More than 6,300 allegations of sexual assault and harassment in and around schools across England and Wales were reported to police in three years, the equivalent of at least five offences every day, Channel 4 News can reveal. Some 633 of these reports were rapes or attempted rapes.
Thirty of the UK’s 44 police forces responded to our freedom of information requests, disclosing that 6,319 incidents were recorded from 2018 to 2020 in or near school grounds.
The figures also show that more than 40 per cent of suspected perpetrators were young people aged between 10 and 17, in cases where ages were provided.
According to the data, 435 cases involved suspects under the age of 11 with some as young as four.
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said the figures were “worrying”.
One young woman, who we are calling Aaliyah to protect her identity, was assaulted in school when she was 14.
She says a group of four boys approached her outside a classroom and one pinned her against the wall and assaulted her.
She said: “I felt violated completely, but the whole time I was telling myself it was this joke and I just wasn’t getting it.
“I was trying to convince myself I wasn’t being sexually assaulted the whole time… I blocked it out because this guy was my friend.”
Since the incident, she has suffered anxiety attacks and she is wary of being in a room alone with men.
She added: “They might not even realise that what they did was sexual assault because no one teaches them that this is sexual assault.
“It’s a taboo that no one wants to talk about.”
Since March, the website Everyone’s Invited has received more than 16,000 testimonies from young women who have been subjected to misogyny, harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault.
Schools watchdog Ofsted launched a review of schools’ and colleges’ safeguarding practices in April as the number of allegations published on the website continued to grow.
Responding to Channel 4 News’ findings, Everyone’s Invited founder Soma Sara said: “I’m not surprised by those figures. It’s shocking because we know that reports to the police of these issues are hugely under-reported.
“So if that’s the figure, and that really is only the tip of the iceberg, then that is very concerning.”
Ofsted’s report found that sexual harassment, including online sexual abuse, has become “normalised” in schools and nine in 10 girls said they had experienced sexist name-calling or were sent explicit photos or videos.
Inspectors were told boys talk about whose “nudes” they have and share them among themselves like a “collection game”, typically on platforms like WhatsApp or Snapchat.
Students also said the sex education they received at school did not help them deal with these situations and young people often do not report harassment because it’s seen as normal.
The review found that some teachers and leaders “underestimated the scale of the problem”.
Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza said it was a “fundamental responsibility” that education settings keep children safe and the focus needed to be on preventing peer-on-peer abuse.
She added: “The contributors to ‘Everyone’s Invited’ showed great courage in sharing their stories of abuse and harassment.
“Now is the time for these stories to be met with action.”
In response to the Ofsted report, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “No young person should feel that this is a normal part of their daily lives – schools are places of safety, not harmful behaviours that are tolerated instead of tackled.”
Schools and colleges could not be expected to tackle these issues alone, he added.
Reporting: Jackie Long
Producers: Ed Gove and Jamie Roberton.
Words: Calum Fraser