A primary has been accused of neglecting a six-year old girl who was raped in the school by two other young pupils, despite staff reportedly being present in the playground during sexual attacks.
Multiple rapes took place over a six-week period at the school – which Tes is not naming to preserve the anonymity of the children concerned.
The girl’s parents say that on two occasions there were members of staff present in the playground where the attacks took place who failed to recognise what was happening and then reprimanded the victim.
It can also be revealed that when the child’s parents found out about the attacks and alerted the school, the leadership team initially refused to ensure the girl would not have to continue to see one of the attackers at school.
Pupils 'suffering peer-on-peer abuse'
Tes has been given details of the disturbing case by parents who are concerned that the whole education system is failing the growing number of pupils who suffer peer on peer sexual abuse.
In September 2016 the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee published a report into the shocking scale of sexual harassment and violence in schools.
But two years later families who have been affected by "peer on peer abuse" still feel the Department for Education is failing to take the issue seriously.
Today, Tes carries a comment piece from two mothers explaining how their daughters were let down by the education system after they were raped by male classmates.
Maria Miller, chair of the Women and Equalities committee, referred to one of these cases in Parliament last November, but the full catalogue of failings which the school has been accused of has not been reported until now.
Anna*, the girl’s mother, told Tes that her daughter was abused on school premises by two young children in the school over a six-week period.
Members of staff 'were present'
Although two members of staff were present in the playground on two different occasions, both failed to recognise the seriousness of what was going on and respond accordingly.
In the first incident, a staff member saw the children in the corner of the playground – but then proceeded to tell the girl off.
“She was told off for having her knickers and her tights down around by her knees with one of these boys behind her,” Anna said.
On a second occasion, another member of staff saw one of the boys with his head up her skirt. The assistant told off the girl for letting the boy stick his head up her skirt, and the boys were just told to “run away”. The girl was not talked to separately, asked what had happened or whether she was OK.
Anna told Tes that the school had already been alerted by other parents to the boys’ displaying harmful sexual behaviour.
'Harmful' sexual behaviour
However, the school only took action after Anna’s daughter disclosed to her parents how she was being hurt and they then contacted the school.
One of the boys was permanently excluded. But the school’s plan for the second child – who was temporarily excluded – was to make him subject to an “indefinite, internal exclusion”, where he would remain at the school with the girl, but under supervision by a teacher during playtimes.
This was despite the fact that the girl said that the boy had repeatedly threatened her with violence if she told anyone about the attacks. The school withdrew the plan after complaints and eventually the boy was removed from the school.
Anna, who is currently suing the local authority which runs the school for its failure to safeguard her daughter, told Tes that neither of the staff members who were present in the playground at the time of the attacks were disciplined.
She said her daughter – who is still experiencing severe post-traumatic stress disorder following the attacks – has received no official support or ongoing protection because the attackers were under the age of criminal responsibility.
“There is this fallacy that because there is no criminality, somehow the effect is lesser,” Anna said.
“There is nothing societally in place to look after those victims. If a child who’s 6 is raped by an adult, all the systems kick in. If a child is raped by another child who is over 10, all the systems kick into place. There is no system to protect victims of under-10 assaults.”
The government’s safeguarding guidance to schools – ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ – has been updated to include more advice on peer-on-peer abuse. However, there is no specific detail on how such incidents should be dealt with in a primary setting – where there will be no police involvement due to the lack of criminal responsibility – and teachers are not given mandatory training on the issue.
*Not her real name.