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'Churches must be ready': Ofsted reveals harassment has become normalised for children in schools and colleges

by Kelly Valencia

A Christian charity helping vulnerable girls and women has warned that education in church is crucial to tackle the "normalised" behaviours of sexual harassment in schools and colleges. 

It comes as a review by Ofsted has shown that many children are not reporting incidents of sexual harassment and unwanted advances in school and colleges, with 90 per cent of girls and 50 per cent of boys saying they have received unwanted explicit pictures or videos. 

Some girls are being contacted by up to eleven boys per night asking for nude pictures, according to the report. 

"There's something [important ] about educating churches, about educating youth leaders, and encouraging them to know about the issues that are affecting young people. Because if we don't know they are happening, we can't be on the lookout for them or know when to respond. Knowing that these issues are happening helps you to respond in a better way," Jules Murdy, director of Girls Brigade Ministries told Premier.

Ofted's report also said nine in ten girls experienced name-calling of a sexual nature and rumours about their sexuality. 

More than half of those aged 16 and above said unwanted touching had occurred "a lot or sometimes" but that figure goes down to 40 percent for those aged between 13 and 15. 

Students are not reporting the incidents because they "don't see the point" and many teachers are underestimating the scale of the problem, the review suggests. 

Murdy went on to stress the fact that Ofsted bringing this issue to the forefront should be a wake-up call for parents and youth leaders to tackle this issue. 

"It's about providing a safe space, whether that's you as a parent in your own home, having a conversation with your daughter, with your son, about the things that are going on in their lives - and not judging what they have to say is really important, because they're more likely to share their concerns," Murdy said. 

"And then it's about accepting what they're saying to you and not ignoring it, or not brushing it aside, but actually really listening. And when it's concerning, knowing when to take it to the next level, whether that might be talking with youth leaders that work with your child, whether that's going in and talking to the school, we have to make a stand against some of these issues. This is the time that this has to stop," she continued. 

Ofsted is calling on the Government to consider strengthening safeguarding controls for children and young people as it works on the Online Safety Bill. 

Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of schools, said: "The Government needs to look at online bullying and abuse, and the ease with which children can access pornography.

"But schools and colleges have a key role to play. They can maintain the right culture in their corridors and they can provide  RHSE (relationship, health and sex education) that reflects reality and equips young people with the information they need."

The Department for Education said dedicated education and training to help school and college staff deal with sexual harassment will be encouraged.

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."

"By reflecting young people's real experiences in what they are taught, I hope more people feel able to speak up where something isn't right and call out activity that might previously have been written off as 'normal'."

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