Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people

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Peer-on-peer abuse in schools - the need to record and report: advice for schools

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This blog was written by Dr Jenny Lloyd, Senior Research Fellow in the Contextual Safeguarding team.

Last week the BBC reported the case of a six year old girl Bella (not her real name), who was abused by two boys at her school. Bella was abused daily during playtime over a period of six weeks. On two occasions a teacher walked in on the abuse. However the incidents were not recorded or responded to until Bella disclosed to her parents.

Bella’s parents are now urging the government to do more to ensure that incidents of peer-on-peer abuse are recorded and that mechanisms are introduced to ensure that teachers are aware of and read guidance included in Keeping Children Safe in Education on sexual violence and harassment between children.

Bella’s case highlights the ongoing need for schools to be provided support to identify, record and respond to cases of harm. Recording incidents and themes is essential to building a better picture of what is happening. But recording by teachers alone is not enough; there are a few things schools can do to increase the effectiveness of these records:

Firstly, all those working within schools need to be able to record incidents (including teachers, support staff, midday assistants, care-takers) easily in order to build a better picture of what is happening.

Secondly, behaviour logs and safeguarding logs need to be overseen by the same people. This allows staff to have an overview of trends and patterns. This is important because often cases of abuse are considered to be ‘behavioural’ as opposed to safeguarding. In Bella’s case, while the teacher may not have identified the harm as abuse, their response suggested they understood the incidents to be inappropriate.

Thirdly, recording systems should allow for locations and times to be documented. For Bella this would have helped identify that the harm was happening in the playground and would help form the basis of interventions, for example increasing supervision at key times or in certain locations.

Fourthly, it’s important to regularly speak to students about their feelings about the school and safety. Sadly, in Bella’s case even if mechanisms were in place to record incidents, these may not have been utilised by staff. Therefore it’s essential to include students in discussions. In Bella’s case, safety mapping the school (drawing maps of the school and talking about places the students like or don’t like) may have opened up a conversation with her or her friends about her experiences at playtime sooner.

Finally, it’s important that schools have mechanisms in place to review safeguarding logs to help understand how they are being used by staff. Some questions to consider are:

  • Do certain staff record more than others?
  • Are locations and times routinely recorded?
  • What language is used by staff to record incidents? Do these indicate victim-blaming?
  • What is missing? Do students report that sexual harassment is a daily occurrence but this isn’t evidenced in logs?
  • Is abuse deemed to be a safeguarding issue or a behaviour issue?
  • What actions are taken?
  • Are there ways to identify trends and themes that emerge?

Bella’s case is a shocking reminder of the harm that children may face in schools - places we expect children to be safe. I agree with Bella’s parents of the importance of recording incidents when they occur. Recording incidents may have helped identify earlier opportunities to provide support to Bella and the boys that she was harmed by.

For guidance on addressing harmful sexual behaviours in schools, please see our Beyond Referrals toolkit including guidance on how to review behaviour logs.

Posted: 16 Aug 2019

Author: Destiny

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