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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The residential schools Investigation Report

Contents

A.1: Background to the investigation

1. Most child sexual abuse encountered by schools occurs outside the school setting, often at home or in the community. School staff frequently play a valuable role in spotting signs of potential abuse and in enabling children to report their experiences. But schools can also be places where sexual abuse and grooming occur.

2. It is not possible to obtain accurate data regarding the prevalence of child sexual abuse connected with schools, or the number of complaints or convictions relating to sexual abuse in schools. Neither the police nor the Ministry of Justice record information relating to whether sexual offences are connected with schools. However, as at September 2021, almost 42 percent of reports of child sexual abuse made to Operation Hydrant (the police coordination hub for non-recent child abuse investigations concerning persons of public prominence or abuse in institutional settings) were said to have been connected with an educational institution.[1]

3. In this investigation, the Inquiry heard evidence about incidents of child sexual abuse, harmful sexual behaviour between children and other safeguarding concerns which arose at 12 schools in England, in order to understand the effectiveness of the framework for safeguarding children in schools. Institutional responses to safeguarding issues which arose at a boarding school in North Wales were also examined, as well as information about eight schools which are no longer operating.

4. Harmful sexual behaviour between children was not the primary focus of this investigation, although institutional responses to incidents between pupils in two residential special schools were considered. Evidence was gathered on how the Department for Education, the Welsh Government and the bodies that inspect schools tackle the issue. In June 2020, a website, Everyone’s Invited, was launched with the stated aim “to expose and eradicate rape culture”.[2] The site began to attract significantly more attention in March 2021, and by the end of June 2021 it had collected over 51,000 testimonies.[3] The testimonies named 2,569 schools in England and 93 schools in Wales in connection with sexual assault, sexual harassment and harmful sexual behaviour between children. Following press coverage of the website, at the request of the Department for Education, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) undertook a rapid review of sexual abuse in schools.[4] Ofsted visited 32 schools and colleges and spoke with over 900 children and young people about the prevalence of peer-on-peer sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online, in their lives, and in the lives of their peers. In June 2021, Ofsted published a Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges.[5] This concluded that sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are “much more prevalent than adults realise”, and that for some children the incidents are “so commonplace that they see no point reporting them”.[6] A September 2016 report from the House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Select Committee, Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, described sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools as a “significant issue which affects a large number of children and young people, particularly girls”.[7] In December 2021, Estyn published a report – “We don’t tell our teachers” – considering harmful sexual behaviour between secondary school pupils in Welsh schools.[8] This report identified a high level of peer-on-peer sexual harassment with around half of pupils saying that they had personal experience of such abuse (for girls the percentage was 61 percent).[9] Estyn concluded that generally pupils do not tell teachers about their experiences of sexual harassment because it has become “normalised”.[10]

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