The Department for Education should introduce mandatory, anonymised reporting of incidents of pupil-on-pupil sexual abuse in schools, an MP has said.
Emma Hardy, a Labour MP who sits on the House of Commons Education Select Committee said the DfE was “sending the wrong message” by not collecting this data, and that people would be “incredibly shocked” if the numbers were known.
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Currently, it is difficult to get exact figures for incidents of sexual abuse where both the perpetrator and victim are children or young people, but there are fears it is on the rise.
According to a freedom of information request by the BBC to police forces in England and Wales, at least 6,289 sexual assaults took place in and around schools between 2015 and 2017 (including assaults on staff as well as pupils). There was a 60 per cent rise across those three years.
However, those figures were based on responses from only 26 of 45 police forces.
Ms Hardy, who has campaigned to raise the profile of peer abuse, called on the government to start collecting this information.
“I think if we started to look at the data regarding peer-on-peer sexual abuse, I think we would all be incredibly shocked,” she told Tes.
“That’s what I want the DfE to start asking for. Ideally, I want the DfE to prove that they’re taking this issue seriously by saying to schools: 'We want you to anonymously record the data which we can then look at nationally to get a picture of what is going on in our schools'.
“At the moment, that is only available through freedom of information requests to the police because that information isn’t collated.”
She went on: “I think that is sending the wrong message because the DfE seems to be interested in collecting data and information on almost everything else imaginable but not on something as significant as keeping our children safe and the number of times they’re facing sexual abuse and harassment.”
The call for better reporting of peer-on-peer abuse was backed by Alana Ryan, a senior policy advisor at the NSPCC, who said current information was “patchy”.
“I think data is really important to be able to get a representative picture of a problem and to determine the appropriate response to be taken,” she told Tes. “The data on this is very patchy.
“We don’t necessarily know where prevalence might be highest – we know that girls are more at risk than boys but we don’t know whether there are particular age ranges of students who are more vulnerable.
“Having a full picture and an understanding of where the risk is and particular periods of vulnerability would be really helpful to inform prevention activities and to enable appropriate resourcing to be put in place for support as well.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “All incidents of peer on peer sexual abuse in schools should be treated seriously.
"Guidance for schools is very clear that a school’s child protection policy should amongst other things set out how they will record reports of peer on peer abuse.”
This is an edited article from the 21 June edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents