School sex abuse cases drop only slightly despite lengthy lockdown

The number of sexual offences committed in schools was only just short of the previous years figures, according to recent data.

According to a review by Ofsted, a total of 157 cases in schools, colleges and academies were reported to Essex Police in the school year between 2019 and 2020, despite lockdown for around half of the school year.

This is ten more than the 147 recorded in the 2017/2018 school year. In 2018/2019 there were 189 recorded.

Of a total of 470 victims in those three years, 447 were below the age of 18.

In 2017/18, a total of 105 were under the age of 18, in 2018/2019 there were 111 under 18 and in 2019/2020 there were 106.

The stark figures come amidst reports from Ofsted – the schools watchdog for England – that some girls can be contacted by up to 11 boys a night asking for nude images.

Schools were closed from March 23 for the vast majority of students.

From June 1, 2020 pre-schools and some primary school years were allowed to physically re-open. This was followed by some secondary school years from June 15 until the end of the summer half-term in mid-July 2020.

It was not until August 31, 2020 that educational settings opened for all students in England.

Councillor Tony Ball, Essex County Council’s cabinet member for education excellence, skills and training, said: “The findings from Ofsted’s latest thematic review of schools across the UK identifies some very important and concerning issues about the scale of sexual abuse in schools and colleges.

“It is unacceptable that any young person should be harassed or abused – in any form this might take – while at school or outside of school and there is a clear need for improvement across the education system on this issue.

“As a county council, we have been clear that this is not only a matter for schools and colleges but across wider society as a whole.

“Although of course, schools and colleges have a very important role to play in the education of children and young people.

“The safety and welfare of all children and young people in Essex is our priority.

“We are carefully reviewing the recommendations published, along with the work that is already underway including our strengthened support for training across the education workforce.

“We are committed to working with education settings to help bring about a change in culture to ensure that harassment and abuse of any kind is not tolerated and that the learning environment is a safe and inclusive space for every pupil.

“We have already started this work with settings by providing resources and training.

“We would encourage any young person who has been a victim of harassment or abuse to raise this with their school or college, Essex Police or to contact the NSPCC national helpline on 0800 136 663 or email [email protected]

Watchdog Ofsted also visited 30 state and independent schools and two further education colleges and spoke to more than 900 young people about sexual harassment.

According to the report, some 64 per cent of girls said they had experienced unwanted touching “a lot” or “sometimes”. Eight in 10 said they had been put under pressure to share sexual images of themselves.

Children said sexual violence typically occurred in unsupervised spaces outside of school – like parties or parks.

Pupils in several schools – according to the data – said harmful sexual behaviour happens at house parties, without adults present, and that alcohol and drugs are often involved.

The watchdog has warned that sexual harassment has become “normalised” among school-age children.

Separately, one in 10 of all schools and colleges in England have been named in testimonies detailing claims of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The Everyone’s Invited campaign published a list of around 2,700 schools and colleges associated with allegations of rape culture. Around 400 are primary schools. The list also includes private schools and colleges. Of the total 76 are based in Essex.

Speaking to the BBC last week, MP for Chelmsford and children’s minister Vicky Ford, said: “I think we need to reset the dial and work with our young people. A lot of what is happening here is the overlap between the digital revolution and how that then tips over into action we see in the real world.”

She later made a statement to the House of Commons.

Mrs Ford said: “The Everyone’s Invited testimonies has shown the scale and nature of sex harassment experienced in young people often by their peers.”

She added: “Sometimes sexual abuse happens in school or college but sometimes it happens outside the school gates.

“In both cases it is important to support our teachers to deal with the issues quickly and sensitively, so our children and young people get the right assistance.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter