Applying Contextual Safeguarding to Peer-on-Peer Abuse

Peer-on-Peer Abuse in Schools and Colleges

The issues highlighted by Everyone’s Invited clearly demonstrate the issue and extent of peer-on-peer abuse in schools and colleges. More needs to be done to address and prevent the problem of sexual abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment suffered by children and young people at the hands of their peers.

Schools, colleges and their staff are often at the frontline of intervening with serious safeguarding issues such as peer-on-peer abuse and need to be armed with the appropriate information, knowledge and support to be able to efficiently and proactively manage reports of peer-on-peer abuse. You can read more about this in our full peer-on-peer abuse blog here.

In our webinar Context is Everything - Applying Contextual Safeguarding to Peer-on-Peer Abuse, Co-founder and Chief of Safeguarding at The Safeguarding Company, Mike Glanville and Safeguarding Manager Natasha Lawrence, discussed contextual safeguarding and what this means for schools and colleges given the current challenges in relation to peer-on-peer abuse. This blog will give a brief overview but for a more in-depth dive into the content please watch a recording of the webinar HERE.

The Current Context: Sexual Harassment and Reporting in Schools

There is no end of reviews and guidance relating to peer-on-peer abuse; in 2016, the Women’s and Equality Subcommittee produced a report on Sexual Harassment in Education, setting out their concerns. This led to the 2018 DfE Statutory Guidance on Sexual Violence and Harassment.

‘It’s just everywhere’ by the National Education Union and Feminista, was a report on Sexism in Schools published in 2017. This report found that sexual harassment is highly prevalent in schools and it is also gendered and overwhelmingly involving boys targeting girls. Worryingly the study showed that 58% of girls have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in school and only 14% of pupils experiencing sexual harassment reported it to a staff member. The harassment that is reported is often high-level concerns of assault and abuse. Only 22% of female pupils think their school takes sexism seriously resulting in an underreporting of lower-level concerns. Many students and teachers alike believe that this under-reporting is due to how sexism, sexual harassment, victim-blaming, and toxic masculinity has been normalised in schools.



Contextual Safeguarding and Peer-on-Peer Abuse

A solid understanding of contextual safeguarding is pivotal in intervening and preventing peer-on-peer abuse in schools and colleges. Contextual safeguarding allows safeguarding teams to understand and respond to the risks a child or young person may encounter outside of their family. This is particularly important when considering peer-on-peer abuse, as the approach recognises the significant harm experienced by children and young people and the different relationships they form (e.g. online, at school and in their neighbourhood) which can feature violence and abuse.

OfSted Proposed Advice for September 2021

In May, when our webinar aired, Mike summarised some of the upcoming changes to the sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges guidance in September.

There is now a specific reference and explanation of the term extra-familial harm; whether children and young people are at risk of abuse or exploitation in situations outside of their families such as sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, sexual abuse, serious youth violence and county lines. The guidance will also stress that all staff should be aware of the risk of online abuse and the importance of schools and colleges providing as much information as possible as part of the referral process. This is why having a safeguarding reporting platform, such as MyConcern®, is vital at it allows staff to record all the concerns they have, and stores them all in one place for any referrals or reports.

The guidance stresses the importance of schools breaking the cycle of toxic masculinity and sexism by better educating their students on relationships, sex and health education. Relationships education is now compulsory at all primary schools and relationship, sex and health education (RSHE) is now compulsory at all secondary schools.

There is advice for schools during the immediate response to a report, including giving reassurance to victims that they are being taken seriously and recognising that students may find it difficult to report these issues to members of staff, as well as additional barriers to disclosing an issue. We ran another webinar in June, in which we give safeguarding professionals some of the most proven ways to engage in difficult conversations around sensitive or challenging topics with children and young people. 

The guidance also gave new advice on how to manage convicted/cautioned perpetrators and victims who may be sharing classes and clarifying what schools should be thinking about once an individual has been convicted or cautioned.

Mike also expected that once Ofsted had finished their review there would be additional changes and recommendations, you can read our full summary of these changes HERE. These changes will also influence the upcoming KCSIE guidance in September. You can read our summary of the KCSIE changes HERE.



Your Approach to Safeguarding within your School

We suggest a whole school Peer-on-Peer abuse policy framework that is specific to the challenges you are facing and risks you have identified. Your policy should be made up of the following domains.

  • Social contexts
  • Pupil behaviour
  • Environment and culture
  • Partnership engagement

Social context involves identifying the people and places where threats and risks can occur outside the family home, including online platforms and social media. Additionally, schools need to ensure that all governors/trustees, senior leaders, staff, pupils and parents are educated on peer-on-peer abuse.

Pupil behaviour can describe the risks and harms that individual pupils and groups of pupils can experience. It is important to identify the potential signs of symptoms of peer-on-peer abuse such as failing to attend school or disengaging from classes, difficulties with mental and or emotional health, becoming withdrawn or shy or alcohol or substance abuse.

Environment and culture involve promoting healthy relationships and attitudes towards gender/sexuality and educating students on relationships, sex and health, a critical step to change the current cultures of sexism within schools.

Partnership engagement is a critical aspect as it is all about working effectively with other agencies and the broader school communities and the importance of information sharing with other agencies.

Posted Date

1st May 2021

Related resources