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Child sexual abuse in residential schools


We wanted to learn more about child sexual abuse and safeguarding practice in residential schools.

  • We conducted a literature review to summarise existing research and other relevant published information on child sexual abuse in residential schools.
  • We have commissioned new research in residential schools, including residential special schools.


Key Themes

  • Residential schools
  • Boarding schools
  • Special schools
  • Safeguarding





At least 70,000 children board in the UK at mainstream boarding schools and around 5,000 children board at residential special schools (for children with special educational needs and disabilities) in England.

The Inquiry is conducting an investigation into sexual abuse and exploitation of children in residential schools. The investigation will consider: the prevalence of child sexual abuse in residential schools; the policies and practices adopted by residential schools in relation to safeguarding and child protection; and the responses of residential schools and other agencies to allegations of sexual abuse in schools. 


November 2018: Literature review published

January 2019 to June 2019: Research taking place in schools

2020: research to be publishe

What have we learned from the literature review

  • There is little information available on the scale and nature of child sexual abuse in schools but there is reason to believe that children in residential schools might be more at risk due to the out-of-home setting. Research also tells us that disabled children are more at risk of child sexual abuse than children who are not disabled.
  • Factors that may influence incidents and responses to child sexual abuse in schools include: culture; power imbalances between staff and pupils; a lack of confidence in addressing sexual abuse; and over-reliance that some schools place upon child disclosure in order to identify abuse.
  • Reviews and research have highlighted instances where safeguarding measures have failed in schools as well as which approaches are more successful. These show that, amongst other factors, the understanding of child sexual abuse by staff and inter-agency working are both important for safeguarding children from sexual abuse.

What the new research is about

  • The Inquiry has commissioned the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), working with ResearchAbility to carry out research in a small sample of mainstream and special residential schools across England and Wales.
  • The study will explore practice in identifying, reporting and responding to child sexual abuse amongst residential schools.
  • Participating schools will be asked to complete a survey about the recording and reporting of incidents of child sexual abuse. Confidential research interviews will be conducted with staff, pupils and parents at these schools. Researchers will also speak to people in local authorities about how they work with residential schools in relation to safeguarding and child sexual abuse.

Implications for the work of the Inquiry

The study will support the Inquiry’s residential schools investigation as well as seeking to identify and share good practice between schools.

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