To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what support is available in schools, colleges and universities for women and girls who have experienced incidences of sexual violence.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what counselling services are available to support school, college and university aged young women who experience any form of sexual violence in or out of school, college or university.
Schools and colleges have a critical role to play in protecting children and keeping them safe. ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ (KCSIE) is statutory guidance that schools and colleges must have regard to when carrying out their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The guidance is clear on the actions a school or college should take if there are any concerns about a child or young person’s wellbeing and/or safety. KCSIE also signposts to various sources of support for victims and perpetrators. Following Ofsted’s review into sexual abuse in schools and colleges, the department strengthened KCSIE, and provided more support to designated safeguarding leads (DSLs), including trialling supervision and training for DSLs in over 280 schools with a focus on supporting DSLs to respond to sexual abuse issues.
In January 2022, the Home Office also announced a Harmful Sexual Behaviour support service for safeguarding professionals across England. It will offer advice on individual cases or incidents of harmful sexual behaviour.
For schools, the department published a blueprint for school counselling services. This provides schools with practical, evidence-based advice, informed by schools and counselling experts, on how to deliver high quality school-based counselling. It also offers information on how to ensure that vulnerable children can access counselling provision. We have provided significant funding towards provision of support in schools and colleges, including £9.5 million in the 2021/22 financial year, for training for mental health leads. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is continuing to run a helpline which provides appropriate support and advice, including how to contact the police and report a crime.
This government has firm expectations that higher education providers also take a zero-tolerance attitude towards sexual harassment and ensure they are going above and beyond in their approach to preventing and tackling these issues. Across the sector, there are examples of good practice in aiming to reduce violence against women and girls. For example, the Office for Student (OfS) Catalyst fund provided support to 119 projects with a particular focus on sexual harassment, online harassment and hate crime, including religious-based hate crime. However, the government recognises there is more to be done. The OfS wrote to providers in June 2021 asking them to review and update their systems, policies and procedures in line with their statement of expectations on harassment and sexual misconduct by the beginning of this academic year. In September 2021, the OfS published a briefing note for providers on the intersection of sexual violence, alcohol and drugs at universities and colleges. This includes a series of case studies and advice for providers on tackling these issues.
The government is also taking firm action against the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in higher education. The use of NDAs against people reporting instances of harassment and abuse makes it harder for other victims to come forward, and helps perpetrators hide behind a cloak of anonymity. Therefore, in January 2022, my right hon. Friend, the Minister for Higher and Further Education launched a new pledge alongside my hon. Friend, the member for Basingstoke, Maria Miller, and the campaign group Can’t Buy My Silence, which commits universities to not use NDAs to silence victims of sexual misconduct, bullying, or other forms of harassment. The list of those universities who have signed the pledge will be held by Can’t Buy My Silence, and hosted on their website.
Beyond schools, colleges and universities, the department is working closely with colleagues across government, including in the Home Office, on delivering the ‘Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy’ and ‘Violence against Women and Girls Strategy’. These were published last year and set out the government’s ambition to prevent, tackle and respond to child sexual abuse by bringing offenders to justice, preventing offending and re-offending, and protecting and safeguarding children and young people.