Safeguarding: What Can We Learn From OFSTED's Review of Sexual Abuse

Safeguarding: What Can We Learn From OFSTED's Review of Sexual Abuse

Posted  21st September 2021

What can we learn from OFSTED’s review of sexual abuse?

This is a summary taken from Judicium’s Safeguarding ‘Sofa Session’ from the 15th of September, with our Safeguarding expert Hannah Glossop.

Main findings of Ofsted’s review of sexual abuse:

On 10th June 2021, Ofsted published their highly anticipated review, based on visits to 32 schools and colleges, speaking to over 900 children and young people. The reviewing team also spoke to school leaders, governors, parents and local safeguarding partners.

Findings of the review:

  • Prevalence of harmful sexual behaviours- “92% of girls and 74% of boys said sexist name-calling happens a lot or sometimes to them or their peers. The frequency of these harmful sexual behaviours means that some children and young people consider them normal.”
  • Young people also told inspectors that they did not want to talk about sexual abuse for many reasons, for example the risk of being ostracized by their peers. Some students told inspectors that, “incidents are so commonplace that they see no point in reporting them.” 
  • Lack of positivity about the Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) curriculum where key issues such as consent should be addressed and discussed.
  • The review also reports that, “In the schools and colleges we visited, some teachers and leaders underestimated the scale of the problem. They either did not identify sexual harassment and sexualised language as problematic or they were unaware they were happening.”
  • “A small number of Learning Support Practitioners (LSPs) told us that they were not aware that sexual harassment and violence, including online, in schools and colleges were significant problems in their local area."
  • “In just over a quarter of the schools we visited, inspectors reported that governors had some sort of safeguarding training, although it was not always clear that this included specific training on harmful sexual behaviour.”
  • In 93 inspections between September 2019 and March 2020:
    • 6% gave evidence of sexual violence and harassment.
    • 46% of schools gave a “nil return”.
    • 48% of schools did not provide information - In most of the inspections where no information was provided, inspectors did not record how they followed up with leaders to determine whether a nil return was an accurate picture.

What Has Changed as a Result? 7 Recommendations for Schools

1. Schools should have a carefully sequenced RSHE curriculum.

2. High-quality training for teachers delivering RSHE.

3. Routine record-keeping and analysis of sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online, to identify patterns and intervene early to prevent abuse.

4. Behavioural approach, including sanctions when appropriate, to reinforce a culture where sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are not tolerated.

5. Working closely with LSPs.

6. Provide more support for designated safeguarding leads (DSLs), such as protected time in timetables to engage with LSPs.

7. Training to ensure that all staff (and governors, where relevant) identify early signs of peer-on-peer sexual abuse and consistently uphold standards in their responses to sexual harassment and online sexual abuse. Governance was also seen to be central to tackling sexual violence and sexual harassment, where Governors should provide support and challenge: “Our visits indicate that Governors could receive better training and be more involved in tackling harmful sexual behaviours.”

Updates to OFSTED’s Education Inspection Handbook

On 28th June 2021 Ofsted published updated education inspection handbooks, this will take effect when routine inspection resumes in September. We looked at paragraphs 306-310 in the new inspection handbook with our attendees and the key findings below:

  • Inspectors will expect school leaders to assume that sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence are happening in and around their school, even when there are no specific reports, and to have put in place a whole-school approach to address them.
  • Inspectors will also consider how schools and colleges handle allegations and incidents of sexual abuse between children and young people when they do occur. o Inspectors will look at the preventative measures schools and colleges have put in place to guard against sexual harassment and abuse, including behaviour policies, pastoral support and the relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) curriculum.
  • Ofsted will also expect schools and colleges to be alert to factors that increase children’s potential vulnerability to sexual abuse, including mental health, domestic abuse and LGBT children.
  • Ofsted will expect schools to understand and address the barriers that could prevent a child or young person from reporting an incident. o Inspectors will not investigate individual allegations of harmful sexual behaviour, but will ensure that they are reported to the appropriate authority, if this has not already happened.
  • Where schools and colleges do have not adequate processes in place, it is likely that safeguarding will be considered ineffective.

Updates to ‘Inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills’

  • Paragraphs 8 and 9: The review, “recommends that leaders and managers should assume that sexual harassment and abuse are happening in their setting, even when there are no specific reports and should put in place a whole-school/college approach to respond to the issues.”
  • Paragraph 18: Schools “should put in place a whole-establishment approach to address them. This includes an effective behaviour policy with appropriate sanctions, pastoral support and a carefully planned relationships, sex and health education curriculum that covers issues of consent. Inspectors should look for evidence that settings are alert to factors that increase children’s and learners’ vulnerability or potential vulnerability.”

Updates to KCSIE: Part One: Safeguarding information for all staff

  • Child protection policy should now include procedures for dealing with peer-on-peer abuse.
  • New paragraph making clear that victims of peer-on-peer abuse should be taken seriously, kept safe and never be made to feel like they are creating a problem for reporting abuse, sexual violence or sexual harassment.
  • ‘Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges’ has been updated.

Checklist: How Schools can create a whole school approach

Top ideas to think about:

  • Are your policies and procedures up to date?
  • Have your staff had in depth training on this?
  • Does your curriculum need updating, particularly around RSHE and ensuring all pupils are supported to report concerns about sexual behaviour freely, and feel confident this is the case?
  • Do your staff need any training in how to deliver RSHE?
  • Do you keep comprehensive records of sexual harassment and violence? If you use an electronic reporting system, are these categories set up? If you were to report a nil return, would you be confident in justifying this?
  • Consider using this time to collect pupil voice-what do your pupils think about your school’s response to sexual abuse and violence?
  • What evidence do you have that shows you assume that sexual violence and harassment are taking place in your setting?

Helpful links to resources:

Link to watch the Panorama Episode “Who is Protecting our Kids?”:

Please also see below for more information about Judicium’s Safeguarding service:

If you require any support in any of these steps, or would like to talk to someone surrounding some support for your school please do not hesitate to call us on 0845 459 2130 or email

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