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Sexual assault in schools: a scandal


women and equalities committee, child on child abuse, rape, schools, government inactionWhy is the government not acting with more urgency?

Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee questioned Equalities Ministers Nick Gibb MP and Anne Milton MP earlier this month about what is being done to ensure girls are protected from abuse in schools and able to access their right to education.

In the session on 11 October, members of the Women and Equalities Committee referred to a letter from the Department for Education sent to a solicitor about the delays in government action since the Committee warned of the sexual abuse girls suffer in schools in its report in September 2016.

The Department’s letter refers to interim guidance that it is publishing on sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Updates to statutory guidance will not now come into force until September 2018 – two years after the Committee reported these issues.

This meeting followed an extremely disturbing BBC Panorama documentary shown on 9 October which featured interviews with several girls and their families where serious assaults had taken place and schools had failed to act to protect them.

In his answers to the Committee’s questions, Nick Gibb MP said that schools should not be putting boys back in class with girls they have assaulted, but admitted that guidance to schools does not currently require this.

He said there would be new and updated guidance issued “soon”.

Current guidance does not state specifically that children who sexually abuse other children at school should not be put back in the same classroom. However, the Minister said, this should not happen, and that the Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance could include this when it is revised this year.

And Ministers have now committed to looking at the inclusion of detailed guidance for schools that perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual violence should not be put back in the same class as the victim, and providing information to the Committee on numbers of schools put into special measures by Ofsted for failing to protect girls from sexual harassment or sexual violence.

Sarah Green, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “We’re really pleased that the Women and Equalities Committee has finally been able to extract this position from a government Minister … – clarity that schools must treat assaults on girls seriously and should not expect them to return to class with boys they have complained about.

“The committee’s inquiry on sexual harassment and violence in schools last year threw a spotlight on this enormous issue, showing that harassment and serious assaults including rapes are common in our schools.

“A national scandal.

“But guidance to schools on safeguarding and bullying commonly fails to mention this behaviour and does not support school leaders and teachers to take action.

“In the worst cases which our members come across, schools are worried about being seen to treat an “unproven” allegation seriously and girls commonly leave school.

“Adult women in good workplaces would never be treated this way.

“We hope the Minister’s commitment to new guidance is fulfilled without delay.

“And we hope schools are able to use the experience and skills of specialist sexual violence organisations to help them respond to this endemic abuse.”

And Maria Miller MP, the Committee’s Chair, said: “Ministers’ commitment to tackling the sexual abuse of girls in schools is not in doubt.

“However, the Committee is perplexed as to why the government is not acting with more urgency when we are talking about girls being abused in our schools, on our watch.

“We look forward to receiving the information the Ministers promised, and seeing urgent action so that schools have the information they need and girls are better protected from abuse.”

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