Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people


New resources for schools: Beyond referrals harmful sexual behaviour toolkit



We are pleased to announce the launch today of a range of resources for schools to tackle harmful sexual behaviour (HSB). The resources, designed for senior leadership and designated safeguarding leads, allow secondary schools and Further Education providers to assess how they are responding to sexual harm in schools. The resources include a traffic-light tool for self-assessment and a series of webinars. Developed by the University of Bedfordshire and supported by Ofsted and the Care Quality commission, the tools will provide a strengths-based approach to prevention and response. 

The creation of these resources follows multiple calls for schools, government and agencies to do more to tackle sexual harm and abuse in schools between students. In 2015 the BBC revealed that more than 4000 allegations of peer-on-peer sexual abuse and 600 rapes were reported in schools between 2011-2013.  Evidence submitted to the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) inquiry 2016 revealed that 29% of 16-18 years olds had experienced unwanted touching at school and 71% of boys and girls aged 16-18 heard terms like ‘slut’ used towards girls daily or a few times a week (YouGov 2010).

The toolkit was developed from research exploring the enablers and barriers to addressing HSB in schools carried out by researchers at the University of Bedfordshire’s International Centre. The research suggests that preventing sexual harm in schools should not just fall upon schools but requires multi-agency and holistic responses. This needs schools and multi-agency partners to work together. Inspectorates play a key role in addressing the issue and identifying safeguarding concerns. However, in order to do so, schools, agencies and inspectors need to know what enables and prevents HSB developing. The launch of these resources for schools forms part of a range of resources aimed at tackling HSB, including a framework for multi-agency partnerships (to be launched later this year) and training to inspectorates.

Until recently, statutory advice and guidance to schools for peer-on-peer sexual abuse has focussed on the need for referrals to social care and the police. From speaking with schools and practitioners we know many schools face challenges of what to do within school when harm happens, beyond a referral to social care. These tools offer a framework for considering changes within school.

The project was led by Principle Research Fellow Dr Carlene Firmin MBE, Research Fellow Dr Jenny Lloyd and Research Assistant Joanne Walker,

Dr Firmin said: “Young people tell us that schools are locations where students can encounter sexual harm, which can involve a range of harmful sexual behaviours from name-calling and sexual bullying to sexual assault. Saying that, schools are also places that can provide safety to young people and promote positive ideas about gender and relationships.

“We hope these resources will help schools develop interventions beyond referrals to designated safeguarding leads or social care, and allow schools, multi-agency partners and inspectorates to better understand how they can prevent and intervene in incidents of peer-on-peer abuse.”

 The resources can be accessed free here


BBC (2015) 'School sex crime reports in UK top 5,500 in three years'. Available at: (Accessed: 30 November 2017).

EVAW (2017) “All day, every day” Legal obligations on schools to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and violence against girls, London: End Violence Against Women Coalition.

House of Commons, Committee, W.a.E. (2016) Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. London

Girlguiding UK (2014) Girls' attitudes survey. Available at: (Accessed: 30 November 2017).


Posted: 27 Feb 2018

Author: Jenny Lloyd

University of Bedfordshire logo