Department for Education

Is the Department Abdicating Responsibility?

The Department for Education has been made aware that their current guidance for schools on how to handle cases of child-on-child sexual violence is inadequate and leaves many child victims of sexual violence at risk of further serious and avoidable harm after they make a disclosure.

The Department doesn’t appear to care very much. Over a period of years the Department has failed to issue guidance which would prevent schools from making the same old safeguarding mistakes. Schools simply do not understand what their legal duties are under the Human Rights Act or what a victim’s legal rights are even if there is no criminal prosecution. Schools are run by teachers not lawyers, so merely quoting the relevant Articles from the Human Rights Act 1998 at schools in Section 84 of Keeping Children Safe in Education is not very much help at all.  Not many headteachers or governors are expert in the intricacies of Article 3, 8, 14 and Protocol 1, Article 2 (and there is a distinct lack of training on the application of those Articles to cases of child-on-child sexual violence), So, what happens is that schools do their best, but their best often fails to protect victims. 


Even Ofsted has told the Department that their guidance is inadequate

In Ofsted’s Review into Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges in June 2021 they wrote this:

When it comes to sexual violence, it appears that school and college leaders are increasingly having to make difficult decisions that guidance does not equip them to make. For example, some school and college leaders told us that they are unsure how to proceed when criminal investigations do not lead to a prosecution or conviction. Schools and colleges should not be left to navigate these ‘grey areas’ without sufficient guidance.

In their recommendations – 12 June 2021 – they recommended this action for government: 

  • produce clearer guidance for schools and colleges to help them make decisions … when a criminal investigation does not lead to a prosecution or conviction

Victims can be protected from further contact with the perpetrator

When a criminal prosecution is not possible, or not wanted by the victim, or does not lead to a conviction, victims can be protected by existing civil law. Protection should come through the mechanisms of the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act. If only schools knew what to do. If only the Department had listened to the countless people asking them to take action, or even to Ofsted in 2021. If only the Department would string a few paragraphs together to help schools work it out. Is that really too much to expect of the Department for Education?  

Since the Department isn’t keen to step up and protect victims, we’ve published advice to help victims  assert their legal rights when schools fail to protect them in school from further unwanted contact with the perpetrator.  

The consequences of inaction

Over the course of the next few months, a Chronology of Inaction will be published here. It will start in 2016 after the publication of the Women and Equalities Select Committee report into Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in Schools and will run to the present day. You will recognize many high-profile names in the Chronology. It will be a shocking read.

On 12th June 2021, two days after Ofsted published its Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges, a 12-year-old girl died. She had been groomed and then raped by an older boy from her school. She was not protected from further contact with him in school. She took an overdose. It has been reported in a BBC 3 article that the final words she said to her mother before she died were these: “I don’t want to go back to school. He raped me.”

Ofsted had given her school a clean bill of health on safeguarding not long before the rape. And yet a 12-year-old wasn’t protected in school from seeing the boy she had reported to the police for rape. 

If only effective action had been taken in 2016 after the Women and Equalities Committee made us all aware of the epidemic of sexual violence facing girls in our schools. If only effective action had been taken in any of the following five years. We had five years to ensure it was safe for Semina Halliwell to go back to school after she was raped. If only.