Boarding schools should teach children about the threat of sexual abuse from the earliest age possible, parents and pupils told an inquiry.
Residential schools face "distinct and complex challenges" to prevent and respond to incidents of child sexual abuse effectively, an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report has found.
Online and peer-on-peer abuse were the most common safeguarding concerns of a sexual nature recorded by schools, and yet staff said they were less confident in dealing with these concerns.
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Identifying the point at which an incident becomes abusive can be
difficult, staff said.
For example, youth-produced sexual imagery, such as sharing pictures of girls in bikinis, were seen as "grey areas".
Parents and children have said they want education and awareness-raising work within residential schools to start as early as possible to ensure all issues related to child sexual abuse are dealt with effectively.
The research also found that residential special schools recorded nearly ten times the number of concerns per student than other residential schools, such as mainstream state and boarding schools.
Holly Rodger, principal researcher at IICSA, said: "The safeguarding
concerns of a sexual nature recorded most frequently by schools were online and peer-on-peer incidents.
"These were the same areas that school staff, parents and children saw as 'grey areas' that could be hard to classify.
"This report will help shape recommendations to improve safeguarding and better protect children from sexual abuse in residential schools."
The report is based on interviews and focus groups with more than 150 people, as well as data collected from the safeguarding logs of 15 residential schools across England and Wales.
It is expected to help inform the investigation into abuse in
residential schools which began public hearings in 2019.
Robin Fletcher, chief executive of the Boarding Schools' Association
(BSA), said: "Boarding schools across the UK are committed to
safeguarding young people and fully support the work of IICSA."
The BSA delivers a programme of safeguarding and child protection
training and advice to schools covering online safety, peer-on-peer
abuse and teaching pupils about sexual abuse, Mr Fletcher said.
He added: "Our schools actively work with pupils and parents to create safe and supporting environments where the children know they have a voice."