Ofsted's chief inspector has suggested that male pupils sending naked photographs of themselves to female classmates is not a safeguarding issue for schools.
Amanda Spielman was taking questions from the Commons Education Select Committee this morning, following her watchdog's publication of a major report last week telling headteachers to act on the assumption that sexual harassment is happening in their schools.
Today she was asked by Ian Mearns, Labour MP for Gateshead: "When is an allegation of sexual harassment involving a child not a safeguarding issue?"
Ms Spielman replied: "I have talked recently, for example, to a sample of girls who had left school within the last two years. Only one of them was able to say that they had never been sent an image by a boy of…a photograph of their naked selves.
"Most of the girls laugh that off and think it’s contemptible. They would not want to be pulled into sort of safeguarding procedures by reason of being sent a photograph that they think is simply contemptible."
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Mr Mearns then asked: "Is it not a safeguarding issue for the boy who sent the photograph as well - in terms of their behaviour, and what else they’re likely to be getting up to?"
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Ms Spielman replied: "There’s a spectrum here and the advisers we had on the reference group were really helpful on this – in sexual misconduct of every kind there is a spectrum from the truly evil and appalling at one extreme all the way down to things which are essentially clumsy explorations of emerging adolescent sexuality.
"And one of the things that we noticed in doing this work was that it was really difficult for schools to find a good way of thinking about and representing that gradient and understanding where the right place to sort of draw the line was in terms of deciding what was a cause for serious concern and what was simply a matter of education where the messages that reinforce culture and that help boys and girls understand what oversteps the mark and help them understand the importance of respecting that.
"So there is one piece that’s about culture and education and one piece that’s about the point at which you invoke formal proceedings of any kind, whether it’s safeguarding or criminal."
Ofsted's report last week, prompted by allegations of sexual harassment and assault in schools documented on the Everyone's Invited website, documented the level of online sexual abuse now taking place between pupils.
"Children and young people told us that online forms of sexual abuse were prevalent, especially being sent sexual pictures or videos that they did not want to see," it said. "The vast majority of girls said being sent sexual images, being coerced into sharing images, or having their images reshared were common.
"A significant proportion of boys agreed. In terms of definitions, being sent sexual pictures of images that children and young people do not want to see includes both explicit online material, such as pornographic videos, or self-generated images or videos, such as ‘dick pics’."