Sex harassment: How Ofsted inspections will change

Schools will be judged 'ineffective' where they do not have adequate processes to deal with sexual harassment

Catherine Lough

Sex abuse in schools: How Ofsted inspections will change

Schools lacking adequate processes for dealing with harmful sexual behaviour will be judged as "ineffective" on safeguarding, Ofsted has stated.

The inspectorate also said today that it would "ensure" that allegations of harmful sexual behaviour were reported to the authorities, although inspectors would not investigate allegations themselves.


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Ofsted said that when assessing safeguarding, "inspectors will consider how the school handles allegations and instances of sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence".

This would include checking that there are school-wide policies in place to make it clear that sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence, including sexualised language, are unacceptable.

Ofsted to look at how schools handle complaints of sexual abuse or harassment

The inspectorate said this should also be reflected in the curriculum and that a school's relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) should specifically address harmful sexual behaviours and issues of consent.

Ofsted said all pupils must be supported to "report concerns about harmful sexual behaviour freely", that concerns should be taken seriously and dealt with "swiftly and appropriately" and that pupils should be confident that this is the case. Schools must also keep comprehensive records of all allegations.

"Inspectors will not investigate allegations of harmful sexual behaviour themselves, but will ensure that allegations are reported to the appropriate authority, where that has not already happened," Ofsted said.

"Where schools do have not adequate processes in place, it is likely that safeguarding will be considered ineffective," it added.

This would impact on the judgement of leadership and management, and inspectors "may also, depending on the circumstances, take this evidence into account when considering personal development and behaviour and attitude judgements (particularly in respect of pastoral support and pupils feeling safe respectively)".

Ofsted also said it would:

  • Look at how schools work to prevent harmful sexual behaviour through a whole-school approach, including an effective behaviour policy, pastoral support and a carefully planned RSHE curriculum.
  • Look at how schools are alert to factors that increase pupils' vulnerability to harmful sexual behaviours, such as mental ill-health, domestic abuse, pupils with additional needs and pupils with a greater risk of exploitation or who feel unable to report abuse; for example, girls and LGBT pupils.
  • Seek to understand how "any barriers that could prevent a pupil from making a disclosure – for example, communication needs – are identified and addressed".

Schools should "assume that sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence are happening in and around the school, even when there are no specific reports, and put in place a whole-school approach to address them".

Ofsted added that pupils must be taught about safeguarding risks, including risks online, and that pupils should be supported in understanding what constitutes a healthy relationship both online and offline. 

The updates were added to the inspections handbook alongside a series of other changes. 

The changes will come into effect in September.

Sean Harford, Ofsted's national education director, said: “The findings from our recent review have revealed just how commonplace sexual harassment has become in schools and colleges. So, even when there are no specific reports, schools and colleges must assume that it is taking place and plan to address it accordingly. Our updated handbooks are clear about how we will assess the approach schools and colleges have taken to tackle these issues head-on.

“We will expect schools and colleges to have created a culture where sexual abuse and harassment is not acceptable and never tolerated. And where pupils are supported to report any concerns about harmful sexual behaviour and can feel confident they will be taken seriously.”

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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