Ministers dropped the ball on sexual violence in schools, says Labour

Jess Phillips says government has not taken issue seriously, five years after committee’s report

Sexual violence is endemic in schools and the government must launch an inquiry to establish how widespread it is, the shadow minister for domestic violence has said.

Jess Phillips said the issue had been pointed out to the government five years ago, it had been a “problem for a very long time” and ministers had “dropped the ball”.

She told Times Radio: “We need to have proper safeguarding responsibly monitored by Ofsted and it needs to be written into the statute that schools have to prevent sexual violence.”

On Monday the Conservative MP Maria Miller called for an urgent Ofsted inquiry into allegations of school sexual abuse as part of a “deep dive” investigation to establish why complaints by pupils of rape, harassment and assault were not being taken seriously.

Miller, who oversaw a groundbreaking report on the issue in 2016, said a disturbing culture has been allowed to take root in schools. “Nothing has changed in the last five years,” she said. “Ofsted needs to now look at the data it’s been collecting to find out why the situation has not improved for children.”

The scale of harassment in schools has been highlighted by a website on which pupils’ have shared accounts of rape, harassment and assault. The number of submissions topped 10,300 and police said the school rape culture revelations could lead to the biggest increase in reports of sexual abuse since the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Phillips said if the problem was as widespread as the website indicated then there were “boys in schools who need their parents to intervene, including taking their sons to the police station”.

Robert Halfon, the chair of the education select committee, said there was a “Lord of the Flies culture” in some schools and that counselling should be given to victims of sexual violence.

“It is pretty grim just reading through the Everyone’s Invited website, your heart goes out to all the people who have suffered the abuse, the sexual harassment, the threats, the abuse online,” he told BBC Breakfast. “I do think there is a Lord of the Flies culture in some of our schools across our country and what needs to happen is an urgent inquiry to overhaul safeguarding procedures because they are not fit for purpose.

“The schools involved should immediately implement a system of providing counselling for students past and present as well … so they can get all the support they need.”

In another interview on Tuesday, Phillips said people coming forward about sexual violence had been ignored. She told Good Morning Britain: “What has gone wrong, I’m afraid to say, is a state that simply has not taken seriously and a government that has not taken seriously this issue for too long.

“We’ve been hearing for weeks, and no doubt we will hear again for months, and in fact it’s been going on for years, that people coming forward about their sexual violence are ignored, the criminal justice system largely fails them.

“But in this regard, I have to say I’m not at all shocked about what has happened in the last couple of weeks around schools because four years ago this was uncovered. It was uncovered by the women and equalities select committee, and taken to the current schools minister and the then secretary of state for education, that there was not just rape culture, there was rape occurring – every school day in a year there would be a rape that was going on in school.

“A third of 16- to 18-year-olds stated that they had experienced unwanted touching, so sexual assault at school, and two-thirds of 13- to 21-year-olds said that they’d suffered harassment at school. This was four years ago and the government did absolutely nothing to change that.”


Sarah Marsh

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sex education in schools is inadequate, say MPs
Action is needed to address spread of online pornography and ‘shocking scale’ of sexual harassment in classrooms, says committee

Karen McVeigh

12, Sep, 2016 @11:01 PM

Article image
Schools funding formula will hurt poorest pupils | Letters
Letters: Under these proposals at least £30m will be taken from the 30 most deprived local authorities in England


20, Apr, 2017 @5:21 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on sex abuse in schools: facing up to rape culture | Editorial
Editorial: The testimony of thousands of schoolgirls must serve as a wake-up call both for specific schools and society as a whole


30, Mar, 2021 @5:46 PM

Article image
Culture of sexual abuse in schools toxic for teachers too, says union
NASUWT leader says some boys’ behaviour not acceptable and no women should feel unsafe in school

Richard Adams Education editor

04, Apr, 2021 @5:23 PM

Article image
Poorer pupils far more likely to be in failing schools, finds research
Data shows 9% of poor English children go to an inadequate school against 1% of wealthiest

Andrew Sparrow Political correspondent

20, Aug, 2018 @11:02 PM

Article image
DfE warns schools could be closed over 'rape culture' claims
Schools that fail safeguarding rules risk closure after sexual abuse allegations posted on Everyone’s Invited

Haroon Siddique

28, Mar, 2021 @4:01 PM

Social mobility drive focuses on schools

Proposal to offer poor children university visits condemned as class politics by Conservatives

Patrick Wintour, political editor

14, Jan, 2009 @12:01 AM

Article image
Tory MP accuses Ofsted of ‘massive failure’ over sexual abuse in schools
Maria Miller issues strong criticism after publication of findings five years on from landmark report on scale of problem in England

Sally Weale Education correspondent

10, Jun, 2021 @4:47 PM

Schools ministers fail to learn lessons | Robin Alexander

Robin Alexander: The government's rejection of the Cambridge Primary Review is symptomatic of its high-handed approach to education

Robin Alexander

24, Oct, 2009 @8:00 AM

Article image
‘Creativity crisis’ looms for English schools due to arts cuts, says Labour
Number of GCSE music and drama students fell by a fifth over last decade, research finds

Sally Weale

15, Jul, 2021 @9:30 PM