Parents are “losing faith in Ofsted” because of its handling of peer-on-peer sexual abuse safeguarding failures, two MPs have said.
The Labour MPs Jess Phillips and Emma Hardy have co-signed a letter to the inspectorate expressing concern about its “slow” and “inadequate” response to schools mishandling cases of abuse where both the victim and alleged perpetrator were pupils.
They refer to a recent case – first reported by Tes – in which Ofsted took nearly a year to take action after it was notified about a school where safeguarding failures resulted in a girl allegedly being sexually exploited by an older boy.
Background: Ofsted 'ignored failures to protect rape victims’
Analysis: Who keeps our pupils safe?
The letter was written by Ms Hardy, who sits on the Commons Education Select Committee, and sent to the chief inspector, Amanda Spielman.
“I am writing to you to raise concerns about how Ofsted responds when parents raise concerns about safeguarding in a school,” it states.
Ofsted's reaction to peer abuse
“A number of parents have contacted me about the way Ofsted has responded when they have raised concerns about serious safeguarding failures at a school.
“They are concerned that Ofsted’s response has been slow and/or inadequate and, as a direct result, poor safeguarding practice has continued in some schools with serious detrimental impact on the wellbeing of children we can now name.”
The letter goes on: “In addition, parents have told me of the difficulties of raising the alarm in the first place.
“It seems inappropriate to ask parents whose children are the victims of sexual abuse to fill in an online complaint form.
“When parents have managed to speak to someone at Ofsted, they have sometimes been dealt with insensitively.
“Furthermore, having raised the alarm with someone in a call centre, their call has not been followed up. It would seem appropriate that having logged a call about sexual abuse in a school, parents should receive some follow-up from a trained inspector, who, if appropriate, would gather further evidence and explain what Ofsted intends to do with the information provided.”
In the letter, Ms Hardy says she understands that Ofsted “doesn’t investigate individual issues in schools”. But she says that when a serious issue such as the rape of a child on school premises is reported to Ofsted, “someone outside the school and local authority should be asking questions about how such a catastrophic safeguarding failure can have happened, to ensure that it can’t happen again in that school, or indeed in any other school”.
It argues that because “being safe from harm” is fundamental to education, “I would hope that Ofsted would use its unique position as the school inspectorate to take a more proactive approach to preventing harm, promoting best practice, and informing policymakers of the current risks in the system”.
The letter adds” “I am extremely concerned that the parents I have spoken to appear to be losing faith in Ofsted. I too am concerned.”
It finishes by calling on Ofsted to publish a report based on the schools it has inspected where peer abuse safeguarding failures have taken place, so the inspectorate can offer “clear guidance on what the failings have been and what best practice looks like”.
The MPs also call for Ofsted to ask “challenging questions of policymakers on the risks in the system to other children from alleged and convicted child sex offenders”, and for it to introduce a “phone line for parents (not just children) with a dedicated and trained team to handle serious safeguarding concerns in a sensitive and timely manner”.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “The letter raises some important issues. Children must be kept safe, and we do all we can within our legal powers to make sure that’s the case.
"All inspections look at how schools meet their statutory safeguarding duties, including their approach to handling peer on peer abuse. All inspectors receive regular safeguarding training, including most recently specifically about peer on peer sexual violence and harassment. And we have met with colleagues from the End Violence Against Women Coalition to share this training.
“We’re of course sorry if parents have had a poor experience when raising concerns with us. We’ll be considering the letter and the suggestions it raises carefully.”