The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 10 June.
“With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Ofsted review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges.
This is a very serious matter. Abuse in any form is abhorrent, especially when it is abuse of the vulnerable or children. The Everyone’s Invited testimonies have shown us the scale and nature of sexual abuse and harassment experienced by young people, often from their peers, and I would like to thank the founders and all those who have shared their experiences. Anyone who has visited their website will have been struck by the huge volume of accounts, many of which contain chilling stories of abuse and harassment.
Let me be clear: sexism and misogyny are not okay. Sexual harassment, let alone non-consensual touching, groping or sexual contact, is not okay—none of this is okay. Sending unrequested nudes is not okay, and neither is bullying your peers into sending a nude and then sharing it with your mates. Yet this has become commonplace for so many young people. We, as government, as parents, as educators and as a society, must work together to turn the cultural dial.
This Government acted quickly by asking Ofsted to carry out the review that has reported its findings today, and setting up a specific National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children helpline to support those who wanted to report sexual abuse or receive advice. More than 400 calls have been received so far, and about 70 have been referred to other agencies, including the police. The number is 0800 136 663 and it will remain open until October.
Today, I would like to thank Ofsted for working at pace to ensure we have fresh insight into the scale of the issues young people are facing. I thank all who contributed, especially victims’ representatives and the schools and colleges. I thank the 900 young people who gave their views, and the reference group, with its representatives from a wide range of organisations, including social care, the police, education leaders, and the Independent Schools Council. Their input has been invaluable.
Sometimes, sexual abuse happens within school or college, but sometimes it happens outside the school gates. In both cases, it is important to support our teachers to deal with the issues quickly and sensitively so that our children and young people get the right assistance. Much of the abuse identified impacts predominantly on girls and young women. We know from the annual Girls’ Attitudes survey that, increasingly, young girls feel pressured about their appearance, but the Ofsted review is the first time we have evidence of the scale of activity in education settings that at best can be referred to as sexism, and at worst is repeated, sustained abuse. This is why we are working across government, prioritising the child sexual abuse strategy and the violence against women and girls strategy, as well as the online safety Bill, to make sure they can be delivered in a co-ordinated and holistic way. Everyone needs to coalesce around this issue, put aside institutional boundaries and put the needs of children and young people first.
We fully accept the findings of the review, and we believe that schools and colleges, safeguarding partners, government and the inspectorates can collectively make the difference. On the recommendations that Ofsted has identified for the Government, we will go further. Much of this work is already under way. We are already updating the Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance for this September, ensuring that schools have even clearer guidance on how to deal with reports of sexual abuse, and we will also update the Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance in line.
We have already introduced the new compulsory relationships, sex and health education curriculum. In both primary and secondary schools, the curriculum’s focus on healthy relationships helps children to know where to seek help and report abuse and address inappropriate behaviour such as harassment, exploitation, sexism and misogyny. It is the first time that the curriculum has been updated since 2000, and from next term we expect the RSHE curriculum to be implemented in full.
There is more that we are doing. We know that our teachers do not always feel comfortable in teaching about sex and relationships, but it is vital that we get this right. We therefore want to support and work with school leaders and other agencies to help teachers and school staff to deliver the RSHE curriculum as effectively as possible, and I am asking schools to dedicate time from an inset day for that purpose.
Children have said that it is important to teach the RSHE curriculum from a young age. Young people supporting their peers is a powerful way to bring about change, and we are considering how we can get older students to support the delivery of the RSHE curriculum. While the statutory curriculum does not currently apply to further education colleges, there is good practice in many of these colleges, and we are working with the sector to address this gap.
It is important that children and young people feel confident that they will be heard and that action will be taken. We want to work with young people and hear their voices, so that they can inform the curriculum and communications. I and other Ministers will be meeting young people to help achieve that.
Every day in our schools, designated safeguarding leads undertake amazing work to keep children safe. They deserve our admiration and support. Today we are announcing that we will work with up to a further 500 schools on our project to support and supervise designated safeguarding leads in up to 10 additional local authorities, and that we are already developing an online resource hub where designated safeguarding leads can access relevant advice. The Government will undertake further work to consider how we can give greater status and support to designated safeguarding leads, looking first at the model we have for special educational needs co-ordinators. We are also discussing with Ofsted whether any additional support is needed for children and young people with special educational needs.
This is a cultural issue and not just a matter of how to investigate individual cases. We do expect all schools and colleges to have robust policies in place to create a culture that treats all young people fairly and addresses concerns immediately, but schools and colleges cannot do that alone and should not think that they have to. We expect every local safeguarding partnership to reach out to all its schools and be clear on how they are engaged in local safeguarding arrangements. We would like to see that happen by the October half-term. We are developing a programme looking at best practice in how schools engage in local safeguarding arrangements.
It is also clear from the testimonies that our young people continue to face similar issues when they move to university. The Office for Students recently published a statement of expectations on harassment and sexual misconduct; all universities should take note of that and act on it. Today, the OfS has asked all universities to review and update their systems, policies and procedures in advance of the next academic year. The Government will continue to work with the OfS to ensure that all students feel confident to report incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence.
There is another thing that is not okay: the ease of access to and increasing violence of online pornography. This increasingly accessible online content, which often portrays extremely violent sex, can give young people warped views of sex and deeply disturbing views on consent. The Government have already taken many actions to protect victims of sexual abuse and sexual violence, including by outlawing coercive control. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has outlawed non-fatal strangulation and removed the rough-sex defence to murder. We have criminalised upskirting and both the sending of and the threat of sending revenge pornography.
The online safety Bill will deliver a ground-breaking system of accountability and oversight of tech companies and make them accountable to an independent regulator. The strongest protections in the new regulatory framework will be for children, and companies will need to take steps to ensure that children cannot access services that pose the highest risk of harm, such as online pornography. In addition, the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have asked the Children’s Commissioner to start looking immediately at how we can reduce children and young people’s access to pornography and other harmful content. That work will identify whether there are actions that can be taken more quickly to protect children before the online safety Bill comes into effect.
Finally, there is an important role for parents. As a mum, I know of the difficulty in discussing these issues with our children, but parents need to be aware of what their children are doing and how to support them when things go wrong. Parents, please do look at the support available from the UK Safer Internet Centre, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Internet Watch Foundation. Each has detailed resources to help upskill us all in what can sometimes feel like a daunting world. Right now, it is estimated that 1.4 million children access pornography every month in the UK. What they are seeing is changing how they perceive sex and relationships. So please, parents, turn on your broadband filters and make sure that you understand and switch on the safety features on your children’s phones and devices. Just as you would not put your children into physical danger, do not allow your child to go into digital danger.
The rising trend in sexual abuse must be stopped. We, the Government, stand by our schools, our families and all those who care about children, and we will do whatever is right to safeguard them. For that reason, I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, Ofsted was asked to conduct a rapid review of sexual harassment and abuse in schools and colleges in England after thousands of harrowing testimonies detailing sexual abuse and misconduct in schools were posted on the Everyone’s Invited website this year. I was last teaching full-time in 2016, when these problems were emerging, but nothing was evident on the scale that has erupted in the past couple of years.
Inspectors visited 32 unnamed schools and colleges in both the independent and state sectors, including a number named on Everyone’s Invited, and spoke to more than 900 children and young people. Nine out of 10 girls and half the boys who took part in the review said that being sent unsolicited explicit pictures or videos happened
“a lot or sometimes to them or their peers.”
A similar proportion of girls—92%—and three-quarters of boys complained of recurrent sexist name-calling. The report said:
“The frequency of these harmful sexual behaviours means that some children and young people consider them normal.”
Although the review focused mainly on secondary school-aged children, inspectors went to two primary schools and found that there were already concerns about children viewing porn and inappropriate images on social media.
Ofsted wants head teachers to take a whole-school approach and develop a culture where all kinds of sexual harassment are addressed and sanctioned. It calls for sex education to allow sufficient time to cover consent and sharing explicit images, and it urges the Government to take the findings of the review into account as they develop the online safety Bill. Ofsted tells us that this is a cultural issue; it is about attitudes and behaviours becoming normalised. Schools and colleges cannot solve that by themselves. The Government need to look at online bullying and abuse and the ease with which children can access pornography.
The Ofsted report echoes the findings of a landmark report by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee in 2016. I simply ask the Minister: why has nothing happened since then? How can we be sure that real change will come about after the Ofsted report? We have had reports in the past and nothing has happened, so what is different now?
Earlier today in the education debate—eloquently led by my noble friend Lady Morris—I spoke about an outstanding report published yesterday by the Welsh Labour Government on their plans for education recovery in Wales, which puts learners at the centre. It is called Renew and Reform: Supporting Learners’ Wellbeing and Progression, and I again recommend it as essential reading.
Yesterday also saw the publication by Minister Jeremy Miles MS of a written statement on sexual harassment and abuse in education settings in Wales, and I sincerely offer the following suggestions to this Government from the Welsh Government’s review. The Minister will request Estyn, our Ofsted, to conduct a review into culture and process in schools to help protect and support young people better. While the findings of that review will play an important role in supporting settings and informing government policy, the Minister recognises that we cannot await the outcome of that review before he acts, so he expects that every school and local authority should have a designated lead responsible for supporting learners with relationships and sexuality education.
The Welsh Government have published extensive guidance on preventing and responding to child sexual abuse, including their statutory guidance, Keeping Learners Safe. Furthermore, they have published violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence guidance for school governors and a toolkit for education staff containing best practice, as well as supporting the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales with the development of its strategy. The Welsh Government’s National Action Plan Preventing and Responding to Child Sexual Abuse has 10 objectives, including objective 2:
“Increased awareness in children of the importance of safe, equal and healthy relationships and that abusive behaviour is always wrong.”
Working with regional safeguarding boards, they are implementing the plan with the view that more must be done. I once again offer the UK Government, via the Minister, the opportunity to learn from what devolved Governments are already doing in this extremely difficult and sensitive area.
I have a series of questions for the UK Government. Will they now commit to using the online safety Bill to tackle the forced and unwanted sharing of nude photos and other online harassment? What support will the Government provide to schools to create the whole-school and whole-college approaches to tackling sexual harassment recommended by Ofsted? Does the Minister agree that the Office for Students’ recent Statement of Expectations falls short of the action needed to tackle the estimated 50,000 incidents of sexual harassment and abuse taking place on university campuses each year? Something must indeed be done.
My Lords, I welcome the Ofsted review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges, and I am pleased to hear the Government’s response.
I have been raising much of what has been highlighted in the review for many years in this House. Countless parents have contacted me to tell me about the sexual abuse and harassment that their children have had to face in schools. Some children as young as four have been sexually assaulted by children as young as 10. Teenage girls have told me about the aggressive sexual abuse that they have had to face for more than 10 years now. Many have felt ashamed about what they have been asked to perform, and they have even resorted to self-harm and experienced suicidal thoughts.
So nothing in the review has come as a surprise to me or to many teachers across the country in both public and state schools, as well as in colleges and universities. Many signed an open letter that I wrote to the Prime Minister just last month, highlighting our concerns at the epidemic of sexual abuse fuelled by online pornography. Let us give a thought to all those who have been affected.
The review by Ofsted rightly has a strong emphasis on education, and the PSHE Association has long recommended that best practice for RSHE is for it to be delivered as part of a spiral PSHE curriculum that builds children’s knowledge and skills and contributes to supporting them in navigating their social worlds both now and in future. That requires timetabled lessons, trained teachers and accountability through inspection bodies. What commitments are there from inspectoral bodies, including Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate, to inspect PSHE, including RSHE, to the same standard as they would inspect other curriculum areas, including Ofsted ensuring that PSHE is inspected within the “quality of education” element of its inspection framework? It is vital that schools provide evidence of their three Is—intent, implementation and impact—as they would for history, maths, science or any other curriculum areas.
The current training modules released by the DfE are widely criticised by teachers due to their focusing on simply imparting factual knowledge to teachers. PSHE and RSHE can be dangerous if taught by teachers who are undertrained and underprepared. Will the Government commit to training that demonstrates effective improvement of teachers’ confidence and competence in teaching RSHE? If the DfE is not able to provide this training, will the Government ensure that schools have funding and teachers’ time to enable it to be available from reputable organisations that have the expertise and experience to equip our teachers?
The Government must ensure that there is guidance that PSHE, including RSHE, is delivered in timetabled lessons of the same length as lessons for other curriculum areas. So-called drop-down days sporadically placed throughout the year cannot be relied upon in schools, because the topics covered are highly sensitive. A whole day spent on such topics could re-traumatise students so much that we have to be careful. Will the Government put guidance in place for school leaders, to ensure that they support their PSHE leads by providing them with time to teach PSHE, time to plan and time to lead and train their colleagues?
I am pleased that the review focused on pornography. Right now, we have on the statute book legislation that Parliament passed four years ago which does two things. It prevents children accessing commercial pornographic websites through age verification and makes provision for the regulator to take robust action against any site showing extreme pornography which normalises violence against women. As the Government reflect on their next steps, they would be well advised to review their decision not to implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, which should have been in place 18 months ago. In October 2019, the Government performed a spectacular U-turn, saying they were going back to the drawing board and starting again with completely new legislation. It was only last month that we saw that alternative draft Bill.
I know that Part 3 does not address pornography on social media, but it addresses pornographic websites. Importantly, research published last month on the viewing of online pornography by 16 and 17 year-olds states that
“pornography was much more frequently viewed on pornographic websites than on social media, showing how important the regulation of such sites remains”.
We need regulation to deal with pornographic websites and pornography on social media. That is why both Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act and the online harms Bill are so important. To use the fact that Part 3 does not deal with pornography on social media as a reason not to implement the legislation that we have already passed is quite absurd, especially as the draft Bill has not even started pre-legislative scrutiny. It will be at least three years, and probably four to five, by the time the online harms Act and its attendant legislation and regulator are ready to deliver—significantly longer than it would take to implement Part 3. Let us do it.
I welcome the fact that the Government have committed to work to
“identify whether there are actions that can be taken more quickly to protect children before the Online Safety Bill comes into effect”.
This is music to my ears. Without age verification now, preventing young people viewing pornography is like trying to get a drug addict off heroin while at the same time giving them heroin. We are in a place where we can take robust action in relation to pornographic websites immediately, as an interim measure, while we develop the best possible online harms Bill to address the growing social media challenge. Will the Government do so for the sake of our young people and take action to halt this scourge on society and young minds now?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses for their contributions and for outlining the common theme of the questions I have been asked about the RHSE curriculum. In fact, we have been acting on the WESC report from 2016. That was the beginning of the development of the new curriculum, which was updated from the 2000 curriculum. We have been working very hard since 2016, so the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, can be reassured that we have taken action and have been developing that curriculum. We responded to the contributions from teachers that they wanted resource and help. There is a portal for teacher resources, and various webinar-type training sessions have been run as well.
Even though we have all lived through the pandemic, the RHSE curriculum, which is compulsory in all schools —private, independent and state-funded—was brought into effect in September 2020. We gave schools some flexibility about how they introduce it—for instance, there has been a requirement for them to consult with parents on the curriculum and the resources during the pandemic—but as of September this year they need to be delivering that curriculum. A great deal of work and effort has gone into developing appropriate support for teachers, but we recognise that Ofsted’s review asks us to go even further, saying that teachers do not have the confidence to teach this curriculum, so we are working to see what more we can do on the portal and to support teachers to deliver this curriculum.
I am pleased to learn from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that the Welsh equivalent of Ofsted will now be doing a review following the publication of the Ofsted review. I thank Her Majesty’s chief inspector and her team for doing such a swift and thorough review, and I thank the 900 young people who took part, talking to the team and discussing matters that were perhaps not the easiest to discuss.
The Government have responded to feedback on issues of peer-on-peer abuse going back to about 2016, when schools responded to the annual Keeping Children Safe in Education consultations by saying they were not confident in dealing with the issue of peer-on-peer abuse manifesting particularly in sexual abuse and sexual harassment. We updated the guidance: there is now a chapter on this particular matter, and there is stand-alone guidance on peer-on-peer sexual harassment and sexual abuse in schools. We have developed that as a response to the sector. Although the Ofsted review makes recommendations relating to the other statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, there was no specific requirement, because we have been working hard with the contribution of the sector year on year.
As I said, the guidance is out for consultation each year—one year for technical consultation and the next for substantive review. We have responded to that. That is not to say there is not more we need to do. There are issues around the low-level concerns, and that spreads beyond the peer-on-peer abuse and into workforce/children issues: what do you do when you have low-level concerns that are below the threshold for report? How do you deal with those disciplinary matters? We will be looking at low-level concerns.
On the issues to do with online safety, the online safety Bill will, of course, come with pre-legislative scrutiny, so noble Lords will have an opportunity to look at that in detail. The Secretary of State has also asked the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, to specifically look at the issue of access to pornography. I will take back specific questions on Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, which I was not, unfortunately, familiar with, to see about that issue.
The Office for Students is asking universities to review their practices on how they deal with these allegations and how they fulfil their duties to protect students while they are on campus. As far as I am aware, this is inspected as part of the new Ofsted framework. It came in when Ofsted was not there, if I remember correctly, from September 2020, but Ofsted came back in some form and is now back fully. As the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, mentioned, the ISI was also involved on the reference group for the review, I believe. We are working closely and there are recommendations on how it is to conduct its own inspections, its training of inspectors and making sure that it talks to young people about these issues—not just bullying and other things but grasping the nettle when it is in schools to talk appropriately to single-sex groups of pupils while it does its inspection.
It is a learning process. We are not starting from nothing. As I say, there has been a lot to do and we have worked very hard on guidance to try to aid schools in this role. The NSPCC helpline is also open until October for young people who have posted on Everyone’s Invited to phone and get the appropriate help and be put through to appropriate agencies, if that is needed. There are also recommendations in terms of the safeguarding partnerships which we put into statute, requiring the police, health and the local authority to work together, and the review asks them to reach out to schools, as they are increasingly part of the process for schools to safeguard their students by referring specific concerns.
This is very much a sense check for us at the moment as to what has been going on. Yes, we have been appalled by the levels, but we are grateful to have had this moment when they were revealed. The review is just one part of a work in progress. We should not underestimate this and I am grateful that the review pointed out the need to professionalise the role of the designated safeguarding lead in our schools. Those people do an amazing job, often dealing with workforce/children issues, with peer-on-peer issues and with children’s social care issues. We should not underestimate what is expected of them in what they are trying to deliver in schools for us. It was clear to me when I met some head teachers the strains that there are on DSLs. They often have to look at these images and then go home to their families: it is a really difficult job. We are looking at the model of the SENCO to see what more we can do to professionalise the DSLs, but I pay tribute to our schools: they really are doing their best to deal with this issue.
Peer-on-peer abuse is very difficult, particularly when a lot of this is not in the criminal justice system. That leaves schools adjudicating, sometimes on issues that may be criminal but do not go down the criminal justice path: how do they protect the victim instead of the criminal justice system? It is a very difficult behaviour and safeguarding issue in our schools and it will be a work in progress to help them fulfil those duties to safeguard our young people.
We now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief, so I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, I welcome this review. I was very struck by the fact that we have heard a lot of discussion, in the press and else- where, about child-on-child abuse, but I shall confine my points to the occasions when children feel uncomfortable in the presence of teachers, in specific circumstances. Obviously, when you are teaching PE—gym, for example, and dance—there will be some sort of contact, but there will usually be other people around, and a lot of ballet schools now have glass windows.
What I am particularly concerned about is the fact that the teaching of instruments, in particular string instruments, tends to be a one-on-one activity. Given the financial constraints on teaching music at the moment, it is not going to be possible to have a second person there—a chaperone, if you like. Although I know that windows are being considered, I think there is a preferable alternative.
I base my comments after consulting a distinguished violinist, Madeleine Mitchell, who informed me that it is often necessary for a violin teacher to demonstrate something by moving a pupil’s arm or touching their hand. That is because the angle of the bow is absolutely crucial when playing a string instrument; there is no way around that. Would the Minister endorse and take back to her department the advocacy of video, which has three advantages? The first is that it discourages the abuse of pupils. Secondly, it gives the teacher some position of fallback if he is falsely accused of abuse. Thirdly, it is a fantastic teaching device because people can replay a lesson and see what mistakes they are making. I wonder whether the Minister thinks that these are good ideas.
My Lords, in relation to the Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance I have outlined, it was changed fundamentally in, I think, 2014 to become a framework document so that schools and institutions know their duties and can put in place the policies they need for their particular setting. There are different risks in a rural primary school from those in a busy secondary school in an urban setting. It will be up to schools to frame particular lessons so that the instances the noble Lord outlined can take place. However, I recognise that there are specific issues related to PE and music lessons, particularly given the dynamic in specialist institutions. The noble Lord will probably be aware that that was a concern of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which had to investigate whether it was something to do with that particular environment. However, Keeping Children Safe in Education gives all schools the framework to put in place for their setting and for particular subjects, so that they can work out how to keep children safe.
My Lords, I declare my interest as editor of The Good Schools Guide. A good pastoral system is effective and open, particularly with regard to communication within the school, so that everyone feels comfortable about talking to teachers and pupils alike. It is effective and open about taking action when something goes wrong so that everyone knows what has happened, what is being done and how the matter is to be resolved. It is also effective and open in its liaison with parents and outside agencies so that the whole problem is treated, not just the little local bit which has appeared within the school.
The Government can make a substantial difference in this regard by requiring Ofsted and the Office for Students to keep their eyes open. We will come back to that in one of my amendments to the skills Bill. That will enable schools to know that this issue is going to be looked at, so they will keep it at the top of the list of things they are trying to do. They will know that this is something that cannot be neglected. As the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, this has been going on for a very long time, but it has just been ignored or accepted as something that it is hard to talk about. A real opportunity has been provided by the Everyone’s Invited website. This is a moment when we can change things and we should take advantage of that.
The Government also need to provide a structure for sharing best practice because it is really quite hard to get this right on your own. A school needs to have the confidence to reject bad advice. Indeed, that is needed at university as well. Look at all the problems that universities have had in dealing with students with mental health issues and the knots they have tied themselves in because they have not understood what the correct procedures are when a student is in severe distress.
A number of charities are circulating material to schools that is actively against involving parents and actively against going to outside safeguarding agencies, as well as being greatly biased against girls in terms of their relationships with their fellow pupils. This sort of problem needs to be dealt with by the Government, because only the Government can provide that security of reaction and the confidence that you are doing something right. You cannot ask schools, with all the pressures on them, to try to discern the difference between good and bad advice coming at them from charities and pressure groups. I hope my noble friend will confirm my reading of the Statement: that the Government will be doing just that.
My Lords, on the cultural points my noble friend references, schools are reflecting wider society so he is right that we need to recognise that there is a role for everyone. The guidance is really clear that safeguarding in a school is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone should be given chapter 1 of KCS and they all should read it, and that means the cleaner and the caterers as well as the teaching staff. There should be an environment within a school where a young person can share with any appropriate adult, and they should know what their obligations are. The guidance is really clear that school staff—whoever they are—should never assume that something has already been reported and it is someone else’s responsibility.
Schools know that they are going to be inspected on this. One of the four pillars of the Ofsted 2019 framework is very clearly around safeguarding. Each pillar stands and is assessed separately, so if you are inadequate for safeguarding you will fail an Ofsted inspection regardless of your educational performance. That is really important for those schools, some of which were named by Everyone’s Invited, that have very good educational records and yet have been found by reports on Everyone’s Invited to be lacking in terms of culture, particularly in respect of girls.
As Minister for the Schools System, I can say that sharing best practice is what the multi-academy trust system is all about. It enables groups of schools to have robust safeguarding training and safeguarding leads that share best practice and concerns regarding pupils as they move from one phase of education to another.
Does the Minister agree that more work needs to be undertaken to discover the root cause of why boys are showing such contempt and disrespect towards girls, as sexual abuse and harassment against girls seems to be out of control? I mention girls particularly as the majority are girls, although we know that some boys can be affected as well.
In the last few days, I have been speaking to girls I know very well and asked them about this. I was quite shocked at what they told me. It starts at high school, and it goes on through university and beyond. I said, “Well, how often does it happen?” The reply was, “Every time we go out.” That is what girls have to put up with.
I was going to ask the Minister if she was aware that the Welsh Government have recently agreed to undertake a similar review, but my noble friend Lady Wilcox mentioned this. So, will the Minister agree to work with the devolved Administrations to develop a comprehensive programme to ensure that girls and young women can feel safe in education, wherever they live or study?
My Lords, the Everyone’s Invited platform and the subsequent review by Ofsted reveal that there has been a normalisation—mainly by girls—and acceptance of certain behaviours that are actually unacceptable. We have got a task on our hands to unpick how that is happening, how that behaviour is being exhibited in the first place and how they are then accepting that it is normal or acceptable behaviour, when it is not.
One of the main planks we have introduced is the RSHE curriculum, which will explore issues around consent and will hopefully give young people an understanding of what is and is not a healthy relationship —between adult and child as well as peer on peer— although this may take some time to embed with young people. Other noble Lords have mentioned teacher training. Time is being set inside on an Inset day, because obviously, you need to train the entire workforce as quickly as possible in relation to these cultural issues.
Further to this review, will action be taken to ensure that consent, which the Minister just mentioned, is taught consistently as part of relationship and sex education in schools, and to ensure that teachers are supported in accessing any additional training they may need to address this issue effectively for pupils—both boys and girls? Although I obviously welcome the outcome of the review and its recommendations for schools, this is also an issue for society as a whole. Will the Minister work with colleagues across government to ensure that the new violence against women and girls strategy can deliver the wider cultural changes that we so desperately need?
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that work is going on across government. The strategy he outlined is obviously being led by the Home Office, and I had the pleasure of meeting the Minister leading on this, Victoria Atkins. As a result of her intervention, we have changed and updated the definition of child sexual exploitation in our guidance to make sure that we are working together on this. This is a journey for all of us in terms of how we deal with the prevalence of violence against women and girls. The domestic abuse legislation is landmark legislation in outlawing coercive control and hopefully getting better societal understanding of the nature of abuse.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the report. However, there is a lack of reference to stakeholders from black and minority ethnic communities, including Members of Parliament, who have expertise and may have been consulted.
The domestic violence legislation was a watershed moment for Parliament, as was the Government’s leadership in their determination to root out violence against women and families. Throughout, we heard repeatedly how endemic violence and abuse are in our homes, and that they have permeated our societal structures and norms. We cannot put aside the role of schools and colleges—and, indeed, some police officers —in not investigating matters as they should.
As a former children’s social worker, it pains me to ask why we are aghast, given our years of such debates in this House—as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, cited—and the work of charities to highlight the many aspects of adult violence, which inevitably results in children experiencing and witnessing much violence and abuse. Many of those children subsequently also undertake bullying, sexual harassment, abuse and online threats in schools, colleges and universities.
I have not read the whole report at the moment, but I acknowledge that the pressures on resources are significant. How do the Minister and the rest of the Government intend to collaborate with local authorities and national women’s and children’s rights organisations to consider the recommendations of the report to prevent further immediate harm to children?
In the meantime, will schools and colleges provide access to counselling and have anonymous structures for receiving reports? Of course, I note what the Minister says about safeguarding being everybody’s business. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that children and parents are made aware that they will be believed and, as the report says, to prevent children seeing sexual abuse and harms as being so common that they see no point in reporting them?
The noble Baroness is correct that young people need to know that, when they come forward, they will be listened to and taken seriously. As soon as staff in our schools are aware of any of these issues, they know of the guidance and should be able to act on that. The noble Baroness is also correct that of course we also need to make sure that there is help for the boys—it is mainly boys—who are involved. Obviously, our main tool there is the RSHE curriculum, but I am of course aware that schools involve other charitable institutions to try to support them when they have a young person who needs some specialist help to unpick their attitudes towards girls. That is embedded as well in part of the behaviour policy; it is a safeguarding and behaviour issue in a school.
If the harm that the noble Baroness outlines is taking place at home and is domestic abuse, schools are actually the second largest referrers to children’s social care. Those issues should be going to children’s social care through referrals from the schools’ designated safeguarding lead. The noble Baroness is correct that we need to make sure that local authorities are working on this, which is why Ofsted has a specific recommendation that the local safeguarding partnerships should reach out to engage with schools. If schools need to provide counselling, resources are available through school funding to provide any specialist support that they believe is necessary.
House adjourned at 7.41 pm.