Charities say they have significant concerns about the way that Ofsted handles pupil safeguarding. They are particularly worried that serious safeguarding incidents – such as pupil suicides, sexual harassment, homophobic bullying or political radicalisation – do not act as automatic triggers for school inspection.
“Absolutely, you should have to report it, and then the inspectors come in,” Heather Dickinson, of teen-suicide helpline Papyrus, says of pupil suicides. “It should be part of safeguarding, part of keeping young people safe.”
The lack of inspection triggers over safeguarding incidents is despite an Ofsted handbook noting the need for “early action” over such concerns. With sexual assault, sexist bullying and harassment on the increase in schools, Ofsted could do more to promote better safeguarding, according to Gemma Curtis, head of education at inclusion charity Diversity Role Models.
“An automatic Ofsted inspection would hopefully push senior leaders into putting these proactive measures in place, so that they can tackle the culture head on rather than simply responding to incidents when they happen,” she says.
Dickinson thinks that automatic safeguarding inspection triggers would benefit pupils and teachers. “We have to be proactive about educating, supporting and investigating,” she says. “We know that when there’s a suicide in a school, it can then lead to suicidal thoughts among other young people close to them. If there is no public acknowledgement of suicide, young people are less likely to go and speak to someone about how they feel.”
An Ofsted spokesperson says: “There are no automatic triggers. This was true even in cases of multiple reports of sexual assault within a school, cases of serious assault of teachers or pupils, or multiple suicide attempts in a single school.
“One single issue could raise sufficient concern to warrant an inspection and equally a number of issues combined would not necessarily be an indicator of serious concerns,” the spokesperson adds.
“We use our judgement in each specific case to determine whether and when an inspection should take place.”