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Schools Minister tells MPs: boys who sexually assault girls should not be left in same class

12 Oct 2017

Giving evidence to MPs on the Women and Equalities Committee about sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP admitted yesterday (11th October 2017) that current guidance does not state specifically that children who sexually abuse other children at school should not be put back in the same classroom. However, the Minister said that this should not happen, and that the Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance could include this when it is revised this year.

Rape Crisis has been calling for urgent action on sexual violence and sexual harassment in schools for some time.

Jocelyn Anderson, a Trustee of Rape Crisis England & Wales said:

"Rape Crisis has been providing specialist sexual violence support services - including counselling, advocacy and prevention work - to children, young people and their families for decades. 

Sadly, it is commonplace within our schools that children are being put back into the same classroom with the person who has raped them. The impact on these children is devastating; not only do they have to cope with the trauma of being raped but they are then faced with their rapist day after day.  Parents are left feeling helpless, isolated and often move their child to another school. 

Schools not only need specific guidance to support children through this, they also need specialist support and training; at the moment, many schools are floundering as they do not understand how to respond effectively.  Schools are also failing to recognise the potential risk that a child-perpetrator might pose to other children within the school; there is no risk assessment and schools are too often keen to dismiss perpetrator behaviours as ‘banter’ or ‘experimentation’.    

Our member Rape Crisis Centres work largely unfunded in schools, delivering workshops and lessons, providing staff training and developing practical materials. This work has highlighted the need for education for both children and school staff around sexual violence; what is particularly concerning is that we have found that many children do not understand how to get or give consent.     

There is now an urgent and evidenced need for the Department for Education to work with sexual violence experts, including Rape Crisis, to develop a ‘whole school approach’ to sexual harassment and sexual violence, linked to the national Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy led by the Home Office, and including national funding for this kind of specialist work. 

While the Department of Education has started work on guidance for schools, this does not go far enough; it needs to be supported by a comprehensive education package for both staff and pupils provided by specialist sexual violence services who are then able to provide emotional and practical support for the children and their parents."

 In the session, members of the Committee referred to a letter from the Department for Education to a solicitor about delays in government action since the Committee warned of these problems in its report in September 2016. Updates to statutory guidance will not now come into force until September 2018, two years after the Committee reported these issues.

Ministers Nick Gibb and Anne Milton were giving evidence to the Committee on the performance and priorities of the Government Equalities Office.

Ministers committed to:

  • Looking at the inclusion of detailed guidance for schools that perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual violence should not be put back in the same class as the victim, and;
  • Providing information to the Committee on numbers of schools put into special measures by Ofsted for failing to protect girls from sexual harassment or sexual violence.

In relation to forthcoming consultation on statutory guidance on Relationships and Sex Education, Equalities Minister Anne Milton said that work to tackle gender stereotyping "could not start the conversation early enough" in primary schools.

Maria Miller MP, Committee Chair, said:

"Ministers' commitment to tackling the sexual abuse of girls in schools is not in doubt. However, the Committee is perplexed as to why the Government is not acting with more urgency when we are talking about girls being abused in our schools, on our watch.

"We look forward to receiving the information the Ministers promised, and seeing urgent action so that schools have the information they need and girls are better protected from abuse."

The session, which can viewed on Parliament TV here, followed the broadcast on Monday night (9th October 2017), of a BBC Panorama programme on the peer-on-peer sexual abuse of children and young people and how the issue is being tackled, particularly by schools.