Last reviewed 14 June 2021

Sexual harassment, including online sexual abuse, has become ‘normalised’ for children and young people, according to a review conducted by Ofsted.

The regulator’s inspectors visited 32 state and private schools and colleges and spoke to more than 900 children and young people about the prevalence of sexual harassment in their lives and the lives of their peers.

Nearly 90% of the girls spoken to said that sexist name calling and being sent unwanted explicit pictures or videos happened ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes.

Inspectors were also told that boys talk about whose ‘nudes’ they have and share them among themselves like a ‘collection game’, typically on platforms such as WhatsApp or Snapchat.

Ofsted’s recommendations

The regulator has urged schools, colleges and partner agencies to:

  • develop a culture where all kinds of sexual harassment are recognised and addressed, including with sanctions when appropriate;

  • “carefully sequence” the RSHE (Relationships, Sex and Health Education) curriculum with time allocated for topics that children and young people find difficult, such as consent and sharing explicit images;

  • provide high-quality training for teachers delivering RSHE; and

  • improve engagement between multi-agency safeguarding partners and schools.

The Government’s response

The Department for Education (DfE) has said that teachers and school leaders will be better supported to recognise sexual harassment and abuse and to teach confidently about issues of consent, online pornography and healthy relationships.

School and college leaders will be encouraged to dedicate inset day time to help train staff on how to deal with sexual abuse and harassment among pupils and how to deliver the Government’s new compulsory RSHE curriculum.

The Department has confirmed it will take forward work to strengthen the RSHE curriculum so that teachers are clearer on when different elements should be taught, such as sharing images online and consent, as well as updating statutory guidance to ensure that the definitions used are in line with what pupils understand and experience.

Meanwhile, Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza said: “There needs to be a clear focus on preventing peer-on-peer abuse from happening in the first place, as well as providing timely and sensitive support to those affected.”