Government ministers accused of failing to take steps to tackle sexual assault in schools

Schools posters against rape culture
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As an inquiry is launched into an increasing amount of sexual abuse allegations in schools, ministers are said to have ignored requests for greater monitoring powers.

The Guardian reported that the chief inspector of Ofsted asked for more powers to check “potential safeguarding issues” in independent schools in 2018 and 2019. The requests were ignored.

Since then, more than 14,000 allegations of sexual harassment and assault in schools and universities have been shared on the website Everyone’s Invited. There are stories from both private and state schools.

Ofsted is heading an inquiry into how sexual harassment is dealt with by schools, as MPs said ministers hadn’t taken the issue seriously enough.

14,000 stories

Everyone’s Invited is a website that aims to tackle rape culture. It encourages contributors to anonymously share their stories of sexual abuse, misogyny, and harassment, naming the institution they attend.

Since its launch in June 2020, some 14,000 testimonies have been uploaded on to the site from pupils at schools across the country. Not all stories are related to schools, but founder Soma Sara said rape culture is “endemic” within the education system.

There are stories on the website from girls as young as nine.

Read on...

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As the number of testimonies shared on the site continues to grow, schools and ministers are coming under greater scrutiny.

“Potential safeguarding issues”

In 2018, chief Ofsted inspector Amanda Spielman wrote to then education secretary Damian Hinds. She said Ofsted had been unable to monitor inspections properly in private schools due to DfE restrictions.

Private schools are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which Spielman complained Ofsted could not oversee, leaving problems unable to be “spotted or tackled”. The ISI is responsible for schools like Dulwich College, one of the schools named in allegations.

After Spielman complained again in 2019, the DfE wrote back to tell Ofsted they would only have an ‘academic’ role in the overseeing of ISI. Lord Agnew, then education minister, wrote:

I expect that the Department of Education’s own monitoring of ISI’s reports and information provided directly by ISI, should allow the secretary of state to fulfil this role.

“Deeply troubling” environment

Several MPs called for the inquiry into how sexual harassment allegations are managed in schools. However, previous members of the Women and Equalities Committee said they warned the government had no plan for dealing with such allegations in 2016.

The report at the time called for urgent action after concluding that sexual harassment was treated as inconsequential in many schools. As a result, the government issued new guidance on dealing with peer-on-peer sexual assault.

Previous members Maria Miller, Conservative, and Jess Phillips, Labour, both said actions taken by the government since the 2016 report hadn’t resulted in real change.

Improving schools

The rising number of allegations on Everyone’s Invited has prompted widespread shock, eventually leading to the instigation of an inquiry.

Women’s Aid, a charity for supporting victims of domestic abuse, said there must be funding for schools to provide support to victims of abuse going forward as well as better sex and relationships education.

The team at Everyone’s Invited said:

We thank every brave survivor who has shared their story.

Much of the behaviour described within these testimonies is the product of a culture that normalises and trivialises these actions. Growing up, we were socialised to believe that this behaviour was acceptable. Now having read the testimonies everyone can understand the profound weight of everyone’s actions.

Featured image via YouTube/ITV News

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