@peterkyle, Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister, responding to the Children’s Minister’s statement on Ofsted’s review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges, said:
“I would like to begin by paying tribute to the young girls and young women who came forward to share their experiences under extremely difficult circumstances, and which took huge bravery. I hope that they will look at the action that is now unfolding and will see that their bravery has been rewarded, because without their action, the unfolding of policy recommendations wouldn’t have happened.
“A young person’s experience at school shapes their future in so many ways. It plays a key role in their development, socially and emotionally, and few experiences can have quite such a scarring effect as sexual abuse or harassment.
“Yet as today’s review shows, far too many children - especially girls - are living in a world where this is normalised and have no alternative but to accept it. From unsolicited touching and explicit images to false rumours about sexual history – sexual harassment in schools ruins lives, and must be rooted out.
“This is an issue on which I’m sure the entire House agrees, and I welcome OFSTED’s report and comments from the minister today.
“I’d like to put on record Labour’s gratitude to the chief inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman, not only for her thorough report but also for taking the time to brief myself and colleagues across the House in advance of publication.
“We all agree on the need for action, but I must ask the Minister – why has it taken so long, and why did it take a national scandal to force government to act? The Department for Education was warned about routine sexual harassment in our schools as far back as 2016.
“Since then, figures suggest that up to 1000 girls may have been raped in school. In 2016, the Women & Equalities Select Committee found that 29 per cent of 16- to 18-year-olds had experienced unwanted sexual touching at school.
“They criticised the lack of central data collection on sexual harassment – yet the government refused to act. ‘Routine record-keeping and analysis’ is one of today’s recommendations, something asked for five years ago.
“In 2019, schools’ awareness of safeguarding policies was so poor that my colleagues the honourable members for Birmingham Yardley and Hull West and Hessle were forced to write directly to headteachers to raise awareness. They met with the head of OFSTED to explain their concerns. Again, strengthening guidance and training for teachers features prominently in today’s report, another action government have known was needed for years.
“The Labour Party has produced a Violence Against Women & Girls Green Paper. In it we call for a national strategy, backed up with strengthened teacher training, inspection and policies, requirements for data collection, and targeted action in the Online Safety Bill.
“The Shadow Education Secretary and Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence & Safeguarding wrote to the DfE in March this year with an offer to work together on implementation.
“We have been calling for action and making constructive, implementable policy recommendations for years. We now need a clear plan to tackle sexual abuse and harassment in school, backed up by clear dates for delivery. We need tough action in the Online Safety Bill to tackle the forced & unwanted sharing of nude photos and other online harassment.
“And finally, considering how many young people are living with the consequences of past sexual abuse and harassment, I think it would be appropriate for the minister to offer a heartfelt apology to each of them for the failure to create a system that keeps them safe from harm but instead, has normalised it.”