Sexual harassment has become the "norm" in schools, Ofsted reveals

Sexual harassment has become the "norm" in schools, Ofsted reveals


According to a ‘shocking’ report carried out by Ofsted, children of school age have told Ofsted inspectors that sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are such a routine part of their daily lives they don’t see any point in challenging or reporting it.

Boys are sharing nude photos “like collection cards” on social media accounts such as WhatsApp and snapchat. Girls suffer the worst of it, complaints of sexist name-calling, online abuse, up skirting, unwanted touching in school corridors and rape jokes on the school bus were all reported to Ofsted inspectors.

The investigation, which came in the wake of the Everyone’s Invited campaign that revealed a culture of harassment at schools, found that teachers had severely underestimated the scale of abuse. More than 16,500 testimonies have been posted anonymously since the site launched in June 2020. In April, the government asked Ofsted to investigate these allegations to assess safeguarding policies and experiences in schools and colleges.

The NSPCC charity began to run an abuse in education helpline after being asked by ministers. The helpline has received over 400 calls and the charity has made 80 referrals to external agencies, including the police or social services.

Ofsted visited 32 state and private schools and colleges and spoke to more than 900 pupils and their staff.

Ninety percent of the girls and 50% of boys said that being sent unwanted explicit pictures or videos happened "a lot" or "sometimes". 79% of girls said sexual assault of any kind happened ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes’ between peers whilst 64% of girls said unwanted touching happened 'a lot' or 'sometimes' between peers.

Children said sexual violence typically occurred in unsupervised spaces outside of school, like parties or parks.

Pupils in several schools said harmful sexual behaviour happens at house parties, without adults present, and that alcohol and drugs are often involved.

Inspectors were also told that boys sometimes collected "nudes" of the girls and shared them on social media. The children interviewed said that sexual harassment and sexist name-calling occurs so frequently that it has become "commonplace".


Key findings of the report

Girls suffer disproportionately: 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. About 92% of girls and 74% of boys said sexist name-calling happens a lot or sometimes.

In schools and in social settings: Children said sexual violence typically occurred in unsupervised spaces outside of school, like parties or parks, but some girls had said they were “touched up” regularly in crowded corridors.

Verbal abuse and up skirting: Some young people and staff mentioned sexual and sexist comments happening in corridors, while some girls felt uncomfortable when boys walked behind them upstairs where people could see up their skirts from below.

House parties exacerbate assault: Pupils in several schools said harmful sexual behaviour happens at house parties, without adults present, and that alcohol and drugs are often involved. In one school, governors talked about a culture of “affluent neglect” and leaders said some parents bought alcohol for their children to have at parties when they were away.

Booze and drugs: One Year 12 boy talking about his peers said: “Essentially, they only spend time with boys, then hit puberty and start going to parties with booze and drugs and girls, and they don’t know how to handle it. And some of the boys are very wealthy and have never been told ‘no’ before”.

Misogyny: In another school, girls similarly reported that some of the boys had a sense of entitlement. They talked about a sense of “male superiority” in the school.

Body shaming: In one school, pupils said “slut shaming” was common. Leaders were aware of the need to change what they referred to as the “rugby culture”, but this did not translate to all staff recognising the problem.

 pupils on a bus school girls walking

Sharing nudes: In one school, pupils told inspectors that boys talk about whose “nudes” they have and share them among themselves.

Online harassment and pics: Girls talked about boys being very persistent when asking for, or sending, nude/semi-nude images and some explained that if you block them on social media “they just create multiple accounts to harass you”.

Unwanted touching: More than half (54%) of those aged 16 and above said unwanted touching occurred a lot or sometimes, compared with 40% of 13 to 15-year-olds.

Sharing inappropriate sexual content: There is some evidence that suggests access to technology and the sharing of inappropriate images and videos, including pornography are also issues in primary schools.

Public transport unsafe: Girls experienced sexual harassment and bullying from peers on bus journeys. Girls in one school said that boys often made “rape jokes” on the school bus.

Female objectification: In one school, children reported boys giving girls marks out of 10 based on their physical appearance while they were travelling to and from school.


The full ‘Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges’ can be found here



amanda spielman

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector said: "This review shocked me”.

"It's alarming that many children and young people, particularly girls, feel they have to accept sexual harassment as part of growing up," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Whether it's happening at school or in their social life, they simply don't feel it's worth reporting.

"This is a cultural issue - it's about attitudes and behaviours becoming normalised, and schools and colleges can't solve that by themselves."

At every school Ofsted visited young people reported a significant problem, "it wasn't in some, it was in all of them," she said.

She said that all head teachers should assume such incidents were happening in their schools. Ms Spielman also said traditional reporting methods could not be relied upon.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: 'Ofsted's review has made it clear that sharing unsolicited explicit pictures, online pornography and everyday sexism can be, sadly, 'normal' aspects of daily life for young people. This is completely unacceptable.'


Lack of knowledge

regulations and guidelines

Teachers also admitted they lacked knowledge on how to address topics such as consent, relationships and sharing of sexual images.

Most students felt that the relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) they received at school did not give them the information and advice they needed to navigate the reality of their situations.

Girls in particular were frustrated that there was not clear teaching about what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.


What happens next

Ofsted inspectors are urging school and college leaders to "develop a culture" where all types of sexual harassment are recognised and addressed. It is calling on school and college leaders to develop a culture where all kinds of sexual harassment are recognised and addressed, including with sanctions when appropriate.

It adds that the time should be allocated in the RSHE curriculum for topics that young people find difficult, such as consent and sharing explicit images.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Ofsted's review has rightly highlighted where we can take specific and urgent action to address sexual abuse in education.

"But there are wider societal influences at play, meaning schools and colleges cannot be expected to tackle these issues alone."

The Department for Education says teachers and school leaders will be better supported to recognise sexual harassment and abuse and teach confidently about issues of consent, online pornography and healthy relationships.

School and college leaders will be encouraged to dedicate training days to help train staff on how to deal with sexual abuse and harassment among pupils and how to deliver the new compulsory RSHE curriculum.

The review also calls on ministers to consider the watchdog's findings as the Government develops the Online Safety Bill to strengthen internet safeguards for children.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Nobody can fail to be shocked by the finding that children and young people don’t see any point in reporting sexual harassment because it is seen as a normal experience.”

He added: “It seems that a gulf has opened up between what children and young people experience in terms of everyday sexual harassment and abuse and what adult understanding is of the scale and severity of this issue.

“It is a generational divide which goes beyond schools and colleges and points to a much wider societal problem.

“The reasons why sexual harassment has become such a widespread issue are complex but it seems obvious that more must be done with greater urgency to tackle the misuse of social media and the availability of online pornography.”

A spokeswoman for Everyone's Invited said: "Everyone's Invited believes that there should be an anonymous reporting system available in all schools.

"This would help reduce the massive gap between incidents and reporting emphasised in the Ofsted report."

Ofsted’s report comes as a Femail poll of 2,000 young people reveals the shocking toll of porn culture in schools.

Forty per cent of girls who have had sex say they had a sex act performed on them when asleep or unconscious, and 55 per cent of girls and boys have seen explicit clips online, with more than half of them having done so by 16.


Helplines and services available

The NSPCC - provide therapeutic services to help children move on from abuse, as well as supporting parents and families in caring for their children. Call 0808 800 5000 or email

YoungMinds Crisis Messenger - this is a 24/7 service that can provide free crisis support across the UK if you are experiencing a mental health crisis. If you need urgent help, text YM to 85258. All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.

Samaritans - if you are in distress, you can ring Samaritans for free at any time of day or night on 116 123 or email

Childline - If you are under 19, you can call, email or chat online about any problem. Call 0800 1111 or chat 1 to 1 with an online advisor by following the link here

The Mix - If you are under 25, you can talk to The Mix for free on the phone, by email or webchat. Freephone 0808 808 4994 between 1pm and 11pm daily.