‘Assume sexual harassment is happening in schools’

Ofsted was asked by the government to carry out a rapid review of sexual harassment and abuse in schools and colleges.

Ofsted advises teachers to be more vigilant and says schools will fail inspections if they cannot show that they are tackling the issue

Recommendations for tackling Sexual Harassment in Schools and Colleges

School and college leaders should create a culture where sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are not tolerated, and where they identify issues and intervene early to better protect children and young people.

In order to do this, they should assume that sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are happening in their setting, even when there are no specific reports, and put in place a whole-school approach to address them. This should include:

  • a carefully sequenced RSHE curriculum, based on the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) statutory guidance, that specifically includes sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online. This should include time for open discussion of topics that children and young people tell us they find particularly difficult, such as consent and the sending of ‘nudes’
  • high-quality training for teachers delivering RSHE
  • routine record-keeping and analysis of sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online, to identify patterns and intervene early to prevent abuse
  • a behavioural approach, including sanctions when appropriate, to reinforce a culture where sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are not tolerated
  • working closely with LSPs in the area where the school or college is located so they are aware of the range of support available to children and young people who are victims or who perpetrate harmful sexual behaviour
  • support for designated safeguarding leads (DSLs), such as protected time in timetables to engage with LSPs
  • training to ensure that all staff (and governors, where relevant) are able to:
    • better understand the definitions of sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online sexual abuse
    • identify early signs of peer-on-peer sexual abuse
    • consistently uphold standards in their responses to sexual harassment and online sexual abuse

Implications for Ofsted and ISI Inspections

A review of Ofsted and Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) frameworks, training and handling of complaints found that safeguarding is generally well covered on inspection, inspectors are prepared, and complaints are generally dealt with well. However, there are improvements that can be made. As a result of this review, both Ofsted and ISI will update training, inspection handbooks and inspection practices where necessary to strengthen inspectors’ ability to inspect how schools and colleges are tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online. 

Actions Taken by ISI

ISI has confirmed it will update its inspection practice with regard to peer-on-peer sexual harassment and plans to update its inspection practice – specifically requiring schools to provide records and analysis of sexual harassment and abuse on notification of inspection.

How is Ofsted Changing?

Ofsted published its updated education inspection handbooks on 28 June 2021, which will take effect when routine inspection re-commences in September 2021.

Inspectors will not investigate individual allegations of harmful sexual behaviour, but will ensure that they are reported to the appropriate authority, if this has not already happened.

‘Where schools and colleges do have not adequate processes in place, it is likely that safeguarding will be considered ineffective.

‘This can impact on the “leadership and management” judgement and the overall grade is likely to be “inadequate”.’

These are extracts from the Ofsted report. The full report can be found here.

Find out more about our Safeguarding training for Schools and Colleges or arrange an expert-led Safeguarding update for all staff new academic year or for new staff each term.

JMC Inspection Team


020 8531 4182


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