School and college staff should assume that peer-on-peer abuse is happening even if nobody has reported it, guidance from the Department for Education recommends.
The department’s Keeping Children Safe In Education document will become mandatory in sixth-form and college settings for the first time in September.
The guidance warns that abuse can happen outside school or college and can be hidden. It follows an Ofsted review into peer-on-peer sexual abuse that found children trading nude pictures like a “collection game”. Many children did not report it because they believed it would not be taken seriously.
The review was prompted by thousands of testimonies on the website Everyone’s Invited, in which teenagers described sexual abuse by other pupils. The guidance adds a section on dealing with unsubstantiated, unfounded, false or malicious reports, as well as adding information on child criminal exploitation, which makes clear that the experiences of girls can be different from boys’.
Baroness Berridge, minister for the school system, said: “Ofsted’s review of sexual abuse and harassment showed us how prevalent these issues are in young people’s lives.“That is why we are updating safeguarding guidance to make it absolutely clear that staff should assume that, even if there are no reports of peer-on-peer abuse, it could still be happening — and that where reports are made, they should reassure victims that they will be taken seriously.
“We are also, for the first time, making the guidance mandatory in all post-16 settings. We have also clarified the expectations for anyone working in a position of responsibility at schools and colleges to respond appropriately to concerns — from head teachers and teachers, to safeguarding leads and governors — so that pupils attend school every day ready to learn, feeling confident that they will be safe.”
Ofsted issued the warning as part of a commentary on research it had conducted into how sex and related topics were taught in schools. Schools were using “overtly political materials” to teach children about gender issues, Ofsted warned, despite the statutory requirement for neutrality.
When it comes to teaching children about sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment, some school staff are “confusing” their legal obligations under the Equality Act with the moral and the political, according to the school watchdog.
Chris Jones, Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy, said that when the Equalities Act was introduced in 2010, it was “contentious from the outset” particularly in relation to sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
“The increasing political sensitivities in these areas have made it harder for schools to handle equalities well,” he said. “For example, school staff can occasionally confuse the legal, the moral and the political, and so bring overtly political materials into their teaching, despite the statutory requirement of political neutrality.”
Source: The TimesCategories: News