Ofsted’s review finds sexual harassment 'normalised' among school children

Sexual harassment, including online sexual abuse, has become ‘normalised’ for children and young people, Ofsted has found
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Pupils are not reporting sexual harassment because it’s seen as a ‘normal experience’, the education watchdog has found.

Ofsted has published a report into sexual harassment among pupils which found 9 in 10 girls had been sent unwanted explicit pictures or videos 'a lot’ or ‘sometimes’.

In April, Ofsted was asked by the government to undertake a rapid review of sexual harassment in schools and colleges, after anonymous testimonials of sexual abuse were published on the website ‘Everyone’s Invited’ - which prompted a Met Police investigation.

Ofsted has said a culture change is needed to tackle 'normalised’ sexual harassment in schools and colleges (Getty)Ofsted has said a culture change is needed to tackle 'normalised’ sexual harassment in schools and colleges (Getty)
Ofsted has said a culture change is needed to tackle 'normalised’ sexual harassment in schools and colleges (Getty)

Inspectors visited 32 state and private schools and colleges and spoke to more than 900 children as part of their review.

Major findings were how boys talk about whose ‘nudes’ they have while girls experience sexist comments and unwanted touching in corridors.

Many teachers said they don’t feel prepared to teach outside their subject specialism, or lack knowledge on topics like consent, healthy relationships and sharing of sexual images.

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‘It’s alarming sexual harassment is a part of growing up’

Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector, said: This review shocked me. It’s alarming that many children and young people, particularly girls, feel they have to accept sexual harassment as part of growing up. Whether it’s happening at school or in their social life, they simply don’t feel it’s worth reporting.

"This is a cultural issue; it’s about attitudes and behaviours becoming normalised, and schools and colleges can’t solve that by themselves.

"The government needs to look at online bullying and abuse, and the ease with which children can access pornography. But schools and colleges have a key role to play. They can maintain the right culture in their corridors and they can provide RSHE that reflects reality and equips young people with the information they need.

“I hope policymakers, teachers, parents and young people will read the report and work together to change attitudes and put a stop to harmful behaviour.

"Sexual harassment should never be considered normal and it should have no place in our schools and colleges.”

Shocking findings

Children said sexual violence typically occurred in unsupervised spaces outside of school, like parties or parks while boys are sharing nude images like a ‘collection game’.

Pupils in several schools said harmful sexual behaviour happens at house parties, without adults present, and that alcohol and drugs are often involved.

School and college leaders are now encouraged to have dedicated training days where staff are taught about how to deal with sexual harassment and abuse and learn about sanctions when appropriate.

Governors talked about a culture of “affluent neglect” and leaders said some parents bought alcohol for their children to have at parties when they were away.

In some schools, pupils talked about cultural factors that contributed to boys’ harmful sexual behaviour.

One Year 12 boy talking about his peers said: “Essentially, they only spend time with boys, then hit puberty and start going to parties with booze and drugs and girls, and they don’t know how to handle it. And some of the boys are very wealthy and have never been told ‘no’ before.”

In one school, pupils said ‘body shaming’ and ‘slut shaming’ were common and leaders were aware of the need to change what they referred to as the ‘rugby culture’.