UK government launches immediate Ofsted review and NSPCC-run advice helpline to tackle abuse in schools

The Report Abuse in Education helpline can be reached by calling 0800 136 663 or emailing [email protected]

Ofsted is to examine safeguarding policies in state and independent schools, following thousands of sexual abuse allegations from students

The Government has announced the immediate review in an attempt to understand “the extent and the severity of the issue”, and ensure there are appropriate systems in place to allow pupils to report their concerns.

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The Department for Education (DfE) said the review will also look at ensuring there is enough guidance on how schools should deal with sexual harassment and violence allegations, and whether current school inspection systems are strong enough to address any concerns.

The fence outside James Allen's Girls' School (JAGS) in London, where pupils have pinned placards and red ribbons in protest against 'rape culture' and a nearby boys school which they have called a 'breeding ground for sexual predators' (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

It comes after more than 10,000 reports were posted on the Everyone’s Invited website, where students can anonymously share their experiences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault.

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Wendy Mair, from Everyone’s Invited, said the team behind the website were “proud to have started a crucial conversation” but disappointed the Education Secretary had not contacted them before the announcement.

“We are encouraged to see that the Government has responded and taken the first initial steps to review rape culture in all schools,” she said. "We await confirmation… that Everyone’s Invited will be included in carrying out this review.”

(Stock image) Ofsted will work with social care, police, victim support groups, school and college leaders (Photo: Shutterstock)

A ‘watershed moment’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has also announced a new helpline run by the NSPCC to support potential victims of sexual harassment and abuse in schools, including guidance on how to contact police and report crimes.

The number, which goes live on Thursday 1 April, will provide advice to children and adults, including parents and professionals, the DfE said.

The Report Abuse in Education helpline can be reached by calling 0800 136 663 or emailing [email protected]

Mr Williamson said: “Sexual abuse in any form is abhorrent and it is vital that these allegations are dealt with properly. No child or young person should have to experience abuse.

“While the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward.”

NSPCC chief executive officer Sir Peter Wanless described the review and the new helpline as a “watershed moment”.

“Thanks to those who have found the courage to speak out,” he said, “we have been commissioned to set up an independent helpline for children, parents and professionals to seek expert, sensitive advice from the NSPCC and safely report abuse that has happened or is happening in educational settings."

How will the review be carried out?

DfE said Ofsted will work with social care, police, victim support groups, school and college leaders, as well as the Independent Schools Council with the review expected to conclude by the end of May.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the helpline and said: “We are pleased that Ofsted intends to work with representatives from social care, police, and victim support groups, as well as with school and college leaders, acknowledging that schools alone cannot be the solution.”

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said schools have a “crucial” role to play in teaching young people about sexual consent and respect for women and girls.

“They must also be places where all children feel safe,” she said, “and where they are able to report any incidents of abuse or harassment and be confident that what they say will be acted upon.

“We will set out the terms of the review shortly,” she added.

Additional reporting by Press Association