Some schools have allowed a “Lord of the Flies culture” amid a wave of complaints of sexual violence, a senior Tory MP has said.
Education Committee chairman Robert Halfon backed growing calls for an inquiry into an outpouring of allegations of sexual abuse posted online by pupils – and said the current system was “not fit for purpose”.
Shadow Home Office Minister Jess Phillips said the Government had “dropped the ball” and failed to protect young people, as Labour called for an inquiry.
More than 8,000 reports have been posted on the Everyone’s Invited website, where school pupils can anonymously share their experiences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault.
“It is pretty grim just reading through the Everyone’s Invited website, your heart goes out to all the people who have suffered the abuse, the sexual harassment, the threats, the abuse online,” Mr Halfon told BBC Breakfast.
“I do think there is a Lord Of The Flies culture in some of our schools across our country and what needs to happen is an urgent inquiry to overhaul safeguarding procedures because they are not fit for purpose.
“The schools involved should immediately implement a system of providing counselling for students past and present as well… so they can get all the support they need.”
He said “much deeper” questions needed to be asked about the behaviour of some young men and warned of the impact social media was having on young people’s mental health.
Ms Phillips said complaints of sexual violence had been ignored for years.
She told Good Morning Britain: “What has gone wrong I’m afraid to say is a state that simply has not taken seriously and a Government that has not taken seriously this issue for too long.
“We’ve been hearing for weeks and no doubt we will hear again for months and in fact it’s been going on for years, that people coming forward about their sexual violence are ignored, the criminal justice system largely fails them.”
“But in this regard, I have to say I’m not at all shocked about what has happened in the last couple of weeks around schools because four years ago this was uncovered.”
In a separate interview, she said: “The Government have dropped the ball on this. They have not done enough… and they don’t have the answers.”
Conservative MP Maria Miller said recommendations made in a landmark report by the Women and Equalities Committee in 2016 were not acted on and called for a “deep dive” by the schools watchdog.
She told the Guardian: “Following the inquiry, Ofsted was required to monitor how sexual harassment was recorded and what action was taken.
“What I think now, very strongly, is we need to have Ofsted do a deep dive on the issue of the handling of sexual harassment in schools.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he is “very disturbed to hear that things were not acted upon”.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I think the important thing here is to reach out to people and say if there are any allegations, any people who’ve suffered, they should come forward, absolutely right, and that’s what we’re focused on, and I think Gavin (Williamson) as well was right to say that this kind of behaviour is completely abhorrent.
“As far as the details of the Maria Miller report is concerned, I haven’t read the report. I’m very disturbed to hear that things were not acted upon, but I think what’s important now is to make sure that people come forward and that we can get to the bottom of all these very serious allegations.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urged victims of “shocking and abhorrent” allegations to speak to a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher or the police.
“No school – whether an independent school or state school – should ever be an environment where young people feel unsafe, let alone somewhere that sexual abuse can take place,” he tweeted.
It comes after Chief Constable Simon Bailey said parents should take their son to the police if they are responsible for a sexual assault.
He predicted that a “significant number” of reports from across the education sector – and said the issue was not exclusive to private schools.