harassment has become “normalised” in schools.

The trial, already running in 30 areas, will be extended to up to ten new local authorities to provide supervision for designated safeguarding leads, covering a further 500 schools with a specific focus on sexual abuse.

The programme aims to strengthen support for Dedicated Safeguarding Leads, improve individual safeguarding practices and enable better joined up working across different agencies. The programme will also help build the evidence base on what works in supporting safeguarding leads.

The Department for Education also says work is underway to raise the profile of the role in the same way as that of a SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator).

The measures come as Ofsted publishes the findings from its thematic review into sexual abuse in education, commissioned by the Education Secretary in March following testimonies posted on the Everyone’s Invited website which highlighted cases of sexual abuse and harassment of children and young people, including in education settings.

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, said schools are places of safety and that no young person should feel that this was a normal part of their daily lives.

“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.”

“By reflecting young people’s real experiences in what they are taught, I hope more people feel able to speak up where something isn’t right and call out activity that might previously have been written off as ‘normal’.”

In its 8-week review, Ofsted looked at safeguarding measures in schools and colleges, as well as assessing whether extra support is needed for teaching about sex and relationships, working alongside social care, police, victim support groups, education leaders and the Independent Schools Council.

Ofsted’s findings demonstrate that incidents of harassment and abuse have been ‘normalised’ by their frequency, with the majority of the more than 900 children and young people surveyed experiencing some kind of unsolicited images or sexist comments – whether in person at school or college, or online or via mobile phone.

To address this, the Education Secretary and Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Culture, have asked Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza to join a roundtable discussion in the coming weeks with tech companies, law enforcement, children’s charities and schools to talk about preventative measures ahead of legislation on age restrictions for app downloading and sharing, and how to support parents and children to make more informed and safer choices online.

Children’s Commissioner, Rachel de Souza, said the most fundamental responsibility that education settings have is to keep children safe.

“I am pleased to see Ofsted calling for a whole school and college approach to this issue and I look forward to working with them, the Department for Education, education settings and their safeguarding partners to help make the commitments and recommendations set out in this report a reality.”

In addition, the NSPCC ‘Abuse in Education’ helpline will also run for a further four months until October. Launched on April 1 alongside the Ofsted Review, the helpline has so far received 426 calls and helpline staff have made 80 referrals to external agencies like the police or social services.

Responding to the Ofsted review, Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said we must all look carefully at how we can change the attitudes in our society that lead to this behaviour being normalised.

“Keeping children safe is everyone’s responsibility, and local safeguarding partnerships, including councils, health providers and the police along with schools will want to consider carefully the findings and recommendations of this report,” Bramble said.

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