Sean Harford, National Director for Education, and Yvette Stanley, National Director for Social Care, discuss peer-on-peer abuse: what it is, what schools should be doing when it happens and how we’ve trained our inspectors to recognise it.

Peer-on-peer abuse includes, but is not limited to:

  • physical and sexual abuse
  • sexual harassment and violence
  • emotional harm
  • on and offline bullying
  • teenage relationship abuse

It can even include grooming children for sexual and criminal exploitation.

It’s hard to say just how widespread a problem it is. But we know that there’s extensive evidence of peer-on-peer abuse in the context of both sexual and criminal exploitation. In autumn last year, the NSPCC announced a 29% increase in children seeking help from Childline due to peer-on-peer sexual abuse. The issue has, understandably, been scrutinised in the media recently.

What should schools and other providers be doing about it?

Unfortunately, peer-on-peer abuse can and does happen in a whole range of settings that children attend. However, it often goes unseen. It might take place online, for example, or away from the school or setting. Therefore, training for professionals to help them recognise the signs, and know what to do, is essential.

For schools and colleges, there’s detailed Department for Education advice on what to do if a child is sexually harassed or experiences sexual violence. This expands on the principles set out in the statutory guidance ‘Keeping children safe in education’.

We expect all staff at a provider to be familiar with this guidance and to apply it. Staff should understand child protection policies and use them: there’s no point to a policy that is not put into action. It should be clear that peer-on-peer abuse will never be accepted or dismissed as ‘children being children’.

We expect all staff in a school to know what to do if they come across, or are worried about, peer-on-peer abuse. They should know who to speak to and what action to take to make sure children are safe.

Involving other agencies

Peer-on-peer abuse that involves sexual assault and violence must always result in a multi-agency response. As well as supporting and protecting the victim, professionals need to consider whether the perpetrator could be a victim of abuse too. We know that children who develop harmful sexual behaviour have often experienced abuse and neglect themselves.

We need to make sure that the children affected are getting the help they need. A typical response will involve:

  • children’s social care
  • the police
  • any specialist services that support children who demonstrate harmful sexual behaviour
  • the family
  • any other professionals who know or have had contact with the child

Of course, if the children involved are in the same class, the school will need to consider carefully whether to separate them while the concerns are being investigated. In situations of alleged rape and assault by penetration, the statutory guidance is clear that the alleged perpetrator should always be removed from classes they share with the victim.

The DfE guidance also asks schools and colleges to consider how best to keep the victim and alleged perpetrator a reasonable distance apart while they are on the same premises, as well as on transport to and from school or college, where appropriate.

There is no simple answer to the question as to how long these measures should be in place, especially if any police investigation is inconclusive. Lack of a conviction is not the same as the allegation being unfounded. The DfE guidance is clear that in this case, the school or college must continue to provide support to the victim and alleged perpetrator ‘for as long as necessary’. Therefore, any separation arrangements must also be continued with for as long as is necessary to make sure children are safe.

The importance of context

Professionals also need to think about risks to other children. If there’s an incident in a school, has this put other children at risk? Have other children witnessed the incident? Could any siblings of the perpetrator be at risk? There may well be a need for a range of assessments and interventions for different children. A multi-agency approach is needed. No school or college can deal with this issue alone.

In addition, schools need to consider the potential vulnerabilities of the victims and any risks to them, including their potential abuse by others. The government guidance asks schools and colleges to have extra consideration for pupils who may have additional vulnerabilities due to protected characteristics. Schools and colleges should consider how they are supporting their pupils with regard to their sex, sexuality, and if relevant, gender reassignment.

Schools and colleges should think about any potentially unsafe spaces on the premises. Where did the incidents happen? What can staff do to make that environment safer?

It’s equally important that schools and colleges think about children’s safety outside of the school gates. Are they aware of any unsafe spaces in their local area? Are schools and colleges aware of incidents of sexual harassment or violence involving children in the local park or other places where young people congregate? Staff should pass on contextual information like this to the police so that they can address the risks.

Young person sat in the dark

A whole-establishment approach

Settings should not wait until an incident of peer-on-peer abuse happens before taking action. We expect any provider educating or caring for children to create an environment in which children and staff show respect for one another. They should know what language and behaviour are acceptable and what to do and who to speak to if they are worried or feel unsafe.

All settings should take a whole-establishment approach to keeping children safe. They should set expectations that violence and harassment of any kind will not be tolerated, support children to have a good understanding of consent and healthy relationships and provide immediate support for victims of abuse.

Ofsted’s role

As an inspectorate, we do not have any role in investigating individual child safeguarding cases, including cases of peer-on-peer abuse in schools. Rightly, this is a matter for the relevant local authority and, when appropriate, the police.

We take children’s safety very seriously. That includes making sure that all the providers we regulate and inspect have effective procedures for keeping children, other learners and vulnerable adults safe from abuse, neglect and exploitation.

We train our inspectors to understand what peer-on-peer abuse is and how to recognise the signs. School and college inspectors have all had training on the government’s statutory guidance on sexual violence and harassment between children in schools and colleges. We have given more recent training to inspectors on the risks to children online, including bullying. We train all our inspectors to understand the risks to children of sexual and criminal exploitation and the role that peer-on-peer abuse can play in that context.

If we learn about a case in which a child has suffered peer-on-peer abuse or may be at risk of harm in any setting, our first priority is to make sure that the child has been referred to the right agencies for help and protection.

Ofsted was also a partner in the Bedfordshire University research project ‘Beyond referrals’ on sexual harassment in schools. The project developed a toolkit to help schools assess how effective they are at identifying and addressing peer-on-peer sexual harassment.

It’s important that all schools and colleges familiarise themselves with the statutory guidance. Individual professionals should know, understand and, most importantly, use their school/college policy on peer-on-peer abuse to make sure that children are protected. If you want to find out more about our approach to safeguarding, please have a look at our guidance.

For Ofsted’s part, we are ever-vigilant, and committed to improving our own practice. We will reflect on any recommendations that come out of the ongoing Independent Inquiry for Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) hearings, and of the feedback from victims.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Solvendis added a new event 15 hours

Designated Safeguarding Lead Training (Zoom Conferencing)

A provider’s Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) plays a critical role in its approach to safeguarding its learners, training its staff, providing...

  • Wednesday, 15 September 2021 10:00 AM
  • Zoom Conferencing
Solvendis added a new event 15 hours

Level 3 Award in Education & Training (Zoom Conferencing)

  • Thursday, 23 September 2021 10:00 AM
  • Zoom Conferencing
Solvendis added a new event 16 hours ago

Ofsted Inspection Nominee Training (Zoom Conferencing)

Within inspection, Ofsted invites providers to nominate a senior member of staff to act as the main link with the inspection team. Ofsted suggests...

  • Friday, 23 July 2021 10:00 AM
  • Zoom Conferencing

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page