Government launches helpline and announces immediate review into sexual harassment and assaults in schools

A helpline for people affected by sexual assault and harassment in schools is to be set up as part of an immediate review into the issue, the Government has said.

The immediate review was announced by the Department of Education this afternoon (Wednesday) following hundreds of allegations made on the website Everyone's Invited, where anonymous accounts detail incidents of sexual harassment, assault, rape and rape culture at schools across the country.

Ofsted has said it would look into safeguarding policies at both state and independent schools in light of the allegations, while the DfE said the review would also look at ensuring there is enough guidance on how schools should deal with sexual harassment and violence, and whether current school inspection systems are strong enough to address any concerns.

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The helpline, which was announced this afternoon and is to be run by the NSPCC, ill go live on Thursday, the Government said.

A helpline for people affected by sexual assault and harassment in schools is to be set up as part of an immediate review into the issue, the Government has said

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Sexual abuse in any form is abhorrent and it is vital that these allegations are dealt with properly. While the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward.

“This Government is committed to ensuring victims feel supported to refer the most serious allegations to the police via the helpline, safe in the knowledge that everything possible will be done to bring offenders to justice.

“No child or young person should have to experience abuse. But if something isn’t right, they should speak to someone they trust to raise concerns, whether that’s family, a friend, teacher or social worker, helpline or the police.”

Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, former chief prosecutor for north-west England Nazir Afzal said that children had always, culturally, been told to be "seen and not heard" but that there had been a "tsunami of abuse" at schools and universities.

A helpline for people affected by sexual assault and harassment in schools is to be set up as part of an immediate review into the issue, the Government has said

“There are enormous repercussions when they speak up. They don’t feel supported," Mr Afzal said.

He added that evidence had previously shown some institutions had been "engaged in a cover-up" where "their own reputations" were put before the wellbeing of children.

Mr Afzal also questioned whether Ofsted was “the right body to carry out a “deep dive” investigation into the issues as, having inspected schools for years, “they don’t appear to have picked this up”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Our court system, our police and prosecutors can barely deal with adult abuse – 1% prosecution rates, we’ve got two/three year delays.

A helpline for people affected by sexual assault and harassment in schools is to be set up as part of an immediate review into the issue, the Government has said

“The chances of any of these cases getting into a court room any time soon are next to nothing, so we’ve got to manage expectations.

“You can’t legislate yourself out of this situation, you can’t police yourself out of this situation, you need much more work in terms of education.”

Mandatory relationship education is “absolutely key to delivering a better future”, he said.