New requirements for schools to combat sexual harassment

Posted on 20.09.21

In the wake of Ofsted’s review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges earlier this year, schools have new obligations to combat sexual harassment.

Ofsted, which inspects maintained schools and academies in England, has updated its school inspection handbook with new requirements for schools. It states:

“As part of assessing safeguarding, inspectors will consider how the school handles allegations and instances of sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence. This includes checking:

  • that the school has appropriate school-wide policies in place that make it clear that sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence (including sexualised language) is unacceptable, with appropriate sanctions in place
  • that the school’s policies are reflected in its curriculum (see the ‘relationships, sex and health education’ section), which specifically addresses sexual harassment, online abuse, sexual violence and issues of consent
  • that the school’s staff have appropriate knowledge of part 5 the government’s ‘Keeping children safe in education’ guidance
  • that all pupils are supported to report concerns about harmful sexual behaviour freely
  • that concerns are taken seriously and dealt with swiftly and appropriately, and pupils are confident that this is case
  • that comprehensive records of all allegations are kept”

Importantly, Ofsted states:

“Inspectors will also look at how schools work to prevent sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence through a whole-school approach”.

UK Feminista has strongly advocated for this focus on a whole-school approach to prevention. Meaningful, long-term change requires actions combatting sexism and sexual harassment to be embedded throughout the policies, practices and culture of all schools. We therefore warmly welcome Ofsted’s focus on a whole-school approach.

Ofsted has recommended UK Feminista’s online training course for teachers on how to tackle sexism and sexual harassment in its latest schools and early education update.

Changes have also been made to guidance for schools issued by the Department for Education. Keeping children safe in education – statutory guidance for schools and colleges on safeguarding – now highlights the importance of a whole-school approach:

“Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure they facilitate a whole school or college approach to safeguarding. This means ensuring safeguarding and child protection are at the forefront and underpin all relevant aspects of process and policy development.”

Among its specific recommendations, the Department for Education states that schools’ child protection policies should include clear reporting mechanisms for students experiencing ‘peer on peer abuse’, recognise the gendered nature of this abuse, and enshrine a zero-tolerance approach from the school:

“Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure that their child protection policy includes:

  • procedures to minimise the risk of peer on peer abuse;
  • the systems in place (and they should be well promoted, easily understood and easily accessible) for children to confidently report abuse, knowing their concerns will be treated seriously;
  • how allegations of peer on peer abuse will be recorded, investigated and dealt with;
  • clear processes as to how victims, perpetrators and any other children affected by peer on peer abuse will be supported;
  • a recognition that even if there are no reported cases of peer on peer abuse, such abuse may still be taking place and is simply not being reported;
  • a statement which makes clear there should be a zero-tolerance approach to abuse, and it should never be passed off as “banter”, “just having a laugh”, “part of growing up” or “boys being boys” as this can lead to a culture of unacceptable behaviours and an unsafe environment for children;
  • recognition that it is more likely that girls will be victims and boys’ perpetrators, but that all peer on peer abuse is unacceptable and will be taken seriously; and
  • the different forms peer on peer abuse can take…”

Support from UK Feminista

UK Feminista offers a range of resources and training for schools, colleges and Initial Teacher Training providers on how to take a whole-school approach to combatting sexism and sexual harassment.