Tackling sexual abuse and harassment in schools

April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the issue of peer-on-peer abuse in schools and colleges is more prevalent than ever

School staff are in need of support and guidance to not only handle but effectively intervene and prevent sexual abuse and misconduct incidents.

Mike Glanville, chief safeguarding officer of safeguarding software solution MyConcern, recently spoke in conversation with Luke Ramsden, senior safeguarding lead at St Benedict’s School, discussing peer-on-peer abuse, the influences and consequences of social media and online behaviour, and how schools can best support their students. Here, we look at some key points from their discussion.

Q. What do schools need to do given the Ofsted review?

Recent events have examined the increase of peer-on-peer abuse; however, people in safeguarding have noted this as a problem for years now. Legislations for schools state that it’s of vital importance to understand the significant dangers students face, not just from adults, but also from peer-on-peer sexual abuse and harassment. Schools need to review their safeguarding practices, ensuring all members of staff understand their safeguarding responsibilities.

When it comes to sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges, there are two points to examine:

  1. Harmful sexual behaviour, including harassment, should be considered in a child protection context and responses should be like any other safeguarding case.
  2. The basic safeguarding principle is if a child is at risk of harm, is in immediate danger or has been harmed, a referral should be made.

Schools are not operating in a vacuum, but in a whole safeguarding framework. Safeguarding leads should reach out to organisations that offer safeguarding advice if they need support.

Q. What practical advice do you have for schools thinking of doing their own internal review?

It’s all about transparency and honesty, understanding where the problems have occurred, rather than an opportunity to apportion blame. It’s vital that schools have a recording system, such as MyConcern, to track concerns, have paper trails and the ability to report what has happened, as well as implement clear procedures to tackle any safeguarding issues.

Q. There’s a lot of existing guidance for peer-on-peer abuse, so why are students still unwilling to disclose to teachers?

Students may not report incidents for several reasons. For example, if intimate images are being shared, they may not disclose because they feel embarrassed, or they might not want the person sharing the images to get in trouble.

Schools have to offer as many avenues as possible to help students feel comfortable disclosing such matters, such as social workers or counsellors on site for a set number of hours per week so students can approach adults who are not teaching staff, or digital platforms where students can disclose, as we have seen with the testimonies on Everyone’s Invited.

Educating students on these issues is an important step that schools can take. Having conversations around consent, bullying, online bullying and peer-on-peer abuse can help raise awareness.

Q. What do safeguarding leads need to consider when faced with a serious allegation?

Schools need to recognise that they are part of a broader safeguarding framework. When faced with a difficult allegation, a safeguarding lead should pick up a phone and contact social services or the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer) for assistance and guidance.

From recent allegations, it’s obvious there’s a culture of secrecy within certain schools. If this culture ended, then the safeguarding in schools would vastly improve.  There needs to be a change in direction, a whole school approach to safeguarding within the school.

Q. How do schools create a safer culture for their students?

It’s critical all staff have safeguarding training and understand safeguarding is a responsibility shared by every member of the organisation. Once everyone is on the same page, you’re a step closer to creating a safer environment for students. MyConcern offers a range of CPD-accredited safeguarding training courses that provide you with the skills to carry out your role whether that’s as a safeguarding lead, a member of staff or a school governor.

Q. What do you think the future holds when it comes to safeguarding in schools?

There’s an increase of people calling for mandatory reporting, meaning it will be a legal requirement to review safeguarding concerns. Mandatory reporting could give schools the push to create a safer culture and environment for their students.

Read the full discussion here.

For more information on peer-on-peer abuse, including further resources and details of our free contextual safeguarding webinar, click here.

MyConcern is the Queen’s award-winning safeguarding solution designed by child-protection experts with backgrounds in policing, social care and education and used by thousands of schools across the UK and around the world.

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