Ofsted and DfE criticised over lack of data on child sexual abuse


Ofsted receives hundreds of reports of peer-on-peer sexual abuse in schools every year, but cannot say how many have prompted inspections.

A Schools Week investigation also found the Department for Education does not collect data on the number of reports it receives, which campaigners say could result in cases slipping through the net.

The government says abuse should be reported to schools and then referred to the police. But victims and their families can also report issues to sector organisations such as Ofsted and the DfE.

Freedom of information data shows Ofsted received 1,582 reports of sexual abuse in schools between 2016 and 2021. But when asked how many had sparked inspections, Ofsted said such data was not centrally held.

The watchdog has been repeatedly criticised over its handling of sexual abuse.

The recent Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found Ofsted “did not do enough” to identify serious child protection weaknesses in some schools. Inspectors even gave clean bills of health to settings in which children were being sexually abused, it found.

One parent, who complained in 2018 that Ofsted gave their daughter’s school the all-clear after a boy accused of raping her was put back into her class during an investigation, said the watchdog had “failed children catastrophically”.

The DfE, meanwhile, admitted it did not routinely collect or collate any data about reports of peer-on-peer abuse.

It said it believed the current system of schools collecting their own data and making referrals to children’s social care and the police was “effective”.

MP ‘extremely concerned’ over lack of records

A lack of national data on sexual abuse was raised in a 2016 report by the parliamentary women and equalities committee.

Emma Hardy, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, told Schools Week she was “extremely concerned” Ofsted and the DfE did not keep central records.

Hardy

“Without proper data, important patterns and opportunities to introduce improved safeguarding will be missed. Student safeguarding and welfare is the responsibility of all those involved in education, not just a matter for each individual school.”

But Ofsted said risk assessment was “not a tick-box exercise and there isn’t single way of dealing with complaints about schools”. Complaints were “handled individually and carefully assessed to determine what action is required” and then held on school records.

“While those records are not immediately accessible to anyone outside Ofsted, we are confident that our complaints about schools process is rigorous, prioritises children, and treats each case with the appropriate care and consideration it needs.”

Ofsted carried out its own review of sexual abuse in schools last year, following allegations of abuse shared on the Everyone’s Invited website.

It concluded that it was unable to say whether its own inspections were “sufficiently assessing” the extent of sexual harassment and violence.

The watchdog updated its approach, telling inspectors to speak to pupils about such issues and better interrogate schools’ data.

However, the parent who complained in 2018 said parents reporting issues were “treated as the problem. There is a culture of disbelief and silencing that is dangerous and unpleasant”.

“When Ofsted gives a judgment that safeguarding is effective in a school, it means nothing. Parents cannot rely on it. Ofsted listens to school leadership but does not want to hear from parents or the public who are trying to raise the alarm.”

Ofsted criticised over handling of RSE complaint

Ofsted has also been accused of shunning uncomfortable decisions on inappropriate sex education materials.

Campaigners questioned its decision to give a clean bill of health to St Mary’s RC High School in Herefordshire last year, after a monitoring inspection was prompted by concerns about relationships and sex education resources called “A Fertile Heart”.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, last year raised “serious concerns” about the materials, which suggested it was a woman’s role to “receive” and men’s to “initiate” love in relationships.

Ofsted concluded it did not believe the materials would be used in a way that promoted “misogynistic or discriminatory attitudes” or breached equality law.

Amanda Attfield, a local campaigner, questioned whether Ofsted had properly assessed the materials. Her complaint to the watchdog was not taken forward because she was not a teacher, governor or parent, she said, warning the “inspection system disincentivises challenge”.

But the watchdog said it stood by its report. A Fertile Heart said it had “made appropriate amendments” to the resources, and received “positive feedback” from schools. St Mary’s referred Schools Week back to its inspection report.



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