An immediate review of sexual abuse in schools has been launched after thousands of experiences were shared on a website.
The government has asked Ofsted to look at the extent and the severity of the issue and undertake an immediate review of safeguarding policies in both state and independent schools.
Inspectors are being told to ensure schools have appropriate processes in place to allow pupils to report concerns freely, knowing these will be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
A new helpline, run by the NSPCC and to go live on Thursday, is also being launched to support potential victims of sexual harassment and abuse in educational settings.
It comes after more than 11,500 testimonies were posted on the Everyone’s Invited website, where students can anonymously share their experiences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault.
As part of the review, Ofsted will make sure there is sufficient guidance on how schools should deal with sexual harassment and violence allegations.
They will also assess whether the current inspection regimes in both state and private schools are strong enough to address concerns and promote the welfare of children.
Their review is due to conclude by the end of May.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Sexual abuse in any form is abhorrent and it is vital that these allegations are dealt with properly.
“While the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward.
“This government is committed to ensuring victims feel supported to refer the most serious allegations to the police via the helpline, safe in the knowledge that everything possible will be done to bring offenders to justice.
“No child or young person should have to experience abuse.
“But if something isn’t right, they should speak to someone they trust to raise concerns, whether that’s family, a friend, teacher or social worker, helpline or the police.”
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‘Need to change boys’ behaviour’
Mr Williamson’s department said it would not hesitate to take action where schools are failing to meet strict safeguarding standards.
And Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate will inspect any schools where there are concerns and ensure they either improve their practices or are forced to close.
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “Like everyone else, I have been deeply troubled by accounts of the sexual abuse and harassment young people have suffered at school and in the community.
“Schools have a crucial role to play in teaching young people about sexual consent and respect for women and girls.
“They must also be places where all children feel safe and where they are able to report any incidents of abuse or harassment and be confident that what they say will be acted upon.”
Wendy Mair, from Everyone’s Invited, said the team behind the website were “proud to have started a crucial conversation” but were disappointed Mr Williamson had not contacted them before the announcement of the review.
“We are encouraged to see that the government has responded and taken the first initial steps to review rape culture in all schools,” she said.
“We await confirmation from Gavin Williamson that Everyone’s Invited will be included in carrying out this review and are disappointed that he did not contact us before this announcement.
“We are pleased that the Department for Education has worked closely with the police and the NSPCC to ensure that there is a dedicated helpline for everyone who needs it.”
The dedicated NSPCC helpline number is 0800 136 663, which will be live from Thursday.