Schools are to be told to keep victims and perpetrators of alleged sexual offences apart, in interim advice being issued this term, according to Nick Gibb, the schools minister.
His remarks were made during an evidence session held by the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee this morning.
MPs probed him on the government's progress in the year since the committee released its report on sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.
Pressed on what is being done to address the problem of peer-on-peer abuse in schools, Mr Gibb said: “Where there is such a case, the perpetrator and the victim should not be in the same classroom.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips demanded to know why this policy was not explicit in the existing guidance to schools.
Mr Gibb responded: “This guidance cannot anticipate every single possible circumstance that could occur.”
He informed MPs that the government will launch a consultation next month on changes to the Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance.
The scale of sexual violence in schools
This comes just days after the BBC’s Panorama programme revealed that more than 2,500 alleged sexual assaults have taken place at schools over the past four years – including primary school playgrounds.
Schools do not routinely report crimes, including sexual assaults, to police, according to Conservative MP Maria Miller, chair of the committee.
She told Mr Gibb: “The lack of a protocol for guidance on how you deal with that sort of thing seems to be something that is leaving teachers flummoxed. I find it extraordinary that young girls are being asked to go back into school, into class, with people who have raped them.”
Earlier this year Tes revealed how sexual offences reported in schools have rocketed in recent years, going from 390 in 2012 to 1,386 last year according to FOI responses from police forces in England and Wales.
And in March Tes highlighted how in in many cases school staff have failed rape victims by putting them back into classrooms with their alleged attackers, amid concerns schools need more detailed guidance to help them deal with peer-on-peer abuse.
Ms Phillips told Mr Gibb that it has been a “basic” principle of legislation for decades that victims and perpetrators should be kept separate.
The schools minister responded: “We’re going to revise the guidance and the start of that process will happen this November but also we are going to issue interim advice about peer-on-peer abuse.”
Mr Gibb was also challenged on the slow pace of progress since the committee released a report last September highlighting the scale of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.
Ms Phillips cited a letter from the Department for Education to a solicitor which said that the department expects revised statutory guidance to come into force in September 2018.
She asked Mr Gibb: “Do you think it is acceptable, either to the girls, or the schools, that two years will have passed for this guidance to come into force when we called for immediate action?”
The minister responded: “Since that report, we’ve had a general election and we are going to be issuing interim advice concerning peer-on-peer abuse this term.”
Ms Miller brought the line of questioning to a close. She commented that the committee was "perplexed" about why the issue "doesn’t appear to have more urgency", and added: "I understand that the education wheels move slowly but we are talking about children being abused in schools on our watch and that just has to change quicker than I think we are hearing.”
Mr Gibb said that improving behaviour in schools has been a “key priority” for the government since 2010.