Safeguarding Failures: MP Maria Miller Slams Ofsted Over Sexual Abuse in Schools

Tory MP harshly criticises Ofsted after publication of sexual abuse reports in England’s schools amid massive safeguarding failures.

The Conservative MP Maria Miller has slammed Ofsted for their alleged “massive safeguarding failure”. A new report from Ofsted highlighted that pupils no longer report the sexual harassment and abuse in schools because they have become such a common occurrence.

The schools inspectorate’s report published last Thursday was composed of visits to 32 schools and interviews with over 900 pupils to investigate their experiences with sexual harassment in their lives; in light of the anonymous confessions of peer-on-peer abuse in schools on the “Everyone’s Invited” website, earlier this year.

The report concluded that sexual harassment was now “normalised” amongst young people. They experienced it in school, socialising out of school in parks and parties, and online.

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Five years of safguarding failures?

Five years ago, a landmark report that exposed the scale of sexual harassment, abuse and violence, experienced primarily by girls in England’s schools was published by the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee. MP Maria Miller was chair at the time of publication and the report was the first of its kind.

In response to Ofsted’s new report, Maria Miller said:  “This is not new news”.

She later told the Guardian that with sufficient evidence of the sexual misconduct exposed by the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee in  2016, Ofsted could have done more to ensure young people were listened to and protected from harm. 

An Ofsted spokesperson responded by saying: “We took the committee’s findings very seriously; our new inspections, in place since 2019, specifically ask schools to provide inspectors with their reports of sexual harassment and violence.

“However, our review concluded that under-reporting is a real problem. Children are often reluctant to tell teachers, and school leaders have underestimated the prevalence of sexual harassment and online sexual abuse.

“Our review found that inspectors have not always been rigorous enough in questioning of schools that claimed to have no recorded incidents of sexual abuse or harassment. In the review, we committed to strengthening our inspections, to be more challenging on these issues.”

Ofsted’s report found that teachers “consistently underestimate” the magnitude of the problem. The sex education taught in schools is dated and does not reflect the reality young people are facing.

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The Government‘s views on safeguarding failures

The children’s minister, Vicky Ford confirms that the government has fully accepted Ofsted findings and promised to implement the recommendations that were pledged.

But Maria Miller highlighted that many of Ofsted’s recommendations were the same as her own five years ago.

The government has promised to enforce a range of strategies to address the sexual misconduct dilemma in schools amid these safeguarding failures. Headteachers have been asked to train staff on the scale of the problem and provide training on how to deal with sexual abuse and harassment in schools. Teachers will also learn how to deliver the government’s new compulsory sex education curriculum. 

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.”

In response to Ofsted findings, the children’s minister, Vicky Ford, said: “Let me be clear: sexism and misogyny is not OK. Sexual harassment, let alone non-consensual touching, groping or sexual contact – none of this is OK.

“Sending unrequested nudes is not OK, and neither is bullying your peers into sending a nude and then sharing it with your mates. And yet this has become commonplace for so many young people. We as government, as parents, educators and as a society must work together to turn the cultural dial.”

She added: “As a mum, I know the difficulty in discussing these issues with our children. But parents need to be aware of what their children are doing and how to support them when things go wrong.”

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