Ofsted: Harassment rife in schools and RSE given insufficient priority

Jun 10, 2021 5:00:00 AM

A new report from Ofsted shows the alarming prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse (including online) among children and young people and suggests that the school curriculum is not yet adequately supporting them.

  • Of the 32 schools visited, and 900 pupils spoken to, there was a sense that harassment and abuse had become so commonplace and normalised that some children are not even reporting it.
  • Pupils considered Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) as being too little, too late and the curriculum was not equipping them with the information and advice they needed, meaning they were turning to social media and peers instead.
  • Nearly 90% of girls, and nearly 50% of boys, said being sent explicit pictures or videos of things they did not want to see happens a lot or sometimes to them or their peers.
  • Many schools and teachers are given insufficient training, support and time to deliver relevant lessons. This means learning isn’t sequenced and pupils miss out on learning about important issues such as consent and sharing explicit images.
  • The review recommends ‘a carefully planned and implemented RSHE curriculum’ as central to the solution; but found evidence that planning and delivery was ‘piecemeal’ in many schools that saw meeting statutory RSHE requirements as only a tick-box exercise.
  • Ofsted found that ‘in some schools with a more secure curriculum plan, leaders tended to alleviate this variation in teachers’ expertise by allocating discrete curriculum time to RSHE, rather than delivering it through a class tutor system. Leaders in these schools had carefully considered which staff should deliver the RSHE curriculum and provided appropriate training’.
PSHE Association Chief Executive Jonathan Baggaley said:

"This Ofsted report into school sexual harassment is alarming and suggests urgent need to improve the quality and status of relationships and sex education (RSE) across all schools.

The decision to make RSE a compulsory part of PSHE education in September 2020 was a major step, and many schools are already doing a fantastic job. Yet many schools have not yet had the opportunity to make the most of it – despite understanding its importance – and more now needs to be done by government to support and encourage them to do so. It’s also critical that Ofsted itself assesses that sequencing, planning and effective implementation are taking place when inspecting schools.

As the report outlines – the lack of depth and sequencing means young people are often receiving a superficial education on these vital matters. That’s because PSHE education is more than sharing information, it’s also about developing deep understanding and being equipped to make good decisions in the moment.

Building up knowledge and understanding though sequenced learning cannot be achieved by assemblies, tutor time and one-off awareness days alone, but must involve regular curriculum time delivered by trained teachers. The report found that this issue ‘is so widespread that it needs addressing for all children and young people’ – this requires universal lessons for every pupil, complemented, but not replaced, by these other measures.

Part of the solution is therefore clarity from the Department for Education that schools are expected and supported to deliver regular PSHE education lessons on the curriculum. We don’t expect pupils to learn algebra or about the Norman Conquest via the odd assembly or awareness day so why should we expect this when it comes to consent and respectful relationship behaviour?

We all agree on the importance of children and young people’s academic attainment, and catching up academically after such a disrupted year. It is also vital that pupils are on track socially and emotionally. Rather than seeing these challenges as an either/or, it’s important to understand PSHE education’s proven role in supporting academic attainment. Safe, healthy and content students are in a better place to learn.

So when deciding on the curriculum priorities, that hour or so a week to ensure pupils learn about issues such as consent, healthy and respectful relationships seems a modest commitment when it has the potential to help keep our children safe”.

  • Download our briefing on how PSHE education can help address sexual harassment and abuse in schools

  • Book our new training/INSET on 'Addressing sexual harassment through RSHE'

  • See our guidance for school governors, jointly produced with NGA, on how governing boards can support PSHE education in schools.