How to prevent peer-on-peer abuse

Following Ofsted’s review of sexual harassment and abuse in schools – and the subsequent updates to the inspection framework from September – what should schools be doing to address peer-on-peer abuse? Jenny Moore advises, and signposts to some useful resources

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Headteacher Update

The worrying revelations from Ofsted’s recent review of sexual abuse highlight how important it is to take proactive steps to prevent peer-on-peer abuse. As a result the inspection framework for September has now been updated – so what can you do to reduce the risk of abuse happening in your school?

Provide appropriate and regularly updated staff training

It is vital that all staff understand what peer-on-peer abuse is and know how to identify it early on to prevent it from escalating.

Peer-on-peer abuse is most likely to include, but may not be limited to, bullying (including cyber-bullying), physical abuse (such as hitting, kicking, shaking, biting, hair-pulling or otherwise causing physical harm), sexual violence and sexual harassment, upskirting, sexting (also known as ‘youth produced sexual imagery’) and initiation/hazing type violence and rituals. This is all explained in the Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) statutory guidance.

Make sure you provide staff with regularly updated and appropriate safeguarding training that enables them to understand:

  • How to identify the indicators of abuse.
  • What to do if they have a concern about a child.
  • How to respond to a report of abuse.
  • How to offer support to children and where to go if they need support.

All of the above is also explained in KCSIE. You could also consider running a dedicated session on a particular aspect of peer-on-peer abuse during an inset day – for example, on how you can tackle sexism and sexual harassment in school.

Make sure staff challenge inappropriate behaviours

You are required to have a behaviour policy, and measures in place, to prevent all forms of bullying. Your child protection policy should also include the procedures you have in place to minimise the risk of peer-on-peer abuse. As part of enforcing these policies and measures, make sure staff challenge inappropriate behaviours by, for example:

  • Making clear that sexual violence and sexual harassment is not accepted, will never be tolerated, and is not an inevitable part of growing up.
  • Not tolerating or dismissing sexual violence or sexual harassment as ‘banter’, ‘part of growing up’, ‘just having a laugh’ or ‘boys being boys’.
  • Not addressing inappropriate behaviours risks normalising them. You should have clear sanctions in place to respond effectively to incidents. This is outlined in the DfE guidance Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges.

Consider your context and work with local partners

Peer-on-peer abuse incidents and/or inappropriate behaviours can be associated with factors outside of the school; you should consider the context when preventing and dealing with such incidents.

For example, when tackling violence, it is important to understand the problems that young people are facing both in school and in their local community and that you consider possible avenues of support. You could also work with local partners – who may have valuable information, resources or expertise – such as the police and youth offending teams. Your safeguarding partners may also be able to provide support. This is explained in the Home Office’s 2013 guidance on preventing youth violence and gang involvement.

Seek specialist support

Consider carefully if you need external input, particularly when approaching the issue of sexual violence and sexual harassment as part of preventing peer-on-peer abuse. Specialist organisations may be able to support you by training staff, teaching children and/or providing them with support. Organisations could include the NSPCC, UK Safer Internet Centre, Brook and the Anti-Bullying Alliance. 

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