18 May, 2021
The House of Commons Library has just published a briefing paper on sexual harassment in education in England (link : https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8117/ )
It seeks to supplement existing statutory guidance ('Keeping Children Safe in Education Jan 2021') to which all schools and colleges in England must already have regard when carrying out their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and quite succinctly provides an overview of research findings and legislative developments over recent years, seeking to offer practical assistance to those handling allegations and incidents of sexual harm in all education settings.
It will soon be further supplemented by OfSted's findings, OfSted having been tasked by Government to review safeguarding practices in UK schools and colleges following the 'Everyone's Invited' testimonies and accounts ( https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-launches-review-into-sexual-abuse-in-schools). Since 2019, OfSted has held the power to seek evidence from schools being inspected that they are recording and analysing instances of sexual harm, bullying, and discriminatory and prejudiced behaviour. However the testimonies recently posted would suggest that sexual harm of varying degrees remains prevalent within educational establishments across the UK, and is affecting students of all ages, from a wide variety of backgrounds, whether in independent, academy or state-funded schools. It is expected that OfSted will provide further guidance in due course, having liaised with social care, police, victim support groups, educational leaders and independent schools council.
The same briefing paper tackles the more nuanced balance faced by universities and further education colleges who must balance duties of care to ensure that students have a safe environment in which to live and work, whilst also allowing those same (mostly) adult students a greater degree of freedom and autonomy. It provides some working examples, suggestions, and summarises recent parliamentary questions on the issue.
Given the nature of this issue most starkly spotlighted by the 'Everyone's Invited' testimonies, it stands to reason that all educational establishments should now take the time to review their existing policies to see if they remain fit for purpose. Where deficiencies are identified, there needs to be an appetite to address and resolve these so that a clear, consistent and transparent process is endorsed by Governors/Trustees, understood by all staff, parents and pupils, and applied fairly and fearlessly by senior management charged with discipline and behaviour. This includes the development of preventative strategies as well as responsive strategies. Allocating time, resource and sufficiently trained personnel to this, will of course always be the challenge.