Ofsted inspectors are to carry out checks on schools that have been the subject of recent complaints about sexual harassment and assault.
The education watchdog said inspection teams would visit a sample of institutions where cases have been highlighted on the Everyone’s Invited website, which has collected more than 14,000 testimonies including alleged rapes and sexual attacks among children of school age.
The visits will form part of an emergency review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges, due to be completed by the end of May. Ofsted said it would not report on individual schools or cases but would look at good and bad practice across the country.
“However, we will ensure that appropriate referrals have been made in each case we explore,” it said. “In addition, if we find serious and widespread failures in a school or college’s safeguarding arrangements we will immediately carry out a full inspection, which will result in a published report.”
Inspectors will talk to school leaders to see if appropriate safeguarding processes are in place, how well understood guidance is and how effectively schools respond to complaints. They will also talk to students to find out whether those who make complaints are sufficiently well supported.
The review, announced last week by the government, will also look at how well schools and colleges are teaching about sex and relationships, with a particular focus on lessons on sexual abuse, cyberbullying and pornography, as well as healthy relationships and consent.
Relationships and sex education has been a compulsory part of the school curriculum in England since September, though delivery has been widely disrupted by Covid lockdowns.
The review team will also look at whether inspection regimes in state and private schools have been sufficiently robust around the issue of sexual abuse. The Guardian has previously reported that Ofsted has been particularly concerned about the monitoring of safeguarding at private schools, which is overseen by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
Although campaigners say sexual misconduct is happening in both the state and private sector, many of the most high-profile allegations in recent weeks have involved leading independent schools.
Announcing the terms of reference for the forthcoming review, Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said: “Like so many others, I have been deeply troubled by the allegations of sexual abuse posted on the Everyone’s Invited website. Many of the testimonies reveal that girls have not felt able to report incidents of sexual abuse to their schools.
“We hope that by listening to young people’s experiences first-hand, this review will provide much-needed insight into what these barriers are and how they can be overcome.”