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Everyone's Invited & An Update on Pupil Safeguarding

on Friday, 09 April 2021.

The publication of thousands (14,268 on 8 April) of testimonies of sexual harassment and violence on Everyone's Invited has brought safeguarding in schools into sharp focus.

The traction that this movement has gained suggests that, despite the best efforts of educationalists and a developed regulatory framework for safeguarding in English schools, something is not working.

Schools do not operate in a vacuum and they cannot be the panacea or solution to society's complex gender issues and their causes, but teachers and leaders have always recognised that they have an important pastoral, as well as academic, role to play for pupils in their care.

In this article, we summarise recent developments and recommend action as a consequence. We have also included specific briefings about Everyone's Invited, EDI, mental health in schools, and school culture ahead of the summer term.

On 31 March, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced two immediate measures to address the issues identified by Everyone's Invited.

NSPCC Helpline

A new helpline number: 0800 136 663, run by the NSPCC, went live on 1 April to support potential victims of sexual harassment and abuse in education settings. This aims to provide both children and adults who are victims of sexual abuse in schools with the appropriate support and advice, including on how to contact the police and report crimes if they wish. The helpline will also provide support to parents and professionals.

Ofsted Review

The Government has asked Ofsted to undertake an immediate review of safeguarding policies in schools and colleges in relation to sexual abuse. The review will look at whether they have appropriate processes in place to allow pupils to report sexual abuse concerns freely, knowing these will be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly and appropriately.

It will establish whether there is sufficient guidance for schools on how they should deal with sexual harassment and violence allegations, and whether they understand and implement guidance well. It will also seek to identify whether current inspection regimes in both state and independent schools are strong enough to address concerns and promote the welfare of children.

Terms of reference for this review were published on 7 April and cover the following key questions:

Safeguarding and curriculum

  • Is the existing safeguarding framework and guidance for inspectors strong enough to properly assess how schools and colleges safeguard and promote the welfare of children?
  • How can schools and colleges be supported further to successfully deliver the new RSHE curriculum, including in teaching about sexual abuse, cyber-bullying and pornography, as well as healthy relationships and consent?

Multi-agency safeguarding arrangements

  • How well are safeguarding guidance and processes understood and working between schools, colleges and local multi-agency partners?
  • Does working between schools, colleges and local safeguarding partners, including local authority children’s social care, the police, health services and other support, need to be strengthened?

Victims’ voice and reporting

  • How does the current system of safeguarding in schools and colleges listen to the voices of children when reporting sexual abuse whether occurring within or outside school?
  • What prevents children from reporting sexual abuse?
  • Do victims receive timely and appropriate support from the right place?
  • Have inspections by ISI (the Independent Schools Inspectorate) and Ofsted been robust enough in relation to the issues raised?

In order to answer these questions, Ofsted will review a sample of the recently reported evidence of sexual violence and abuse involving pupils. It will then visit a sample of schools where cases have been highlighted, with ISI where appropriate, to look at how well safeguarding is working and to discuss the wider issues raised by the evidence. The reviewers will consider whether appropriate referrals have been made and consider whether full inspection is warranted. Schools that have been named on Everyone's Invited should prepare to be scrutinised and possibly inspected too.

The review will include consideration of:

  • the range, nature, location and severity of allegations and incidents, together with context
  • the extent of schools' (and other agencies' and adults') knowledge of specific incidents and more general problems
  • schools' safeguarding responses to known incidents and wider social and cultural problems, including: immediate response to specific incidents, use of sanctions, and the identification of other factors that have limited any immediate or subsequent response
  • schools' safeguarding knowledge, culture and effectiveness, including their willingness to function as part of the wider safeguarding system with other partners
  • the adequacy of school RSE/RSHE/PSHE curriculum and teaching
  • the extent to which recent inspections explored relevant cases and issues.

When commenting on recent events, on 20 March the ISI reminded schools that it will, during inspection, evaluate whether leaders and staff promote principles which actively encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010. This includes not only evaluating how well the school proactively promotes respectful and caring behaviour, but also how effectively schools deal with discrimination in all its forms, including sexism.

ISI-inspected schools may also find it useful to review Ofsted's guidance to understand their likely approach, but may be reassured that it reflects the requirements of KCSIE 2020 and does not extend beyond the scope of a familiar ISI inspection.

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said:

"Like so many others, I have been deeply troubled by the allegations of sexual abuse posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website. Many of the testimonies reveal that girls have not felt able to report incidents of sexual abuse to their schools. We hope that by listening to young people’s experiences first-hand, this review will provide much needed insight into what these barriers are and how they can be overcome.

Schools play a vital part in promoting a culture of respect among young people – including between boys and girls. We will consider how schools can support and encourage appropriate behaviour, from the lessons in the classroom to the culture in the corridors. And when children do speak up about their experiences, it’s vital that schools have the support and structures in place to take them seriously and respond appropriately."

The review is aimed to conclude by the end of May 2021.

Coronavirus guidance employers

Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy 2021

The announcement of Ofsted's review follows the publication of the Government’s Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy in January. The Strategy references the Working Together definition of child sexual abuse (CSA) and focuses on crime and justice, with additional references to the wider community and to education. IICSA's interim reports have informed this strategy.

The Strategy promotes an overarching, whole-system approach, framework, based on 'the 4Ps' - Pursue, Prepare, Protect and Prevent. This approach is underpinned by four core principles:

  • Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility, and everyone has a role in preventing CSA.
  • We need to work across agencies and systems to uncover and respond to CSA.
  • We need a collaborative response which empowers local partners to respond to local issues.
  • Tackling CSA is a global issue.

The Strategy sets a series of objectives, including a fundamental one to protect and safeguard children and young people, and support all victims and survivors. In this context, the Government has identified a need for teachers to be better informed and education settings better equipped to identify CSA, and the risks associated with harmful sexual behaviour, sharing of nude and semi-nude images and peer-on-peer abuse. Further consultation, including on the next iteration of KCSIE is anticipated in that context.

Victims' Code

The Government has also pledged more support for victims and survivors of CSA and to boost investment in specialist support services. A revised Victims' Code sets out the services and minimum standards that must be provided to victims of crime. All victims now have specific rights to be able to understand and to be understood, to be referred to services that support victims and have services and support tailored to their needs, and to make a complaint about their rights not being met, where appropriate. All schools should ensure that their own processes mirror these rights. The Code also sets out another nine additional rights to victims who have reported a crime to the police.

Recommended Actions for Schools

We have identified the following actions with the aim of protecting everyone involved. These actions will also help schools to prepare for the possibility of additional scrutiny by Ofsted/ISI as part of the review.

Schools should review:

  • Your safeguarding policies and procedures (safeguarding and child protection, on line safety and acceptable use, anti-bullying and behaviour and discipline, risk assessment of pupil welfare) and codes of conduct - in particular to ensure that the new NSPCC helpline is referenced and that your arrangements for the management of peer on peer abuse and for listening to pupils are clear.
  • Historic reports of CSA, sexual violence and sexual harassment to identify trends and to consider whether there may be geographical areas of concern on the school site (which could perhaps be addressed by increased lighting or supervision or the implementation of designated places of safety).
  • Your RSE policy and curricular content - The requirement to teach RSE at secondary level became mandatory in September 2020, but schools were given flexibility to push back the implementation of this curriculum until the start of the summer term 2021 due to disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This is now imminent and both the policy and curricular content will be under close scrutiny given recent developments. It may be appropriate to plan further consultation with parents and pupils in the light of this and the national dialogue about age appropriate content. In particular, schools should ensure that there is adequate content on healthy sexual relationships and mutual respect, sexual consent and its withdrawal, personal privacy, pornography and gender stereotypes.
  • Training provided to staff - all staff should be trained to manage a report. Is it effective in ensuring that staff are confident about how to manage disclosures effectively? Does it take account of any updated local safeguarding partner advice?
  • The arrangements in place to hear your 'pupil voice' - we recommend a range of available options including the reporting of concerns, consultation groups and anonymous routes, both internal and external of the school. Has the school searched social media campaigns to see if its pupils have contributed? Where pupils have done so, has the school sought to engage with them about the issues?
  • The school's safeguarding culture. How is this established and measured? Is inappropriate behaviour challenged and action taken? We attach further thoughts on this aspect below.

Everyone's Invited

Self-described as a 'movement' and following closely on the heels of 'Black Lives Matter', 'Everyone's Invited' started on Instagram and is supported by a website. Its purpose is to provide a platform for individuals to share anonymous testimonies of sexual assault, sexual abuse, harassment and misogyny. It is not gender-specific and targets the eradication of a 'rape culture' in society generally.

On the submission form for anonymous testimonies there is an opportunity for individuals to specifically name schools, universities and organisations linked to the content of the testimony. These have been shared on the associated Instagram and website pages. Communications suggest this practice will cease and recent testimonies shared on Instagram at least do not include these details, but older posts have not yet been redacted.

We recommend that all schools review the website for references to their organisation, as well as continuing a dialogue with stakeholders about their experiences and any action which should be considered to address this.

The website also provides templates for people to use when writing directly to a school or university about the campaign and a 'Use Your Voice' anonymous suggestions submission for ideas for positive change (which have not, as yet at least, been shared).

Managing Allegations

It is important that where disclosures are made, victims are taken seriously and offered appropriate support and that this approach is extended to all those affected.

Decisions should be taken by the school in accordance with Part 5 of KCSIE and the DfE's more detailed non-statutory guidance, Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment between Children in Schools and Colleges, both of which have been out for consultation and are likely to be updated soon, and in accordance with its own policies and procedures.

Where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer from harm, or is at immediate risk, a referral to children’s social care (and, if appropriate, the police) should be made immediately, following the local referral process.

Otherwise the guidance about the management of peer-on-peer abuse is not prescriptive and decisions are for the school to make on a case-by-case basis. The DSL (or their deputy) should take a leading role on this. They should make best interest decisions about the needs of those involved and the wider school community using their professional judgement, supported by other agencies, such as children’s social care and the police, as required.

Where the case involves youth-produced sexual imagery, schools should consider the non-statutory guidance, UKCCIS Sexting in Schools and Colleges and the updated guidance on Sharing Nudes and Semi-Nudes.

Schools should ensure that their approach and support for pupils is well documented and kept under review. These matters often move quickly, even where the allegations are historic in nature and careful consideration should be given to information sharing internally and to reporting arrangements to parents, relevant agencies and to the Charity Commission, ESFA and insurers.

We are running a webinar on Managing Allegations for Independent Schools on 18 May 2021 where we will explore this topic in more detail. In the meantime, we attach some guidance on frequently asked questions. If you have any additional questions, please let us know so we can consider providing additional guidance. NSPCC Learning also has also has some useful commentary.


How do schools balance the duty to act in the best interests of everyone involved and the presumption that a victim's account should be believed?

We recommend that schools balance this duty by recognising that an allegation may or may not be true. When speaking to a victim, they should be supportive and record the facts as reported to them. These should be recorded as they are disclosed and their accuracy should not be challenged at the time they are reported.

At the point that the school is planning for support for the pupils involved, this approach - that the allegation may or may not be true - should be continued and used to inform risk assessments and next steps, until such time as a factual finding can be made. Where matters are the subject of police investigation, this may be several months down the line.

What is the extent of a school's duty to take action if the incident complained of was out of school?

Allegations of abuse involving a pupil will need to be handled by the school, even where it took place in circumstances wholly unconnected with it, in order to discharge its safeguarding and pastoral obligations. Issues about whether or not a disciplinary investigation/response is also warranted will depend on the circumstances and on the terms of the school's behaviour policies.

How should a school balance the 'starting point' of reporting rape or sexual assault to the police, with a duty to consider the victim's wishes where they do not want matters reported?

The guidance expects schools and in most instances the school's DSL to undertake a balancing exercise in order to determine whether or not a report should be made to the police against a victim's wishes. This is complex and sensitive and inevitably fact dependent - and those facts may change over time. We have developed a checklist to help schools consider this issue and record the reasons for their decisions, a copy of which is available here.

Who at the police should the school report a crime to?

The school should follow local processes and arrangements regarding sexual violence and sexual harassment. Where sexual offences are to be reported to the police, these should be reported to the specialist unit of the school's local constabulary where possible, rather than to the school liaison officer who is unlikely to have detailed knowledge of how these cases are handled.

What will happen if CSA is reported to the police?

The police are likely to speak to the victim and other witnesses in the first instance to determine how best to proceed with their investigation. This may take place at the school or a witness' home address and may involve uniformed officers/marked vehicles.

They will usually then arrange a formal recorded interview. In cases of rape or serious sexual assault, the police will typically seek to conduct an 'achieving best evidence' (ABE) video interview with the victim at the earliest opportunity, which may then stand as their 'evidence in chief' should the matter go to trial. There is no universal threshold or definition of what constitutes a serious sexual offence and this is fact-specific. For example, the relative ages of the victim and alleged perpetrator, the use of force and evidence about consent (including lack of capacity to consent through age or the extent of alcohol/drug consumption) will be relevant.

It is common for the police to conduct all relevant investigations and video interviews before giving any information to or interviewing the alleged perpetrator, which may take some weeks. The interview with the alleged perpetrator, may lead to additional lines of enquiry, which can take further weeks or months to complete.

Once the police have concluded their investigation, the case is referred to the CPS, who will then decide whether or not to prosecute. The CPS must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and that a prosecution is in the public interest.

Decisions about whether or not a prosecution will be pursued are out of the victim's hands, albeit that the CPS will consider a victim's wishes. It is however highly unlikely that a prosecution would proceed if a victim did not wish this and had not yet given an ABE interview.

We hope this information will be useful in explaining next steps and likely timescales to pupils, to obtaining informed permission to report matters to the police and to managing expectations generally.

Do we need a peer-on-peer abuse policy?

A peer-on-peer abuse policy is not a mandatory policy for schools. Content on the identification and management of peer-on-peer abuse can be provided in a school's safeguarding policy or in a separate, stand-alone policy which is suitably referenced in the main safeguarding policy. What is important is that the policy is clear and comprehensive and we recommend that all schools review their applicable content ahead of the summer term.

Should schools monitor EI for testimonies relating to them?

We recommend schools continue to monitor the Everyone’s Invited website as the publication of Ofsted's Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges on 10 June 2021 prompted the posting of a considerable number of new testimonies, which now total over 51,000.

One of the key recommendations of the review is that schools should assume that sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence are happening in and around the school, even when there are no specific reports, and put in place a whole-school approach to address them. This means all schools should be alert to the possibility they may be named.

Schools also need to be aware that where testimonies clearly relate to current pupils, it will be necessary for a school to take an immediate safeguarding approach and may require a referral to children's social care and/or the police.

What should a school do if it is named but can't identify any testimonies?

If the allegations are serious enough to refer we would recommend the school seeks advice from statutory agencies, even if they can't identify any testimonies. It may be that alleged incident forms part of a trend that is being investigated at local level.

Ofsted's revised inspection handbooks (for use from September 2021 onwards) requires inspectors to check that allegations of sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence have been reported to the appropriate authorities, so schools will need to be prepared to report. ISI is expected to take the same approach.

Do they have an obligation to report peer-on-peer allegations if the people involved are no longer children?

There is no obligation to report peer-on-peer allegations if those involved are no longer children, but there is no reason for a school not to approach children's social care for advice. Each case should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but dealing with the matter in a proactive way will also help the school when they are developing a whole-school approach to managing allegations.

It may also be the case that a victim reports the issue to the police which may require the school to co-operate with the police and children's social care when investigating the allegation.

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion

Fundamentally, schools must comply with the Equality Act 2010 which legislates to protect pupils, parents and staff from certain forms of discriminatory treatment and the technical guidance provides helpful content on its application to schools. There is undoubtedly a delicate balance to be struck when considering how to tackle behaviour and culture that, in the process, no person receives less favourable treatment based on a protected characteristic.

A school's approach to issues of equality, diversity and inclusion are also integral to its safeguarding practice and culture because of the harm which can result from discrimination. High-profile movements such as BLM have brought these issues into sharp focus and many schools have also been approached by current and former pupils with their own experiences of discrimination during their time at school. As a consequence schools have been asked to consider the role they play each and every day in shaping young minds and ensuring that children can access an education and educational environment free from harm caused by discrimination, victimisation and harassment on the basis of certain characteristics.

We recommend a two-pronged approach:

  • Dealing promptly and effectively with allegations and concerns which are raised (we have developed checklists and an advice note for the ISBA about this, which are available in their reference library).
  • Ensuring compliance and assessing the school's culture to ensure that it is inclusive. Work is underway across the sector, led by the ISC's EDI group and the ISC associations, on the development of compliant policies, effective delegation arrangements and building positive and inclusive cultures.

We will be pleased to share best practice and help schools to navigate these issues.

Coronavirus guidance employers

Mental Health

The legal framework:

  • Under health and safety law schools have an overarching duty to act in such a way as to ensure "so far as is reasonably practicable" that pupils are not exposed to risks to their health or safety and to carry out a "suitable and sufficient risk assessment" of the risks to pupils' health and safety. These duties are wide enough to encompass risks to pupil's mental as well as their physical health. But what is reasonable will depend on the specific circumstances.
  • Schools also have a statutory duty to promote the welfare of their pupils. This duty includes preventing impairment of children's mental health.
  • Under the parent contract and/or common law, independent schools also have a duty to do all that is reasonable to safeguard and promote a pupil's welfare and to provide pastoral care to at least the standard required by law in the particular circumstances.

Considering the risks to pupils' mental health is even more important during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, where the number of young people with mental health problems rose from 1 in 9 in 2017 to 1 in 6 in 2020, referrals to CAMHS is the highest on record and up 20% on last year and where the Times reports a "tsunami" of eating disorders and an "explosion of tics" among teenage girls caused by stress during the pandemic.

But what does this mean in practice?

The DfE's non-statutory guidance on mental health and behaviour in schools advocates a consistent, whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing, which goes beyond the teaching in the classroom to pervade all aspects of school life. This should involve providing a structured school environment with clear expectations of behaviour, well-communicated social norms and routines, which are reinforced consistently. Schools should promote resilience as part of this approach in a way that is tailored to the needs of their pupils.

Schools should seek to reliably identify children at risk of mental health problems, by:

  • The effective use of data, so that changes in pupils’ patterns of attainment, attendance or behaviour are noticed and can be acted upon. Identification and measurement tools, such as the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and Boxall Profile may be helpful. In addition to informing decisions on whether to seek specialist support, they can also provide a basis for ascertaining whether the initial intervention is working or whether something different needs to be tried.
  • An effective pastoral system so that at least one member of staff (eg a form tutor or class teacher) knows every pupil well and has received training to spot where bad or unusual behaviour may have a root cause that needs addressing. Where this is the case, the mental health lead, pastoral system (including school nurses) or school policies should provide the structure through which staff can escalate the issue and take decisions about what to do next.

Schools are not required to employ mental health professionals, but many do employ, or work closely with counsellors and other mental health professionals. Nor are schools expected to act as mental health experts or to try to diagnose conditions. However they are expected to ensure there are clear systems and processes in place for identifying possible mental health problems, including routes to escalate and clear referral and accountability systems.

You also need to be alert to how mental health problems can underpin behaviour and be aware of your duties under the Equality Act 2010, recognising that some mental health issues will meet the definition of disability.

While there is no requirement to have a standalone mental health policy, many schools now do so and we have a template we can make available. It is often helpful to signpost the school's arrangements for responding to mental health issues and to form part of the school's suite of welfare policies and dovetail with policies such as the Safeguarding, Behaviour and Risk Assessment for Pupil Welfare policies.

If you suspect a pupil has a mental health problem, you should use the graduated response process (assess – plan – do – review), involving:

  • an assessment to establish a clear analysis of the pupil’s needs;
  • a plan to set out how the pupil will be supported;
  • action to provide that support; and
  • regular reviews to assess the effectiveness of the provision and lead to changes where necessary;

to put support in place for them without delay.

You do not need to wait for a formal diagnosis and should take reasonable steps to help safeguard the child's mental health. You should keep careful records of the actions taken and your reasons for this.

You should share confidential information with other professionals, statutory agencies and/or parents on a need-to-know basis where necessary to safeguard or promote the pupil's welfare or to avert a perceived risk of serious harm to the pupil or to another person at the school.

It is important that schools have an understanding of the local services available, including school nurses, and how and when to draw on or commission them. Where required, schools should expect parents and pupils to seek and receive support elsewhere, including from their GP, NHS services, trained professionals working in specialist CYPMHS (formerly CAMHS), voluntary organisations and other sources.

School Culture

School culture is a somewhat nebulous concept. One which speaks to the school community and beyond about 'the way things are done around here and these are the values we hold'. It's set in the context of wider societal and cultural norms, but it is also, by definition, unique to each educational establishment and is likely to have developed over time, through formal strategies and incrementally and informally too.

What has emerged from discussion and research and the findings of IICSA, is that culture is critically important to the successful implementation of policies and procedures and to the creation of safe and supportive environments. The inspectorates have acknowledged this and signalled their intention to assess whether or not a school has an effective safeguarding culture on inspection. Schools should be able to evidence a positive safeguarding culture now and if they can't, to introduce measures to address this. Everyone's Invited has highlighted the importance of understanding not only what schools say they do, but more importantly what they do.

Measuring school cultures will always be difficult, as it is a qualitative not a quantitative exercise. It will inevitably involve discussions with stakeholders and review of the way issues have been handled. It may be best assessed by people outside an organisation and consultation with external agencies is recommended in this context.

It is generally recognised that culture must be cultivated and led from the top. It cannot be allowed to take on a life of its own, without direction, but nor can it simply be imposed. School proprietors must actively promote pupil wellbeing and there are some non-negotiables in that context - that all members of the school community will act in accordance with the applicable law and statutory guidance - but the nuances of a school's culture will need engagement and collaboration at all levels in order to codify.

A clear vision and an agreed set of values will offer a lens through which policies and procedures and expectations about thresholds and their implementation can be viewed. They can help set and direct a school's culture. While they are best achieved through strong leadership and consultative dialogue, sufficient time should be given to do this effectively.

Your school may already have clear visions and values, and behavioural expectations which are consistent with that. Or you may be embarking on an exercise of codifying matters or culture change now, in response to recent events.

What should be done from here will involve careful consideration of where each school is at this point in time. It will require conscientious review of what has been reported and active listening to lived experience, whether attributed or anonymous, and rigorous and honest self-evaluation. References to a school on Everyone's Invited or concerns about the school's handling of allegations may suggest that more work needs to be done.

There is no 'quick fix' here. It may be helpful for schools to issue an overarching statement with some simple 'non-negotiables' to help to reset expectations and hold people to account, pending more detailed analysis. Others may commission surveys or consultants to help with this or task a focussed working group to consult and report back. All schools will need to regularly review their situation and respond in a considered, meaningful and sensitive way. This will inevitably involve development and a journey, rather than a destination. Pupils and alumni should be invited to contribute to this process.

It is well documented that behaviour and discipline are crucial elements of a positive culture, one where inappropriate behaviours are reported and challenged and action is taken. The DfE's self-assessment tool on Respectful School Communities and Tom Bennett's Creating a Culture may assist schools to consider these aspects.

How We Can Help

We are helping a large number of schools navigate these issues and are keen to share best practice with you. We are always willing to discuss these matters and how we may be able to help you, whether on an advisory basis or by the provision of fixed fee products and templates.

We maintain our Onstream resource pages to ensure that the content is up to date and you can access responses to frequently asked questions. These can be accessed here.

We also have upcoming webinars at which we will discuss managing allegations in independent schools on 18 May, and effective safeguarding governance on 8 June.

For specialist legal support on any of the issues explored within this article, please contact Tabitha Cave in our Regulatory Compliance team on 07747 075825, or complete the form below.

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