New police guidance is to be sent to headteachers this summer on how they should deal with sexting and online harassment incidents between students.
MPs on the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee were told that sexting – sending explicit pictures or messages – was something teachers saw happening increasingly between schoolchildren.
Gareth Edwards, policy and performance officer of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said that he was drafting new national guidance for the police outlining a proportionate response while still recognising that the activity was illegal.
"One of the primary drivers for doing this piece of work was concerns raised by schools about over-criminalisation of children when it was brought to the attention of the police," he added.
Mr Edwards said that the NPCC was working with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), to produce guidance for schools. "[The guidance will] talk about what schools initial responses should be, how they can go about investigating the risk assessments, what they should consider and where the threshold is for notifying the police and when it can be dealt with in-house."
He added that it was very important to make sure that children did not think that sexting was a safe behaviour: "There are a lot of risks associated with this."
New social norm
Rosamund McNeil, head of education and equality at the NUT teaching union, said: "Guidance would be very useful. I think this is an area where schools would really like to be able to refer to something that’s very clear about what would be the right sanctions and what would not be the right sanctions."
The committee is holding an inquiry into sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. This was launched in April with evidence from youth charity Fixers showing that sexualized behaviour was "the new social norm" for young people.
Official statistics show there were 2,140 fixed period exclusions for sexual misconduct in 2013-14 , the most recent figures available.
But the committee also heard that teachers needed more support and time to prevent low-level harassment – such as using the word "girl" in a negative sense.