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Exclusive: Peer-on-peer abuse guidance to tackle why pupils display 'harmful sexual behaviour'

Long-awaited guidance 'accelerated' by threat of legal action against Department for Education, source claims

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Long-awaited guidance 'accelerated' by threat of legal action against Department for Education, source claims

The Department for Education will imminently publish guidance to help schools deal with peer-on-peer abuse, Tes has learned.

The long-awaited guidance will include advice on the “contextual” factors that can place young people at greater risk of sexual abuse, Tes understands. A source told Tes the guidance had been "elevated" to Downing Street for sign-off. 

In March, Tes reported warnings from MPs and charities that schools were “shooting in the dark” because of a lack of guidance about how to deal with incidents where a student is alleged to have sexually attacked a classmate.

In some cases, this has resulted in schools putting rape victims back into classrooms with their alleged attackers.

Last month, MPs on both sides of the House of Commons criticised the government for its delay in producing new safeguarding guidance for schools.

Abuse guidance document

However, Tes understands from several sources that the DfE will publish it imminently, in the form of a standalone document supplementing the government's core statutory safeguarding guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education

According to one well-placed source, the publication of the “30-odd pages of guidance” has been “accelerated” by a threat of legal action against the government.

In November, solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn sent a “letter before action” on behalf of abuse victims to the education secretary, Justine Greening, threatening judicial review proceedings if the DfE did not act quickly to protect students from peer-on-peer abuse. Two months earlier, the firm had written to Ms Greening, accusing her of being in breach of her duties under the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate discrimination against girls in school.

The legal campaign is being funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Tes’s source said the working group tasked with drawing up new guidance initially “didn’t make progress”, but was “much more business-like” after the first legal letter was sent in September.

'Progressive and substantial'

A second source familiar with the development of the guidance said it had “morphed from what was just going to be an advice note” into “something a lot more progressive and substantial”.

According to this source, the guidance will cover the “contextual factors in which abuse occurs in school”. This includes identifying and addressing factors in a young person’s peer group, school or wider neighbourhood which could place them at greater risk of abuse.

The guidance is also said to include a section on “harmful sexual behaviour”, setting out the “complexity of abusive behaviour” and the factors that can lead young people to perpetrate it. 

The second source said the guidance had been "elevated" to Downing Street for approval.

A DfE spokeswoman said: 

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Schools are under a legal duty to safeguard their children and government guidance is clear that schools must have an effective child protection policy that addresses peer on peer abuse.

“But to make sure we help schools further, we will be publishing detailed advice this term specifically on this issue. We will also launch a consultation this term on updates to the Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance which will come into force next September.”

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